Evaluating Assisted Living Options for Seniors
- Individuals over age 85 are among the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. population.
- Over 12 million Americans need long-term care today—a number likely to double by 2050.
- The prevalence of cognitive impairment among seniors has increased over the last decade.
- I include my firsthand experience to guide you through the process.
Thanks to demographic shifts and medical advances, Americans are living longer than ever before. That also means more of us are suddenly finding ourselves in a caregiver position for our parents, even if they resist our help.
The financial, logistical, and emotional dynamics can be challenging to say the least, even if you come from a tight-knit family as I do. Fortunately, there are many options available to meet the needs of our aging population. Every family’s situation is unique and there is no one-size-fits-all option. Trust me, I’ve been through it!
I’d like to share my eldercare experience with my parents and lessons I’ve learned along the way.
When you start reviewing assisted living options, ask yourself why you believe one or both of your parents need assistance. Are you noticing a cognitive decline, physical limitations, or a combination of both? Oftentimes, parents who are of similar ages could have different needs and be in different life stages at the same time. For instance, my dad has dementia and my mom has physical limitations. I needed to find a place that could accommodate them both that wouldn’t expect them to care entirely for each other.
Many assisted living homes do not have a “memory care” option and is not required for all dementia sufferers. Typically, memory care options are for residents who tend to wander. Memory care areas are separate from the general assisted living areas and are usually locked down.
Here are some important questions to ask assisted living facilities that you’re considering for memory care:
- How does lockdown work?
- Is there a code?
- If so, how frequently is the code changed?
NOTE: Dementia suffers can still be incredibly smart and can quickly learn codes if they are not changed regularly!
If the assisted living home you are considering does not have a memory care facility, make sure you know their policy about residents who start to wander. Many of the facilities I reviewed told me they will ask residents to leave if wandering becomes an issue. Residents can also be asked to leave if they’re deemed too disruptive or aggressive to be around other residents.
You may be shocked to learn how expensive eldercare is, whether it’s provided at home or an assisted living community. Many families worry about running out of money while still caring for an aging parent. Also, an assisted living community is not required to keep a resident if they can no longer afford the monthly payments. Even if you don’t think finances will be an issue for your family, it is important to ask the community about their eviction policies.
Don’t expect Medicaid to cover all your parents’ long-term care costs. Even if your parents qualify for Medicaid, they will typically not be able to choose where they receive their care. This situation could result in an upsetting “move” if their funds, or your family’s funds, run out. Also, the services that Medicaid will cover varies greatly from state to state. Washington State has recently introduced a Long-Term Care program that will provide some coverage after 2025. But for now, only residents with less than $2,000 in assets and less than $2,313 in monthly income can qualify.
- Honesty has its limits. We’re trained to be truthful throughout our lives, but honesty is not always the best policy when someone has dementia. For instance, telling your parent they are only in an assisted living home temporarily “while they recover” may be kinder than telling them it is a permanent move. Likewise, after going to lunch with a parent, you don’t necessarily need to inform them that you’ll be stopping at the doctor’s office on the way home.
- Don’t nag. We all tend to forget things as we get older. Regardless of age, most people don’t want to be reminded of their forgetfulness, even when it comes to important details like the death of a spouse or a parent. Sometimes redirecting the conversation is all that’s needed.
- Don’t interrogate. Try to reduce the number of questions you ask your parents about their daily lives. Instead, give direction. It may seem counterintuitive, but asking pointed questions, especially ones they may not be able to answer readily, can cause additional stress between you and your parents.
- Adjust. Remember what they can do today, they may not be able to do tomorrow. As their disease progresses, a task easily accomplished last week could be beyond their capability this week. Sometimes the situation reverses; many times, it does not.
- Be patient. This is not easy for many of us, especially if we’re used to having strong parental figures in our lives. Your aging parents are not being difficult; they’re learning to deal with a disease that they didn’t choose to have. Try to respond to the disease, not to the person your parent once was. Trust me, being rational or logical does not work!
Take Your Time
It can take extended time to transition a loved one from their home to an appropriate long-term care home. It’s one of the most important decisions that you and your family will make. It took my parents and me over a year, and many false starts, to find the right community before moving there. It took my friend over two years to get her mom into an assisted living home. However, once parents are settled in, the benefits are huge.
In part 2 of this series, I will provide a list of important considerations that can give you peace of mind with your ultimate decision. If you would like additional information, please do not hesitate to reach out.
Liz McQueen, CRPC® is an Advisor at Soundmark Wealth Management, LLC. Liz works closely with physicians, business owners, directors and executives at Amazon, Microsoft, and Boeing, and other successful and accomplished individuals to help them define their financial goals and implement an ongoing financial planning process.
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