About the SeniorAdvisor.com 2014 In-Home Innovation Scholarship: We started the scholarship program to bring awareness of the unique benefits and challenges of in-home caregiving for seniors to younger generations. The questions posed by the scholarship encouraged our nation’s future caregivers to present solutions for improving home care in the United States. College-aged students were required to answer one of the three essay topics below and provide a short bio as part of their scholarship application. Read the winning essays here.

How can your major of study improve the lives of seniors receiving in-home care services?

Essay response by Mary Pengelley

As a physical therapist living in West Palm Beach for over 25 years, I have personally witnessed the growing need for, and challenges of, providing in-home services for seniors.  South Florida has long been a destination for retirees, many who begin as “snow birds” and eventually transition to the warmer climate full-time, as they continue to age and travel becomes more difficult.  Palm Beach County has the second highest senior population in the state of Florida, with approximately 30% of the population age 60 years or older.  In-home services, from basic housekeeping, cooking, and assistance with self-care activities, to more advanced therapy or nursing services for acute, chronic, or terminal illness, is extremely under-funded, despite the high percentage of seniors living in Palm Beach County.

Local governmentally funded agencies recognize the need for more in-home care services, and report that there are more than twice the number of clients currently on waiting lists than those actually receiving in-home care services.  Clients and families rarely plan to receive these services until there is a sudden need, such as after a fall or hospitalization, when their financial resources have already been stretched.  Unfortunately, being placed on a waiting list for in-home care is not a feasible option at that point, and usually results in seniors being placed in assisted living facilities at much greater expense to families and insurance companies.  Rather than further straining our local government resources to provide in-home services for those seniors on waiting lists, I believe health insurances should support in-home services with a doctor’s prescription and letter of medical necessity to document need.  Overall, this would result in an estimated savings of more than 3 times the cost of inpatient care, while allowing clients to remain as independent as possible at home, where they usually prefer to be.

Technological advances for the general population also offer great support and cost-savings for in-home services.  Using various home health monitoring devices, less skilled caregivers, families, and clients themselves can receive distance medical care and advice for many medical needs.  Smart phone applications or computers can easily allow consultation with therapists, nurses, or doctors via video or phone to discuss client symptoms and needs, often resolving medical issues without the need for an office or hospital visit.  Encouraging activity and wellness through simple fitness monitors can also help seniors to remain active and independent, carryover therapy goals, and be pro-active in their health. These advances are now very user-friendly, and often seniors are able to learn to use them independently, helping to monitor their own medical conditions and report to health care professionals from the convenience of their homes.

Cutting the cost of caring for the aging and disabled population of West Palm Beach should be a priority for this community.  The senior population is expected to continue growing until surpassing the population of children under age of 14 in the next 30 years, however our local government is currently unable to meet the needs of our seniors who wish to remain at home.  Waiting lists for in-home care need to be eliminated, as our seniors truly cannot wait.  Funding for services provided at home should become the new standard of care for insurances, versus the much more costly alternative of nursing homes or assisted living facilities, and can be effectively supported through use of smart phone and computer applications for medical consultations. I believe the responsibility for provision of in-home care services should come from local community agencies, with support from government and medical insurances.  We should all share a common focus of maximizing independence, health, and funding for seniors and persons with disabilities to remain at home.

About Mary

Mary is currently seeking a Doctorate of Physical Therapy.

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