Exploring senior living with a checklist of topics to talk through
Talking to your parents about senior living can seem overwhelming, especially if they have a four-bedroom house packed with memories, while you have a career on the go plus a partner and kids. Nevertheless, delaying these vital conversations could lead to problems down the road, so we zeroed in on topics families should talk through when the topic of senior housing comes up.
While no one likes to discuss money, at some point, you’ll need to find out about your parents’ sources of income as well as their assets and insurance policies. Also, check to see if your parents purchased insurance to cover long-term care. Licensed insurance agent and elder care lawyer Patrick Simasco gives a special nod to life insurance policies with long-term care riders. Unlike standalone long-term insurance policies, “if you don’t use it [for long-term care], you won’t lose it,” he says.
One thing that Simasco always emphasizes to families is finding a senior living option that’s affordable. “Don’t go out and get the Rolls Royce of assisted living because you feel guilty,” says Simasco. There is no need to “spend $6,000 a month when you only need to spend $3,500.” The monthly average cost for assisted living is just more than $3,600, although prices vary widely across the country, according to the Genworth 2016 Annual Cost of Care Study.
Sadly, as Simasco points out, in some families, parents end up moving in with their children if money runs out. In fact, more than one-quarter of Americans say they’re already supporting their parents or will need to do so at some point, according to a recent Harris poll.
Getting the right support
Senior living encompasses a range of options from independent living to assisted living to skilled nursing centers, so along with assessing affordability, you need to pinpoint how much assistance your parents need, if any. “Although you never want your mom or dad to have to leave a community they’ve come to love, it’s not a good idea to skimp on care, if that is what is needed,” says Jamison Gosselin, senior vice president for marketing and communications for Holiday Retirement.
Take note of your parents’ health as well as any activities they struggle with, like cooking, shopping, yard work or basic activities of daily living like eating or dressing. Lack of social contact is another thing to look out for, as it’s a common problem in seniors and one that can seriously affect emotional and physical health. Mobility issues are also something to keep an eye on, as falls are the leading cause of injury among older adults.
Take the time to observe your parents’ driving skills and note any changes in your parents’ appearance as well as the condition of the house, says gerontologist Jennifer Fitzpatrick, author of Cruising Through Caregiving: Reducing The Stress Of Caring For Your Loved One. “It’s a big, big flag if formerly well-groomed parents are wearing torn or dirty clothes, or if a once clean and tidy house is now chaotic,” she says, adding that these changes could mean mom and dad are experiencing physical problems, depression or memory loss.
As the severity of dementia progresses with time, do take special note if your mother or father are consistently repeating themselves or have difficulty solving problems. Although it’s important to have a conversation about memory loss, Fitzpatrick says this talk should be initiated by a third party. Having someone who is removed from the situation broach the topic of memory loss can put your aging parent more at ease than if the conversation is initiated by an adult child or spouse.
If your loved one has dementia, memory care communities are often the best choice. For other serious medical conditions, look for housing that offer an onsite nurse 24 hours day.
Making a list of non-negotiables
Senior living communities typically offer a wide range of amenities like health spas, concierge services and business centers, while some cater to those of a specific culture or religion. Fitzpatrick advises seniors to narrow down the choices by listing three non-negotiable services or features they must have. For some seniors, gourmet food is top priority, for others it’s living with residents of the same faith, while some men want the assurance they’ll have other male residents to socialize with at the community. According to the 2010 National Survey of Residential Care Facilities, men only comprise 30 percent of assisted living residents.
Along with levels of care and services and amenities, there’s also an infinite number of housing styles to choose from, everything from high-rises to townhouses to cottages. Location is, of course, another key factor. Don’t assume your parents will want to remain in the same area, they may gladly move to be closer to their children and grandchildren.
Choosing the “right” senior living community is one of the most significant decisions a family can make, one that’s right up there with buying a house. There are a whole host of variables as well as personal preferences to consider, says Fitzpatrick, adding that “what I think is a perfect fit, may not be what my parents think.”
Talking with your parents about tricky subjects like senior living doesn’t have to be contentious. Learn valuable tips and techniques on broaching these discussion by downloading Holiday Retirement’s free e-book, “Tackling Tough Conversations: How to Navigate Five Steps in a Senior Living Move.”