Home care for seniors living with complex conditions - it really is possible

Image: Home care for seniors living with complex conditions - it really is possible

Spectrum's CEO Sandra Ketchen on what care is possible at home for seniors living with multiple complex conditions.

When I tell people I lead a healthcare company specializing in home care, more often than I expect people will ask me “what kind of care really happens in the home”? Unless you’ve had a direct connection with this part of the health system, you may not know the extent to which complex patients, including frail seniors, can be cared for in this environment. There are so many different family circumstances our amazing nurses and PSWs support every day but to paint a picture, I think an actual story about a patient who I will call ‘Sandy’ really brings the possibilities to life.

Sandy has always been independent, forging her own path in life. She was the first woman in her family to get a university degree and later travel the world. Her girlfriends thought she was crazy when she decided to take a cruise to the Arctic after retiring. But Sandy has always been a free spirit.

Now at 89 she still wants her independence. She lives alone in her own home, and is one of 93% percent of Canadians who wants to age at home for as long as possible. Though her range of hobbies and activities is smaller, she is passionate about learning and staying active. She knits and supervises the backyard gardening skills of her grandson.

Sandy lives with diabetes, congestive heart failure (CHF), and suffered a stroke three years ago, but these setbacks, along with limitations in her mobility, don’t define her.

Significant advances in home care have made it possible for Sandy and many complex patients like her to live safely at home - with support from doctors, specialized care nurses, personal care workers, and senior companions.

So what really happens in a home care situation like this? Unless you’ve needed the system, you might never know that:

  • For her chronic conditions including diabetes, CHF, and stroke recovery Sandy is supported by specialized home-visiting nurses. While these conditions are serious, they can be managed and treated with diet, exercise, medication and health education. Her nurses also check on her ‘virtually’ by telephone or video call to ensure Sandy’s well-being.
  • The medication Sandy needs to manage her conditions is regularly monitored by her home care nurses to ensure Sandy takes them properly and consistently. Her nurses communicate regularly with Sandy’s primary care physician to ensure her continued care, even supporting virtual video consults between Sandy and the doctor.
  • Sandy’s diabetic foot ulcer is cared for at home by a specialized wound-care nurse, with solutions personalized to Sandy’s condition.
  • Sandy knows how to navigate her home and yet with her age, she is at risk of falls and associated injuries. Her home care nurses teach Sandy about fall prevention and techniques to reduce risk of injury if she does fall.
  • Knowledgeable and caring personal support workers help Sandy with personal care and light housekeeping tasks.
  • Though Sandy meets with friends at the community center once a week, she needs some extra help and companionship. Once in a while, her companion Mary helps Sandy get to appointments or short out of town trips when the adventure spirit strikes.

Why does Sandy’s story matter? Long term care is about supportive aging based on choice – it doesn’t always have to be a physical space or a facility. The right long term care solution can empower seniors to remain independent in their homes even while managing complex, chronic disease conditions. Evidence has shown that keeping seniors in their own homes improves their quality of life and keeps them safe from infection. While our seniors will sometimes need to be in hospital for acute care treatment, there is further evidence that demonstrates getting them released as quickly as possible will aid in their long-term mobility and dementia care outcomes.

And did I mention that the total cost of caring for Sandy in her home is significantly less than any facility-based setting?

People like Sandy are not just patients – they are part of our families, our friendships, and our communities. We are dedicated in our mission to help patients like Sandy age at home according to her wishes and supported by her friends and family. With the right plan and care team in place, it really is possible.