This article examines how care encounters at the elders' homes are forged, and how the way these encounters are forged avoids or evokes the social imaginary of the fourth age. Data were gathered in Portugal from elders receiving home care (16 cases), their care workers (eight cases) and family carers (six cases), through participant observation and informal conversations (conducted at the elders' homes), as well as focus groups. The collected data were analysed according to the procedures of Framework Analysis. This study found five forms of care encounters - marked by conflict, infantilisation, burden, harmony and indifference - the harmony form being the only one found to maintain the fourth age at a distance. It concludes that home care has a Janus-like nature in relation to the fourth age, and that the way home care encounters are forged depends on the conditions of the care settings and the actions of all participants in care encounters. It also concludes that it is difficult to maintain the social imaginary of the fourth age at a distance when the elders exhibit high levels of infirmity. Finally, it concludes that family carers play a crucial role in the way care encounters unfold. Implications for practice and policy include vocational training regarding the relational component of care, and information and educational programmes for family carers.