Why Home Health Care Can Have a Positive Impact on Mental Health
Being house-bound following surgery, an accident, or simply due to advanced aging, can have a very detrimental effect on one’s mental health. This is why home health care is not only essential from a medical perspective but also from a psychological one. Home care workers who come to us for malpractice insurance often share that they gain great satisfaction from helping patients at home for this reason.
In-Home Care for Both Physical and Psychological Wellbeing
An illness or disability can make it extremely difficult to leave home and can result in a person feeling isolated and lonely. This reality often compounds psychological issues, leading to extreme depression. Once a person’s emotional health has been compromised, it can make it difficult to make any progress with physical recovery. This is a vicious cycle that health care workers see every day.
Medical professionals who visit patients at home play a critical role in mitigating the effects of isolation. Just seeing a friendly face on a regular basis can help to reduce depression and make patients feel that they are not alone in the world. Most importantly, these regular check-ins allow home care workers to notice signs of worsening depression and intervene if needed.
Home Health Care is a Growing Trend
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the trend towards administering health care at home grew exponentially. This was not only a sensible way to keep the numbers down at hospitals and clinics, but it also provided a valuable lifeline to those patients who felt more isolated than ever before due to pandemic restrictions.
During this difficult time, the link between social isolation and depression became increasingly clear. The surge in depression over the course of the past 20 months has been well documented, and we will no doubt continue to see the fallout from this as life gradually returns to normal.
The Link Between Social Isolation and Health Problems
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that a feeling of chronic isolation significantly increases the likelihood of premature death and is associated with a 50% increased risk for developing dementia. A lack of human contact is also associated with a 32% increased risk of stroke and a 29% increased risk of heart disease.
Likewise, loneliness is directly connected to higher rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide. Poor health is what sometimes leads to isolation in the first place, and the isolation itself then worsens depression which can, in turn, exacerbate physical symptoms. This is a vicious cycle that can be very difficult to get out of, particularly for people who are house-bound and without easy access to services.
The Positive Effect of Home Wellness Checks on Mental Health
For those patients who have very few social connections, a visit from a nurse, personal support aid, or home care worker may be a rare opportunity to enjoy face-to-face interaction with another person. These visits also provide a chance for the health care professional to identify people who may be at risk for depression.
Home Care Service Checklist
Home health visits can be an opportunity to look for warning signs that a person might need extra mental health supports, and to subtly encourage activities and behaviors that can contribute to better emotional wellbeing.
For example, the home care worker can lead the patient into a conversation or set up easy projects or activities that the patient can complete when they are alone. Lending books or magazines that can be discussed during the next visit is also a great way to keep the patient engaged. Sometimes, just having another person to talk to is all that a patient needs to lift them out of a dark mood.
Warning Signs That Health Care Workers Should Look For
During home visits, there are specific warning signs that health care workers look for to determine if a patient is experiencing anxiety or depression. The following are just some of the symptoms that people with clinical anxiety or depression may display:
- Chronic insomnia
- Loss of interest in activities they previously enjoyed
- Difficulty concentrating
- Changes in appetite
- Low self-esteem
- Signs of self-harm
- Excessive worry
- Irritability or mood swings
- Sense of impending danger
- Rapid breathing, sweating, and/or trembling
- Gastrointestinal problems
What the Statistics Say
An estimated one out of five adults over age 55 experiences mental health problems – a ratio that appears to be even higher for those older adults who need specialized medical care. A 2016 study that looked at data from 30,000 home care patients determined that as many as 40% showed signs of psychological disorders.
Given the prevalence of severe emotional issues in this demographic, it’s clear that a significant opportunity exists for home care workers to identify concerns, provide support, and seek additional intervention when needed. Symptoms of depression are not always obvious, which is why it’s important to engage with patients on a deeper level whenever possible.
While home care workers cannot be expected to become mental health experts, they should know that their very presence and acts of kindness can go a long way towards improving the mood and outlook of their patients. This is particularly true for the many people who live alone without family or friends nearby to support them.
Being able to integrate home care and mental health support is a work in progress, but health professionals are increasingly recognizing the importance of addressing both factors to improve overall health. Physical and mental wellbeing are clearly co-dependent – one cannot be improved without addressing the other, and home care workers can play a critical role in making this happen.
How At-Home Care Works
Home health care encompasses a wide range of services that can be provided in the comfort of home at a lower cost than in-hospital or at a nursing facility. These services can also save older patients from having to enter a nursing home, allowing them to live independently much longer than they would otherwise.
A home care worker can provide wound care, medical injections, intravenous therapy, nutrition support, and medication administration. They can also educate patients on how to better manage their condition and monitor their health status for sudden changes. The goal is to help patients to be as independent as possible and to slow the steady decline that often comes following the diagnosis of a chronic illness.
Helpful Practices of Home Care Workers
Home Care Workers help house-bound patients in a number of ways, including:
- Checking on nutritional habits
- Asking if patients have pain or discomfort
- Looking for safety hazards in the home
- Checking temperature, blood pressure, breathing, and heart rate
- Checking to make sure prescribed medication is being taken correctly
- Communicating with the patient’s primary care physician or other caregivers
Ensuring Patients Follow Their Care Plan
Sometimes patients with mental health disorders have a particularly hard time sticking to a health care plan. They might be taking several types of medication, some of which need to be consumed at a particular time of day, either with or without food. This being the case, health care workers play a critical role in helping patients to stay on track.
It is often the case that the simple act of taking medication in the correct manner can alleviate many of a patient’s emotional issues. Being in a good routine with medication and other daily habits is essential to both physical and mental wellbeing. Unfortunately, without regular visits from a caregiver, these routine activities can easily fall by the wayside and create a cascade of negative outcomes.
Encouraging Healthier Habits
Another vital role that home care workers play is encouraging their patients to engage in healthier habits. Living alone can sometimes be an impetus for poor eating, physical inactivity, overmedicating, or excessive alcohol consumption. Having a professional caregiver visiting on a regular basis to encourage better lifestyle habits can have a significant positive impact on a patient’s state of mind.
Home care workers can suggest easy yet healthy meal plans, encourage patients to get out for a walk and suggest other healthy habits that they can add to their daily routine. Some home care workers even assist their clients with a simple meal and snack prep so that there is something nutritious for them to eat when they are alone.
Why Home Care Workers Must Also Protect Themselves
While home care workers clearly play a vital role in the health and wellbeing of their patients, they are also in a susceptible position from a liability perspective. Working in other people’s homes with a vulnerable population puts home care workers at risk on many levels.
The Importance of Malpractice Insurance
Due to the many responsibilities and risks faced by home care workers, a comprehensive insurance plan is essential. Professional and general liability coverage protects both the worker and their patients in the event that an injury, accident or mistake takes place. This is coverage that will safeguard personal assets and pay for any legal fees associated with alleged negligent behavior.
If you are a home care worker seeking malpractice insurance, we would love to provide a fast and easy quote for you as an employee or for your home health care business. At NOW Insurance we provide insurance that is simple, fast and affordable.
Learn more about insurance for home care and home health companies and workers.