It is clear that aging people would rather be at home than in an institution. Veterans are no exception. Even when they are unable to live on their own and need nursing home level care, many veterans opt for an innovative program called "Medical Foster Homes."

A Medical Foster Home is simply a qualified home with trained residents who can help a veteran live in a family atmosphere, have 24/7 access to responsible caregivers, and live in a home environment where help is just down the hallway or in the next room.

The benefits to veterans are enormous. Medical Foster Homes are far less expensive than nursing home care; most veterans' benefits cover the expenses. The veteran has the same caregiver or family set of caregivers day and night in a home atmosphere. The sites of care-homes and apartments-are located in average, every day neighborhoods. Transportation to medical appointments is provided, either by the caregiver or the Veterans Administration.

The VA provides great support for the caregiver and veterans via the Home Based Primary Care Team, which consists of professional medical personnel ready to provide aid in many fields from physical therapy to psychological counseling for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The VA may also help with needed home alterations, such as wheelchair ramps, in order to accommodate a veteran's needs.

Medical Foster Homes are an economical and emotionally satisfying alternative to institutionalized care. Veterans love them, the veterans' children feel relieved and grateful, and the caregivers are satisfied, too.

Even more, Medical Foster Homes are medically safe. A study published by Oxford University Press for the Gerontological Society of America found that Medical Foster Home care participants had the same or lower levels of hospitalizations than those in institutionalized settings.

Caregivers also benefit from the intrinsic rewards of serving someone who risked all for his or her nation. Caregivers are compensated for their services, too. The VA compensates Medical Foster Home caregivers between $1,500 and $3,500 per month for each veteran in their service.

Homeowners and renters may apply to the Veterans Administration to transform their living space into a Medical Foster Home. With a few adjustments, the average residence can be made suitable for this purpose. Although it is desirable for a veteran to have his or her own room in a home, in some cases room sharing is allowed. Most veterans who need this kind of care also benefit from one-floor living. Caregivers may have up to three veterans in their homes. This ensures that the veterans receive optimal attention and care.

Although caregiving is a round-the-clock proposition, the caregiver may arrange for someone to be home and available for the veteran's or veterans' needs at all times. This person must be trained in basic caregiving, similar to the training the main caregiver or caregivers have received. Trained family members can also participate.

The caregiver's responsibilities include providing three nutritious meals a day, plus snacks, helping the veteran with personal needs, such as showering or dressing, doing laundry, and managing medications.

The potential Medical Foster Home must be inspected by a VA multidisciplinary team. The home must comply with all fire safety regulations.

The VA model of Medical Foster Homes may be pointing the way for the care of the rapidly aging Baby Boomer generation. It is possible that for a reasonable monthly fee, perhaps supplemented by Medicare, Medical Foster Homes could be made available for the average citizen. The study of the Gerontological Society of America, noted above, found that non-institutionalized, non-family care rated well in preventing hospitalizations and providing comparable or better care than nursing homes.

There will be families wishing to open their homes and hearts to an elderly person who longs to live in a home-like atmosphere rather than entering an institution or depending entirely on adult children. The VA's solution may be the next best thing to aging in place.

Sources

Levy, C.R., Alemi, F., Williams, A. E., Williams, A. R. , Wojtusiak, J., Sutton, B. Giang, P., Pracht, E., Argyros, L. (2015). Shared Homes as an Alternative to Nursing Home Care: Impact of VA's Medical Foster Home Program on Hospitalization. Oxford University Press on behalf of the Gerontological Society of America. Gerontologist, 2015 Sept. 18.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Geriatrics and Extended Care, Medical Foster Home Care and Elder Veterans, available online at: http://www.va.gov/GERIATRICS/Guide/LongTermCare/Medical_Foster_Homes.asp.

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