What's the Difference Between a Personal Aide and a Home Health Aide?

A fellow caregiver asked...

What's the difference between a personal aide and a home health aide?

Expert Answer

Jennifer Voorlas is a geriatric care manager in Los Angeles, California, and president of Geriatric Care Consultants. She has a master's degree in gerontology from the University of Southern California and is certified by NACCM, the National Academy of Certified Care Managers.

The main difference between a personal aide and a home health aide is in the level of medical care they provide. Although personal aides typically have home health aide certification (which involves competing a 76-hour, nurse-supervised training program), they provide mostly personal care -- such as bathing, grooming, and dressing. The medical care that personal aides provide is usually limited to such things as medication reminders, dental care, and assistance with toileting and incontinence.

Home health aides have more specialized training than personal aides. Usually a home health aide is a certified nursing assistant (CNA) who's supervised by a nurse. Often, home health aides work for certified nursing or hospice agencies that receive government funding and therefore must comply with regulations regarding documentation, medical supervision, and paperwork. Usually a doctor orders home health if an older adult is determined to be unable to care for himself or herself -- during postsurgery rehabilitation, for example -- and is therefore more likely to be covered by insurance.

Home health aides typically help administer medications and can help older adults with prescribed exercises and physical therapy routines. With proper training, they can change simple dressings, give massages, and assist with braces and mobility devices. Also, with specialized training, a home health aide can operate and troubleshoot medical equipment such as home oxygen or ventilators. A nurse continues to provide oversight as long as the home health aide is in place.

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