Distinguishing Home Care from Home Health Care

Find out what each one offers to see which is the better fit for you or a family member

Home care and home health care both provide valuable services for older adults. But while they sound similar, they refer to very different types of senior care.

The most basic difference between the two is that home care offers companionship and non-medical assistance with daily living tasks like bathing and meal preparation, while home health care provides help with specific medical needs and is performed by a medical professional, like a skilled nurse.

As their names suggest, these types of care take place at home, whether in a private residence or in a senior living community. Independent living communities for seniors typically don’t provide home care or home health care, but residents can arrange to have one or both types of care through third-party providers.

Whether aging at home or in a senior living community, older adults may eventually need home care or home health care. To make an informed decision about the best options for yourself or a family member, it’s important to understand what each has to offer.

A home health aid washes dishes while talking to an older woman.

What is home care?

Home care, also called personal care, companion care, custodial care or in-home care for seniors, is often recommended for older adults who need help with activities of daily living. These are the everyday tasks a person should complete to live independently, but which often get more difficult with age.

A home care aide can help out with a wide range of these tasks, including:

  • Bathing and showering
  • Getting dressed
  • Eating meals
  • Getting around the house
  • Bathroom visits and incontinence support
  • Mobility transfers (such as getting in and out of chairs)

Having a home care aide on hand to assist with daily living tasks can make life easier and less stressful for seniors. It can also make for a safer living environment; for example, assistance with showering and mobility transfers can reduce the risk of falls.

Additionally, home care aides are trained to help with more complicated activities of daily living. These are the tasks that tend to need a higher level of planning and organization than the simple activities of daily living. Some examples include:

  • Meal preparation
  • Cleaning and housekeeping
  • Doing laundry
  • Grocery shopping
  • Money management
  • Using electronic devices like phones and computers

Another job that home care aides can assist with is medication management, though it should be noted that while they can remind seniors when to take their medications, they can’t actually administer the medications.

Many home care aides can also help with transportation, either by escorting seniors on walks or by driving them to run errands, get to doctors’ appointments or visit friends and family.

Finally, home care aides offer companionship to seniors – someone they can talk to and share meals with. Older adults often struggle with loneliness and social isolation. Forming new friendships and having regular social interactions helps maintain physical, mental and emotional health while also enhancing quality of life.

Depending on your needs and your budget, home care services are available on either a 24-hour or live-in basis. 24-hour care provides two or more caregivers working in shifts, including overnight. This may be the best option for seniors who need around-the-clock monitoring and assistance. With live-in home care, a single caregiver lives in the senior’s home or independent living residence, providing more consistent care and the opportunity to form a stronger relationship between the client and their caregiver.

Physical therapist talking to senior man sitting on a fitness ball at home

What is home health care?

Home health care for seniors refers to medical services provided at a private home or in a senior community residence that treat chronic health conditions, manage health decline, or help with recovery from an illness, injury or surgery. It’s often the best solution for seniors whose health conditions make it difficult or impossible for them to travel to and from medical appointments.

Many seniors require home health care while transitioning back to their home or senior living community after a stay in a hospital, rehab center or skilled nursing facility. Others may need home health care on a longer, more sustained basis.

Unlike a home care aide, a home health care provider is a medical professional, such as a registered nurse (RN), licensed practical nurse (LPN) or licensed vocational nurse (LVN). Skilled nursing professionals can administer medication, provide wound care and assist with pain management.

Home health care also includes various kinds of therapies that focus on rehabilitating the body’s physical functions and regaining the ability to communicate and conduct daily activities.

Some examples of home health care therapy include:

  • Physical therapy, focusing on recovering strength and physical mobility
  • Occupational therapy, focusing on recovering the ability to perform everyday activities
  • Speech therapy, focusing on recovering the ability to speak and communicate
  • Psychiatric therapy, focusing on treating depression and other emotional health issues

In all cases, home health care must be prescribed by a physician.

Senior man writing his data in medical report at reception desk in the hospital.

How are services paid for?

Home care costs are usually paid out of pocket, though some long-term insurance plans may help cover the cost. In some cases, Medicare may cover home care costs for brief periods of time if a person is already receiving home health care. Depending on their state, health conditions and financial status, some seniors may be able to pay for home care costs through Medicaid waivers. Home care costs vary depending on location; state wage laws, state certification requirements and regional standards of living can all be factors. Here’s a helpful list of the median hourly rates for senior home care.

Home health care is a medical service, so it can usually be paid for through Medicare or other health insurance policies.

Choosing the right type of care

Home care and home health care both provide valuable services for seniors, but each has a distinct role. Having a clear understanding of the differences between the two can help you choose the best option for yourself or your family member.

Top Articles