Am I prepared to return home?

When you are ready to go home, you may find it more difficult to do your everyday activities. You may:

  • Not have the leg strength to drive
  • Get confused about routine tasks
  • Need help getting groceries or making meals
  • Tire easily or not be able to walk without help
  • Need help with bathing or toileting

Bill talks about regaining his strength after being hospitalized.

A senior exercises with weights

When you’re in the hospital there’s extended periods of time when you’re in bed and there’s nothing that causes debilitation and tiredness and weakness, it seems to me, than lying in bed. And the recent hospitalizations that I’ve had, in every case, they say “we need to get you up and have you walk so that you maintain some strength” and in every case, the hospital staff is busy and it’s difficult to make an arrangement. But they won’t let you walk by yourself to get a staff member to walk with you.

So when I was released from the hospital, I was scheduled for physical therapy. And a good part about the physical therapy was that I could have it at home. And the physical therapist came twice a week and very rapidly I began to regain my strength. A gentleman who was the physical therapist took an assessment of my weakness. I have a motor neuron disease and I have spinal stenosis, so I’m already disabled and have weakness issues. But, on top of that, I have these extended periods in the hospital where I’ve gotten even weaker. Anyway, he whipped me into shape. And he had a series of exercises which he devised. And he would come and I would do the exercises while he was here.

And then he gave me a set of exercises which would be ones in which I would not have to worry about falling down or losing my balance, to do when he was not here and on the days that he did not come. And I regained my strength pretty quickly. And the physical therapy, I think, was key to my getting better as quickly as I did and regaining my strength so that I could go on with to attending to my own issues like preparing my meals and taking care of my toilet and all of those things that we need to do on our own, but we need some strength to do it.

And since I am disabled, walk with crutches, I need to be sure that I’ve got strength where I really need it. Because I use my arms to walk, I need a little more upper body strength. And because my right leg is much stronger than my left, I need certain kinds of exercises to be sure that there’s a more nearly equalized pressure put on my legs. And he was really good about that. And it made a huge difference in the speed with which I recovered. So, the moral of that story is listen to the people who are providing therapy for you and do what they tell you to do. Because, I think, the worst thing you could do is for example, to break a bone and say, “Ah well I’ll get okay,” and not do the therapy. You won’t get okay without the appropriate therapy.

You may choose to seek help in your home — temporarily, as you recover. Sometimes, family members or friends can help. At other times, paid caregivers (sometimes called homemakers or home health aides) can help with day-to-day activities such as bathing, cooking, or cleaning.

These aids can visit your home for a few hours a day, or stay all day, depending on your specific needs. You may need to interview several paid caregivers before finding the right one.

Keep in mind: A paid caregiver is different than a home nurse, who provides medical care and is ordered through your doctor.

How can I find help at home?

Paid caregivers can be hired through an agency. Although you may not need a caregiver now, it’s important to know the agencies in your area. Some national organizations are dedicated to helping consumers make the correct choices for their home health care. One such organization is the Home Care Association of America.

If you would like to search for an agency through the Home Care Association of America, click here.

Help from local Villages

Villages are a grassroots movement of older people who come together to form membership organizations enabling them to "stay put" in their homes and neighborhoods. From their own homes, one phone call or mouse click connects members to activities, learning opportunities, ways to be useful, and help, if it is needed. Villages offer opportunities to strengthen people's social networks, volunteer for each other, and engage local resources to provide useful services. More than 130 villages exist in urban, suburban, and rural communities.

To learn more about Villages and to look for one near you, click here.

Shirley recounts how Villages, which can be used as resources, embrace “neighbors helping neighbors” mission.

Group of seniors holding hands

I grew up in a village, in the country and it was neighbors helping neighbors. Whatever you had and you didn’t need or wanted to share and someone else needed that then it was “I give to you, you give to me,” and that’s the way it was. So, basically, it was neighbor helping neighbor and, in essence, it’s senior neighbors helping senior neighbors.

More local resources

State and local governments have resources to help older adults who cannot afford services. These resources are provided through Area Agencies on Aging or “AAA.” They may be able to offer low cost or subsidized services.

To search for an agency near you, enter your ZIP code:

Social workers can help with planning for your return home.

  • Most hospitals and rehabilitation centers have social workers who can help set up services.
  • Ask to meet with a social worker before you return home from the hospital, to help coordinate your care at home.
  • Remember: It is okay to ask your nurse or health care team to meet with the social worker.

Darby Morhardt, PhD, an expert on social work and family caregivers, talks about how social workers can assist you and your family.

A social worker talking with a senior in a wheelchair

Social workers help look at the impact of health and illness on you as an older adult and how it’s affecting you and your entire family. They also are focused on helping you enhance your well-being and help to meet your basic needs for you and your family. Social workers do this in many ways and in many different settings. Here are a few, but I’m sure this is not an exhaustive list.

If you are hospitalized, social workers can be consulted to work with you, to talk with you about the impact of your illness on your ability to function in the way you were functioning prior to going into the hospital. With aging, one can become more vulnerable to de­conditioning and losing function in the hospital and you may require more help returning home.

Sometimes, you need to go to a rehabilitation facility before returning home. The social worker will work with you and your doctor to determine what is the best plan and will help you link with the resources that you need to remain as independent as possible. In some settings, social workers will contact you after leaving the hospital to determine whether the plan is working and to help make adjustments as needed.

A social worker is also someone who is skilled at working with you on how the illness is impacting your emotional well-being. A social worker can be your counselor around these issues, or can link you with counselors in the community who can help you deal with the changes and losses that you may be experiencing as you age.