Home Care Disrupting Innovation for Elder Caregiving

Welcome to 21st century America -- where we have longer lives than ever before, and more hopes for healthy aging. We are, happily, the beneficiaries of breakthroughs that have given us life spans that not long ago would have been the stuff of science fiction. But we also face serious challenges.
06/28/2016 07:03 am ET Updated Jun 29, 2017

Welcome to 21st century America - where we have longer lives than ever before, and more hopes for healthy aging. We are, happily, the beneficiaries of medical and scientific breakthroughs that have given us life spans that not long ago would have been the stuff of science fiction.

But we also face serious challenges, such as a growing number of seniors struggling to find and afford much-needed care. The well of healthy aging that is giving us vitality later into life too often eventually runs dry. When it does, we need care. This is why home care must continue to disrupt the elder care industry and provide value to seniors, families, and society. Along the way it is also disrupting healthcare itself as quality elder caregiving has a profoundly important role to play on the health management and cost savings sides.

Enter the Value of Home Care Report launched last week at a briefing on Capitol Hill that included Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Congressman Tom Reed (R-NY-23) who joined the Home Care Association of America (HCAOA) and the Global Coalition on Aging (GCOA) who collaborated on the report. The key take-away is the role of home care has as an essential solution for the nations' elder caregiving crisis.

The Ernst and and Reed Bills, create a tax credit for long-term family caregivers. This credit would take a huge burden off the backs of tens of millions of family caregivers, who suffer from high rates of depression and declining physical health. As documented in the Value of Home Care Report, working family caregivers are 50% more likely than their non-caregiver colleagues to experience daily physical pain. They also suffer from subtle but equally intrusive bouts of mental and emotional anguish.

Furthermore, the report highlights the growing importance of the solution of formal elder caregiving, needed even more as demographic and cultural changes increases the burden on family caregivers. As in the report, "The ratio of potential family caregivers to those over 80 will steeply decline from 7:1 today to 4:1 by 2030, and seniors live an average of more than 280 miles from their nearest (adult) child." Mobility is a fact of modern American life; let's now build that into a more reality based elder caregiving model.

The new report describes how home care connects dedicated profession with aging Americans in need of care: helping maintain more active and therefore healthier lifestyles, as well as providing cost effective daily support for those suffering from multiple chronic diseases. Alzheimer's, non-communicable diseases, the deterioration of skin, bone, and muscle mass, and aging's oral and vision conditions all lead to elder care needs, which can be efficiently provided through home care.

The elder caregiving story on Capitol Hill this week also revealed insights about the best of American innovation. In the process of improving lives, this uniquely American form of innovation - home care - is creating U.S. jobs, while exporting this quality care model across the planet. Wednesday's briefing shattered the myth that innovation is somehow the domain of tech startups and billion-dollar unicorns. Instead, it underscored that the home care sector is developing new solutions and shaking up outdated approaches, even if that innovation is low-tech or no-tech. For example, Home Instead Senior Care, hardly an Apple or a Google, has just won Queen Elizabeth's Award for Innovation because they're changing the way we provide care to those who need it.

By disrupting the way care is provided seniors, home care is improving quality of life even as it is generating economic benefits for all of society. Elderly Americans receiving home care generally need fewer trips to the doctor and are admitted to hospitals at a lower rate. As the HCAOA reported, in 2008 alone, home cares services saved the United States $25 billion in hospital costs. No doubt that with updated reporting and analysis we will find that number and others like it exploding.

Additionally, over the next decade, home care jobs will be a major economic driver, increasing at a rate four times the cross-sector average to reach 2.3 million by 2024. Further, seniors and their families will largely pay for this growth, rather than government funding. And perhaps the biggest innovative disruption is that this industry allows seniors to age where nine out of ten want to - at home. As Peter Ross, HCAOA President and CEO of Senior Helpers said at the Hill Briefing, "Home care enables people to remain in their homes for as long as possible, exactly where they want to be."

Nor is it coincidental that the innovative home care industry is changing who works and how. The report takes note, providing a voice to often-overlooked family and professional caregivers, ranging in age from 26 to 92. Take Mary Hartsock a caregiver for Right at Home In-Home Care & Assistance and profiled in the report - who chose a second (or was it a third?) career in home care, and continues to work in the field into her 90s. Or 26 year-old Patty Meadows of Homewatch CareGivers International, who switched to home care from an institutional setting, citing a sense of connection with her home care clients. The report also spotlights Lynn Wright, who says that her mother's home care aide, Tracey Read of BAYADA Home Health Care became more like a family member than an employee.

These are the faces of the home care revolution. The compassionate, enterprising individuals on the front lines of the longevity and aging mega-trend. At a time of great need they are the innovators literally creating a new market - one that reflects the best values of the society we want for our children and theirs'. They are re-writing the rules for how we provide elder care, launching a cottage industry, and improving lives across the nation and world.