By Barry J. Jacobs, Psy.D., Active Daily Living Newsletter

Home health aides have long provided the hands-on support and companionship to allow many older adults to remain in their homes. But during the pandemic, fear of the COVID-19 virus and its potentially harmful effects has led some of these adults and their children to decide to put home care services on hold. Instead, they have had the adult children take on more of the caregiving responsibilities. It hasn’t been easy for the adult children, but it has been bearable—at least temporarily.

Now that many Americans are getting vaccinated against the virus and the end of the pandemic is imaginable, those older adults and adult children are beginning to consider what to do about the home health aides. Some have found they do fine without them and will probably never bring them back into their homes. Others can’t wait to do so but want to make sure it is safe.

There is no clear-cut answer that applies to everyone. But here are some ideas for how to make this decision about whether the time is right for your family:

Consider the health and situation of your loved ones: Not everyone’s level of health risk is the same. Those with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, COPD and dementia, are more likely to be harmed by COVID-19 if they are infected with it. Those who had had their COVID-19 vaccinations are at lower risk. Talk with a primary care provider about your loved one’s risks at this time and ask for an opinion about the likelihood that home health aides could pose any danger.

Consider the home health aide and agency: Not all aides are alike. Some are more reliable than others; you are sure they would take every precaution to keep themselves and their clients safe. Most aides work for home care agencies which can also vary greatly. Some provide adequate safety training and equipment for their aides; others do not. Think about whether you can trust the specific aides and agency that you have been employing to use the most up-to-date and effective practices for preventing the spread of the virus.

Consider the place and timing: Not every community is the same. Some still have high levels of the infection; home health aides are therefore more likely to contract and spread it. Others have the virus largely in check. Your county’s Department of Public Health regularly assesses local conditions and can tell you the level of general risk.

If your loved one is not in a high risk health category, if you have full trust in your aide and agency, and if infection rates in your area are rapidly decreasing, then now may be the right time to re-start home care services. But do it only if you believe the benefits of having greater home support for caregiving outweigh whatever health risks remain as the pandemic finally winds down.

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