When talk turns to planning for where you or the beloved senior in your family will age, you basically have 2 choices. Can you or the senior in your family successfully and cost-effectively age in place at home? Or will it be a richer, healthier life if the move is made to a retirement community where meals, services, amenities and peers are provided?
Where you live matters. And it’s important to understand the ins and outs of your options.
“Aging in place” is a popular phrase in sales pitches offered up by home security companies, technology products and home care agencies. But what does it mean? And is it as simple as a ramp for the front door and a pendant to wear around your neck?
Creating a thoughtfully planned home environment for successfully aging in place means:
- Modifying the house for safety: Zero-step entries. Upgraded bathrooms with walk-in showers, grab bars and raised toilets. Accessible floor plan redesign. Good lighting. These are the keys to a safe home environment.
- Developing a plan for personal care: Understand that care needs can be episodic or around the clock. They may fluctuate. Whether a senior needs assistance at 2:00 p.m. or 3:00 a.m., having a care plan at the ready is critical.
- Supporting daily activities: Preparing to support the daily activities of living requires careful coordination of services. When you or your senior family member no longer drives, what are the options for transportation? What avenues are there for grocery shopping and safe meal preparation? These and other frequently repeated tasks can be among the most time-consuming and challenging for families.
- Having dedicated family support: A family caregiver who can dedicate 20 hours a week (or more) to providing assistance is what the Family Caregiver Alliance says is the norm. Can a family member fill that requirement on a long-term basis?
- Thinking like an employer: You’ll no doubt need to enlist the services of a professional caregiver, maybe even three or four. Your plan needs to incorporate which family member will be responsible for screening, hiring, scheduling and supervising the team of in-home caregivers who support the activities of daily living. Geriatric care managers can fill this oversight role on the family’s behalf, if necessary. Depending upon what part of the country you reside in, those services can range between $90 and $150 an hour.
- Preparing for the worst: Falls, sudden illnesses and in-home emergencies require quick action. Your plan must include a method you or your aging family member can use to summon help. You also need procedures for emergency-specific situations. An evacuation plan in case of fire. A bad weather plan. Even a strategy to prevent the senior from falling victim to a break-in or scam.
- Avoiding isolation: Isolation is a health risk for older adults. It contributes to mental and physical health conditions like depression, obesity and diabetes. So incorporate social engagement opportunities when creating a plan to age in place. And remember: When it comes to staying connected, where you live matters.
Some only think of a senior living community as a last resort. That’s probably because of the stigma of yesterday’s nursing homes. Plus, there’s a lingering myth that independence is lost with a move to a senior living community (when in fact such a move typically contributes to greater independence). Combined, these two factors prevent many seniors and their families from understanding the real advantages of a senior living community.
Here’s the truth: Offering a variety of life enrichment activities, abundant support services that simplify daily life, and a rich tableau of socialization and personal growth opportunities, senior living communities deserve a closer look.
When you consider the option of a senior living community, know what you need to know.
- Define your needs and wants beforehand: Before you head out to visit senior living communities, create your Wish List. Think about those items that are must-haves and those that are things you hope to find in a community. If you know you or your aging parent absolutely won’t move without being able to take their fluffy little kitty, for example, then a pet-friendly community is a necessity. Is gardening space needed? How important is the community dining? And what about a fitness center, an indoor pool and access to golf – necessities or niceties?
- Communities vary widely: Don’t give up the search because the first assisted living community you visited didn’t meet your expectations. Senior living communities vary in what types of care, services and amenities they offer. Plan to visit at least 3 senior living communities before you choose.
- Plan for today and tomorrow: Be sure you know what happens if short- or long-term care is needed. Also know what health concerns the community is equipped to handle. For example, not all communities can meet the unique needs of a resident who receives a dementia diagnosis.
- Read the fine print: Fees and expenses are different at every senior living community. Some bundle services regardless of what the senior does or doesn’t need. Other communities offer tiered approaches to assistance, as well as additional charges for better views or prime locations within the community. Entrance fees may be refunded on a sliding scale when a senior moves out, or forfeited if they’ve lived there for a predetermined amount of time. In most cases, it’s beneficial to have an attorney experienced in working with elder issues review the contract for potential issues.
- Involve loved ones in the move: The very process of downsizing a senior’s home for a move to a senior living community can be stressful. But it also offers opportunities for the older family member to see firsthand what a legacy they’re sharing. Cherished family heirlooms, old photos, videos and other memorabilia – sharing the stories and designating who will keep them into the future can make for exceptional family bonding.
To help you learn more, we recommend you download and review The Senior Care Continuum: A Quick Guide to the Options. It will walk you through the benefits and services of each level of senior care.