Advice on Caring for the Elderly at Home

an elderly man looks at a photo on a phone with a young woman. They are both smiling

Many families hope to enable their elderly loved ones to live independently at home. Caring for the elderly at home requires a realistic and honest approach, with strategies to ensure that everyone’s needs are met.

The amount of care and support needed will depend on the needs of the elderly individual and the time and resources available to their family. It’s useful to take the following approach when you start caring for elderly relatives at home:

  • Be realistic about what you can do: It’s understandable that you want to help, and may even feel an element of duty. However, it is far easier to be realistic at the beginning of the care journey than wait until resentment has built, you’ve become burned out, or there has been an unsafe situation or crisis. Consider your commitments, lifestyle, finances and abilities realistically, to decide what you can consistently offer and provide.
  • Speak openly with your parents: We all carry the dynamics of childhood into our adult relationships with our parents. However, it’s important to be honest on both sides, even if that’s made more difficult by cognitive decline, perhaps because of dementia. Try to be open-minded and sensitive about their concerns, whilst remembering the reality of what you can provide.
  • Make confident decisions: Move forwards with caring plans once you have made the decision. Waiting until something goes wrong, or simply delaying through procrastinating, can cause uncertainty and distress.

Consider the practicalities and logistics

If the decision is to starting caring for the elderly individual at home, your first step should be to make sure that all logistical arrangements are in place. You will need to cover:

  • Safety: Ensure that the individual can move around the premises safely. You may need to make adaptations. Occupational therapists can advise on what’s needed. It may be necessary to consider aids such as toilet raisers, bath seats and rails.
  • Meals: Consider what support the individual needs and make arrangements around this. For example, perhaps your loved one can make their lunch, but would benefit from an evening meal delivery service. We strongly recommend that if your loved one struggles with meals or feeding themselves, that they have someone with them at mealtimes.
  • Daily living tasks: From getting dressed to taking a bath, what support is needed? Remember to consider things which typically happen outside of the home too, such as hair and dental appointments.
  • Housekeeping: When an elderly individual stays in their own home, it is important that all housekeeping tasks are considered. From cleaning to changing the beds, one of the easiest ways to provide at-home care is by assisting with housekeeping tasks.
  • Property maintenance: All elements of property maintenance need to be considered, such as gardening, gutter cleaning, roof repairs, and all other aspects of running a home.
  • Companionship: Loneliness in the elderly is a serious issue, with more than a million elderly people saying they go more than a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or loved one. It leads to depression as well as physical and mental decline. It’s vital that companionship is given a high priority when considering the care needs of the elderly individual at home.

These care needs will need to be undertaken by family members, friends, neighbours or carers, if the decision is for the elderly individual to stay at home.

Finances should be considered from the earliest possible stage. There are staggeringly high numbers of unpaid carers in the UK, but if carers need to be brought in then this typically costs around £15 per hour. However, it’s not just the overt costs that need to be considered. As you can imagine, factoring in all of the different elements of actually safely staying at home also mount up.

Whilst on the face of it, it may seem cheaper to stay at home with carers, it is often more cost-effective to opt for residential care where more costs are covered e.g. property maintenance and safety.

How to assess elderly care needs

It’s very difficult to precisely assess the care needs of a loved one. They are also likely to change over time, especially if your relative has a degenerative disease such as dementia. However, you will need a clear assessment so that you can put the appropriate plans in place to care for the elderly individual at home.

Everyone is entitled to a care needs assessment. This is undertaken by social services and will indicate what care is needed and will likely also include avenues for financial support, if appropriate. A personal budget is indicated, which is the amount the local council will contribute towards that individual’s care. In reality, this amount rarely provides the level of care that you would want for your loved one. As such, again, cost-effectiveness of providing care at home versus using a residential or nursing home will need to be considered.

Nonetheless, a care plan enables you to see what care is realistically needed. This can help you determine the best way to provide that care. You can then decide on the type of care:

  • Informal care at home: Family members and loved ones provide support on an ad hoc or informally arranged basis.
  • Formal care at home: Professional carers provide in-home support according to a tailored plan.
  • Sheltered/supported accommodation: Self-contained properties with some shared facilities, designed for elderly independent living. It is best to choose such accommodation as close care, whereby there are the wider facilities and services of a care home on the same site, should it be needed, for example Rossiter House.
  • Residential care: A residential care home enables independent living with the benefits of all housekeeping, meals, and companionship. Examples include our South Molton and Minehead homes.
  • Nursing care: All of the benefits of residential care, with the addition of nursing support as needed. Examples include our Minehead and Raleigh Mead homes.

There are also specialist care homes for dementia care, and palliative care.

If you undertake caring for the elderly at home in an unpaid role, we urge you to remember to look after yourself too. Take time for yourself when you can, and seek help and support. You can get help and support from various charities, including Carers UK. Self-care is vital to ensure you can care for your elderly relative reliably and without detriment to you.