SeniorsForLiving.com is a great site that I have worked with for over two years. We did several Baby Boomers and Seniors: News You Can Use blog carnivals together and as a result, I got a chance to get to "know" Gina LaGuardia and Michelle Seitzer. I have been very blessed by them and by working with them in the area of caring for the elderly parents in our families and consider them and their site a terrific resource for all of us in the Sandwich Generation.
Therefore, I am so pleased to tell you that today I am featuring a guest post written by SeniorsforLiving.com’s Michelle Seitzer. Before committing to life as a full-time freelance writer, Michelle spent 10 years in the senior living and advocacy world, serving in various roles at assisted living communities throughout Pennsylvania and Maryland, and leading the charge for Alzheimer’s as a public policy coordinator for the Pennsylvania chapters of the Alzheimer’s Association. She has blogged for SeniorsforLiving.com since November 2008 and currently resides in York, Pennsylvania, with her teacher husband and two Boston Terriers. You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook. So, without further ado…
Caring for Elderly Parents? Choosing the Best Assisted Living Community for Your Loved One
By Michelle Seitzer
At some point in the life of your senior loved one, you may have to help them make a big move…and it might be one of the most difficult decisions you will ever make.
Are you a homeowner? Think back to the days of looking for your first home: securing loans, submitting paperwork, driving around neighborhoods and writing down phone numbers, asking residents about the local school system, getting your first home inspection done, etc. Not an easy process and not one that moved too quickly, right?
Choosing the best assisted living community for a loved one should also be a complex process, a decision not to be arrived at in a hurry. Unfortunately, many families find themselves in crisis situations, needing a higher level of care as soon as possible, and the process must be expedited. This often leads to rushed decisions that don’t always work out in the best interests of all parties involved.
It doesn’t have to be a long and painful process, but there are a few things you should keep in mind when you begin the search to avoid future complications…
First and foremost, if you don’t already know what your loved one has in mind, ask! Ask Mom what she envisions as the best community setting for her golden years. Ask Grandpa what his ideal living situation is. Their desires should fully guide the decision-making process. If there are cognitive impairments that limit the ability to talk freely about what they want, do your very best to get their thoughts on the matter. Bring them along for visits and watch their non-verbal responses closely. In fact, even if there is no Alzheimer’s/dementia symptoms, bring your loved one along to every visit, even if it means taking a day off from work or scheduling a tour at a time that might not suit you: remember, it’s not you who will be living there.
Definitions of assisted living vary by state, as do the costs and the state regulations enforced therein. Do a little research to find out what the state regulating agency is, and check out the community’s record of code violations (often available on the agency’s website). Don’t just look for a clean record, look closely at the severity of the violations, how they were (or weren’t) resolved, and make your decision accordingly. (Very few communities, even the best ones, have a completely spotless record – keep that in mind.)
Here’s a big one: Don’t just go on appearances. You’ll see some absolutely beautiful facilities and some that leave much to be desired in terms of aesthetics. But chandeliers and plush carpet do not always imply quality care, likewise, outdated tile floors does not equal poor care. Choose your battles. If appearance is important to your loved one, consider it, but don’t let it be the sole basis of your decision. The lobby might not be the prettiest room you ever saw, but that doesn’t mean Mother’s room can’t look smashing if the senior living community’s the right fit otherwise.
Visit lots of senior housing communities. It might seem like a hassle, but it’s worth it to find the best fit.
When it comes to costs, read the fine print and ask lots of questions. Specialized services, like meal/medication reminders, are often charged a la carte. Make sure you know all the hidden costs before signing on the dotted line.
Visit on off-hours, like Friday nights and Sunday mornings, when the staff complement is not quite as robust as the Monday 7-3 shift. Staff coverage is very telling of a community’s ability to provide quality care for your loved one WHENEVER they need it.
Talk to the direct care staff. The receptionist, activities director, and nurses’ aides are going to have a much clearer picture of how things flow on a day-to-day basis, even though you’ll likely meet with the marketing director for the official tour. Even better: talk to the residents. That being said, be sure to take what each resident and receptionist says with a grain of salt. There may be bitterness on the part of a resident who didn’t want to move, which may cloud their perspective of the facility. Some front-line staff members may not agree with all of management’s decisions, but if they are happy in their job, it will show.
Finally, think about the things that will change dramatically for your loved senior parent after the move-in day dust settles: privacy, independence/autonomy, possibly a loss of their car, the downsizing process (many seniors who make this move are going from large homes filled with decades of stuff into a one-bedroom apartment). Be sensitive to these massive life shifts, and support them through each challenge, even after the papers are signed.
Start searching for local communities now at SeniorsforLiving.com.
My senior mom and I faced one of those specific family crisis situations Michelle referred to with my senior dad when he was in the end stage of Parkinsons Disease. This would have been great advice for us then and it's great advice for all of us who are caring for elderly parents right now. A terrific help for each of us in the Sandwich Generation. Thank you, Michelle, for such an interesting article.
P.S. SandwichINK is also joining Bev for PINK SATURDAY. Lots of pink sites full of interesting and encouraging pictures and information for those of us in the Baby Boomer and Sandwich Generation, dealing with the issues of caring for our elderly parents while also babysitting grandchildren (and yes, they'll find fun pinks of interest to them as well. ).
P.S. Thank you so much for your comments. I enjoy them very much and read each one. I also love the grand ideas so many of you share that help and encourage other readers. Thank you.