A young woman kneels beside an older woman who sits in a wheelchair. They are smiling at each other.
Home care may be right for you or your loved one if living at home is safe and the most desirable option for getting senior care services.

There may come a time when an older adult begins to find household chores or personal tasks challenging, but they are not ready to move to a senior living community to get the help they need. AARP’s 2021 Home and Community Preferences Survey polled almost 3,000 adults ages 18 and over, and results showed that about 75% of respondents age 65 and over said they want to remain in their homes or communities for as long as possible.

When an older adult wants to remain living at home but needs help with certain tasks to be safe and comfortable, getting in-home care may be a suitable option to help meet their needs. Home care services vary, provide help with different types of tasks, and can be costly. Therefore, it’s important to learn about this type of senior care to make the best decision for yourself or your loved one. Here, we define the types of home care and what the services entail.

What is home care?

Home care brings services to older adults so they can continue to live at home, rather than move to a senior community, such as an assisted living facility or nursing home, right away. There are multiple types of care that can meet a person’s varying levels of need. For example, a person may need assistance with activities of daily living, like bathing, doing laundry, or managing their medication. Home care providers can help with tasks like these so an older adult can remain living at home longer comfortably and safely.

What does a home care provider do?

Home care providers can help with a wide range of tasks. The types of home care may have different names but are generally divided into three categories: homemaker services, personal care, and skilled care.

The types of home care are defined in part by whether the care helps people with fundamental daily living, other tasks that are not basic to everyday living but that increase one’s quality of life, or medical tasks. 

The types of home care are also defined by who can provide the services. A non-medical caregiver can perform certain types of home care services tasks, and medically trained people are required to perform others. Many insurance providers define which services they cover based on these factors.

Homemaker services

Homemaker services help people with instrumental activities of daily living (IADL). IADL tasks are not fundamental to everyday living, but they may increase a person’s comfort or quality of life. Homemaker services do not typically require a medically-trained person and include the following types of tasks:

  • Laundry.
  • Light housekeeping.
  • Meal preparation.
  • Shopping.
  • Medication management (not including administering the medication).
  • Transportation.

Personal care services

Personal care services help people with activities of daily living (ADL). ADL are basic tasks that are fundamental to everyday life. Personal care services may not require a medically-trained person and include the following types of tasks: 

  • Bathing.
  • Grooming.
  • Toileting.
  • Dressing.
  • Eating.
  • Transferring (E.g., moving from bed to chair).
  • Self-ambulation (I.e., moving around without assistance, or with assistance using a device, like using a walker).

Home care agencies, Medicare, Medicaid, or other insurance providers may also refer to personal care as “custodial care.”

Skilled care

Skilled care services help people with medical-health tasks. These types of tasks must be performed by a medically trained person. Some of these tasks include:

  • Administering medication (as opposed to only managing medications).
  • Therapy (occupational, physical, speech, and others).
  • Tracking vital signs.

Home care agencies, Medicare, Medicaid, or other insurance providers may also refer to skilled care as “skilled nursing care.” 

It is important to note that a person may need more than one type of care. For example, a person who requires skilled care because they need help with taking medication for a condition that decreases their mobility may also need homemaker services to help with laundry.

What is the difference between homemaker services and personal care?

The main difference between homemaker services and personal care is that personal care helps a person with basic activities of daily living, like bathing. Homemaker services, on the other hand, help with tasks that increase a person’s quality of life, like cleaning. 

How do I know which type of home care I need?

You or your loved one may consider home care but don’t know the type that is most suitable for you. Talk about the answers to these questions with your family or loved one to begin considering if home care may be suitable:

  • What help is needed at home to be safe and happy?
  • What equipment is needed to continue living at home?
  • How often is care needed?
  • Does a doctor suggest having home care services?

When you or your loved one determines that this type of care is needed, there are many ways to pay for home care. Personal funds, insurance policies, loans, and even extra benefits can help pay for home care services to help older adults continue living at home while getting the help they need.