Home Care: A Guide to Strategic Scheduling

Laura Herman, Dementia and Eldercare Professional
Added: 08.18.2022
18 minutes read
Set Up the Best Support and Get the Most Bang for Your Buck

By Laura Herman, Elder and Dementia Care Professional

Twenty-six dollars an hour. Sixty thousand dollars a year. The average national cost of home care is staggering – but preventing even one hospitalization can easily offset any financial expenditure, to say nothing of the difference in quality of life. 

Strategically used, home care can be a game-changer. It can keep your loved one out of a facility and increase their physical activity, socialization, and engagement in life. It can provide valuable respite, conserving a family caregiver’s physical and mental reserve and stamina.

Honestly, though, employing a home care aide can feel frustrating and wasteful when it’s not set up well. There’s little worse than shelling out money you can’t afford to watch someone sit idle, or repeatedly working harder to explain what you need than it would take to just go ahead and do it yourself.

Luckily it’s possible – and not that hard – to schedule home care strategically, in such a way that you get more than your money’s worth in superb support for you and your loved one.

In this article, we’ll look at how to do just that.

What Does Home Care Do?

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You may already be familiar with what home care agencies generally offer.

Typical home care services include:

  • Respite care
  • Personal care
  • Companion care
  • Household chores
  • Laundry and linen changes
  • Transportation
  • Shopping and errand support
  • Transfers and mobility support

If you’re like many others, looking over a list like this might not spark much inspiration or creativity. But these broad categories cover a lot of ground, and there is a ton of personalization that can exist within these bounds. 

You may also already realize that home care hours can be set by each individual client, although most agencies or caregivers do have minimum shift lengths.

By filling their time strategically you can get quite a bit of bang for your buck

Tips for Smart Scheduling

One of the top tips for smart scheduling is to build a small team of consistent caregivers who are an excellent fit for your unique family.

Build a Small Team of Consistent Caregivers

At first, your “team” might consist of only one caregiver, however, you’ll eventually want at least a couple in the mix to be sure there’s always someone available to cover days off.

Keep the team small
In any case, you’ll want to keep the pool of caregivers small. If not, you’ll quickly lose many of the best benefits of home care. New caregivers are less familiar with your loved one’s idiosyncrasies and needs, less personally invested in the outcome of their care, and less effective overall. 

Help caregivers’ value grow over time
Repeatedly working with the same aides lets them learn to do things in the specific ways you want them done. Those little touches can sometimes make a big difference – especially if it feels like everything else in life is falling apart! 

By keeping a small pool of regular caregivers you’ll reap rewards. It’s especially important if your loved one has dementia and can’t easily or reliably direct the caregiver as to their needs. 

Find the Right Fit

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Every caregiver is a human being with their own personality, strengths, and weaknesses. Even if a caregiver is exceptionally skilled and practically perfect, if they’re not a good fit for your family they just aren’t a good fit. 

Cultivate a team of caregivers you like and trust
Work to cultivate a team of caregivers who you and your loved one like, trust, respect and truly appreciate. It may be that you particularly enjoy their sense of humor, great work ethic, air of calm, compassion, skills, confidence, punctuality, or whatever combination of intangibles works for you. 

Keep communicating
Talk with the home care agency when there’s not a fit. Talk about what feels off and what you’d like to see instead. Try out different caregivers until you find that great mix.

Be realistic in your expectations
That said, it may not be realistic to find multiple caregivers who fit into a preconceived idea of exactly what you want. Again, caregivers are humans, and you aren’t likely to find even one who’s completely “perfect” – let alone several. Think about the overall team and look for characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses that balance each other out. 

Find your non-negotiables
There are a few non-negotiables. For example, you should trust every single one of your caregivers, but you may like the personalities of some more than others. For example, you may find that the one you like best isn’t very self-directed, while the most skilled and detail-oriented of the bunch isn’t the best conversationalist. 

Overall you should feel good about the team as a whole. You should also feel good about each individual, although none may be completely “perfect” in every way.

Put More Help into Place Sooner than You Think You’ll Need It

While there are certainly limits to this rule of thumb, it’s generally a good idea to put more help into place sooner than you think you’ll need it. Why?

Many people tend to underestimate the amount of help they need and try to carry all they can until they hit the breaking point. By arranging for help before you hit that point, you can preserve your energy and greatly extend your ability to function at your current level. It can also keep many problems from arising in the first place.

Additionally, by working with the same caregivers over time, you’re creating the opportunity to develop trusting relationships and to let them get familiar with your loved one’s needs. This will be invaluable in an emergency situation in which your loved one suddenly needs care. Regular caregivers are in a good position to gradually increase their assistance over time, which is important for those older adults who may resist the idea that they need help. 

Lastly, by scheduling routine sessions it’s easier to actually get a consistent caregiver because you become a reliable part of their steady rotation. If your available hours are sporadic in an effort to keep them to the bare minimum, you’ll have to make do with whoever happens to be on hand. 

By staying smart and routinely scheduling a little more help than you think you actually need you’ll keep yourself and your loved one living and functioning at your best. 

Combine Services

There are countless creative ways to combine home care services in such a way that you can meet your loved one’s primary needs while also enjoying a whole slew of additional benefits.

It may help to write out one list of primary needs or goals, and another one filled with any other areas you might be willing to accept help. 

Device which days or times your loved one will require support in order to meet their primary needs. From there, consider what other services you may be able to combine in the time allotted. Talk to the home care agency about your ideas and see what you can come up with.

Here are a few examples that may inspire your creativity.

Example 1: Respite and Errands
Once a week, the home care aide comes for a four-hour block of time to take your loved one for an outing. They go to the store and pick up the items on your shopping list, and perhaps take care of a couple other errands you’ve set aside for them throughout the week. Before coming home they may go out to lunch or swing by the library, park or other venue your loved one would enjoy.

Meanwhile, you make the most of this respite time. You take a special class, meet with friends, go to the gym, take a long bath and a nap, or make progress on the projects you usually never get a chance to get to. 

Example 2: Respite, Activity, and Housework
Three times weekly the home care aide comes in for two-hour blocks of time, freeing you up for doctor’s appointments or to tend to other obligations.

The aide spends time with your loved one engaged in personally meaningful activities. Maybe they work on a memory photo book, spend time in the garden, read, or engage in other pursuits that stimulate and satisfy your loved one on a deep level.

During this time the aide also tackles a little light housework. If your loved one enjoys helping out, they work together on it. They catch up on the dishes, laundry, linen changes, sweeping, or straightening up. 

Example 3: Night Care, Laundry, Dishes, and Breakfast
Your loved one has trouble sleeping during the night and gets up frequently to the bathroom. You need your sleep to maintain your health. 

The home care aide stays overnight to assist your loved one and keep them safe. When your loved one is sleeping, the aide takes care of the laundry, cleans the bathroom and washes the dinner dishes from the night before. 
Before leaving in the morning, the aide has breakfast ready to go, so it’s quick and easy to sit down and eat when you’re ready.  

The night aide could also assist your loved one to dress, brush their teeth or bathe during their last trip to the bathroom in the early morning.

You awake rested with a significant portion of your to-do list already done, leaving you ready to tackle whatever else the day has in store.

Example 4: Activity, Pet Care, Respite, and Bathing
Your loved one has dementia and needs frequent reassurance and assistance. Although you don’t mind helping them, it does get tiring having to do it constantly. 

Two mornings a week, the home care aide comes in for a few hours. During this time they assist your loved one to bathe, walk the dog and clean up the dog waste in the yard. They then spend time with your loved one engaged in mentally-stimulating activities of interest, perhaps painting, baking, or working a puzzle. 

Example 5: Spa Day
Your loved one has dementia and doesn’t believe they need your help with bathing. 

Once per week the home care aide comes in, playing the role of “beautician” or “masseuse”. Perhaps they dim the lights, play soothing music and create a spa-like atmosphere for a relaxing experience. 

They may start with a manicure or pedicure. Perhaps they wash your loved one’s hair in the sink, followed by a blow-dry and curl. Perhaps instead they provide a massage using warm, no-rinse cleansing lotion, effectively meeting your loved one’s hygiene needs without having to step foot in the shower. 

This is a good example of a situation where, over time, a consistent caregiver can build trust and familiarity, moving from manicures to massages as they do so.

In this scenario, the caregiver may not perform other duties, such as housework, in order to preserve their image as beautician.  

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Example 6: Bedtime Routine and Household Chores
Each evening at the end of the day, the home care aide comes in for two hours. They start by fixing a cup of chamomile tea, and then begin straighten up the house, cleaning the bathroom, tending to the cat box, and washing up the dinner dishes. 

Next, they assist your loved one with a warm, relaxing bath, and once in bed, they rub lavender-scented lotion on their legs and feet. They put away the day’s clothes and set out tomorrow’s outfit, toothbrush, and other essentials before they go.

Besides providing you a chance to benefit from your own bedtime routine, it sets your loved one up for a comfortable, sound sleep which can greatly impact their overall health and happiness.

Example 7: Respite and Gym
The home care aide comes twice a week to take your loved one to the gym, swimming pool, or senior fitness class. Your loved one benefits from the regular physical activity, and also gets to enjoy time out of the house and a positive social connection with someone they enjoy.

You appreciate knowing you can count on having this window of time to yourself. You’re able to make plans, schedule appointments, tackle obligations or just enjoy a well-earned break.

Example 8: Shopping, Meal Preparation, and Clean Up
Your loved one used to love cooking but can no longer do so alone. The home care aide takes care of your shopping list, and takes your loved one along to the store if they’re up for the outing. 

The aide and your loved one work together to prepare simple recipes for dinner. Perhaps they pre-portion make-ahead meals for the day, or week, to come. Afterward, the aide, and your loved one if applicable, clean up the kitchen and take out the trash.

Your loved one gets to enjoy healthy home-cooked meals as well as the satisfaction of feeling productive and engaging in their lifelong skill or interest in cooking and preparing meals.

Example 9: Breakfast Support, Clean Up, Walk, and Prep Food for the Day Ahead
The home care aide arrives in time to make breakfast for your loved one. While there, the aide also prepares a sandwich and fruit for lunch, so at noon it’s easy for your loved one to retrieve the food from the fridge. The aide may also prepare or portion out food for snacks or supper as well. Perhaps once a week they make a large casserole and pot of soup to eat over the next few days.

After breakfast and any other food prep are finished and the kitchen is cleaned up, the aide goes for a walk around the block with your loved one. They enjoy friendly companionship and valuable outdoor physical activity.

These examples show just a few of the possible ways you might customize home care services. None would happen without putting some thought into exactly what you need and approximately how you’d like it structured. 

Once you’ve come up with some ideas, talk with the home care agency and see if they have any feedback or suggestions to consider. Once you’ve come to an agreement, continue to keep in contact with the agency regarding how things are going, or whether you’d like to update the plan in any way.

Should I Go With an Agency Caregiver or Hire My Own?  

Although most of the article refers to home care aides from an agency, the concepts apply equally well to a privately-paid caregiver. 

In fact, it’s often even easier to customize care plans with privately paid caregivers because the communication channels are usually more direct. When working with home care agencies, you may have to communicate with the office, who then communicate with the aides. This can feel inefficient and cumbersome at times, although keeping consistent caregivers will cut down on any issues with communication. 

On the other hand, agencies hold several advantages over privately-paid caregivers. They take care of the recruiting and vetting of caregivers, as well as employment laws and taxes, so it’s much more convenient in that regard.

Read more about the pros and cons of agency caregivers versus hiring your own – as well as some of the legal considerations when opting for a privately paid caregiver: What to Consider When Hiring a Private Caregiver

Communication and a Thoughtful Approach to Home Care can Reap Big Benefits

Home care can be very expensive, and the level of service you receive can vary. A big contributor to receiving what you need will be asking for the right things, and knowing what to ask for is a vital step.

Through thoughtful planning, communication and cultivating your small team of consistent caregivers, you can keep your home care experience positive, rich, effective and valuable.