Ten Strategies For Helping Your Aging Parent Choose a Retirement Community
By Sheri Samotin
So, the day you’ve been dreading has come. You, and perhaps your siblings, have decided that Mom or Dad simply can’t live in their home a moment longer. For whatever reason, moving in with one of the kids isn’t an option. It’s time to find the right place for the next chapter. If you are like many adult children of aging parents, your parent doesn’t agree with your decision, and thinks he can stay at home just fine. She doesn’t want to hear about moving into a “facility.” And you feel, well, guilty. Sound familiar? Here are my top ten strategies for choosing (or helping to choose) a retirement living option for or with your aging parent.
1. Scout ahead of time – In most communities, there are many options for independent or assisted living. If you’ve gone to look at colleges with your teenager (or remember doing it yourself) you’ll know exactly what I mean. It can be overwhelming to figure out what you need and what you want. If it’s hard for you, imagine how it will be for your Mom or Dad. Spare everyone, by doing the leg work alone.
2. Understand the math – Money does matter. Your parent’s resources (and maybe yours) will determine the range of available options. For example, if your parent has a house or condo to sell that is worth more than its mortgage, or if there is long-term care insurance available and your parent meets the criteria for it to kick in, then you may be in a very different situation from another family where the only resource is a monthly social security check. You’ll do everyone a favor by crunching the numbers ahead of time to figure out how much can be spent each month, and what has to be included in that number. Most communities provide a handy worksheet that will help you understand all of the factors that go into this calculation. Don’t confuse the issue by bringing your parent to see a place that is outside of your family’s means.
3. Narrow the choices to no more than three or four using the Five S method – Once you have a list of possibilities that are within your budget and in the geographic area you desire, it’s time to narrow the choices to a few where you think Mom or Dad will be happiest. I suggest you use the Five S method, considering size, sights, sounds, smells, and services. What you are really doing is looking for a good match based on a sixth “S” – similarities. You are looking for a place where the residents are as similar to your parent as possible in terms of age, activity level, mental acuity, hobbies and interests, and socio-economic factors. After all, we all feel most comfortable in an environment where we feel comfortable and accepted.
4. Size – Will your Mom or Dad be more comfortable in a larger community with many residents or a smaller, more intimate setting? Can your parent still get around reasonably well, or will a large campus become frustrating? Is your parent likely to take advantage of the facilities that might be available in a larger community, or due to his or her physical or mental state will these amenities likely go unused? Will the size of the living unit work for your parent? For example, for many women, having a full kitchen is very important, even if they will receive two meals each day as part of their living package. They think they will still be cooking, because they always have and this is one important way they feel as though they are still in control. On the other hand, many men are sure they need a “den” or “office” within their living unit and won’t hear of moving into a space that doesn’t. It is very important for you to understand this psychology as you are looking at alternative living units.
5. Sights – The classic line I hear when an aging parent comes to visit an independent or assisted living community is, “Everyone here is old!” In fact, sometimes that’s true. Some communities cater to an older crowd with more physical limitations, so you’ll see lots of walkers and wheelchairs. Other communities attract younger, more physically active residents where jackets and ties at dinner are expected. You’ll also find that there are distinct differences in the “look and feel” from one residence to the next. Some have a homey feel, while others look like upscale hotels or even cruise ships! And still others give a more clinical or medical impression. Ask yourself whether you can “see” your parent in a particular community. Take the time to notice the details, especially in the public spaces.
6. Sounds – When you first enter the community, is there a hush, or do you hear a loud television set? Or perhaps, you hear ringing phones and beepers, much like you would in a hospital. Do you get the impression that the residents are socializing, gathering, and participating in activities?
7. Smells – Try to visit about a half hour before mealtime, and notice the smell. Is it appealing? When you are in the living areas, does it look and smell clean? Does there seem to be a strong “air freshener” odor everywhere that might be used to mask less than optimal cleaning? Our sense of smell is a fabulous clue to what’s really going on.
8. Services – Some communities offer a continuum of care, so that residents can come into an independent living situation and then move to assisted living, skilled nursing, or a memory unit if and when that care is needed. This can be ideal if your parents are both moving in and one needs more care than the other, or if your parent suffers from a condition that you know will progress over time. You’ll also want to look at the service offerings that are available to help your parent with activities of daily living, transportation, physical therapy, etc. Finally, take a close look at the social calendar since one of the huge benefits of community living for seniors is the amount of interaction with others which helps to keep them active and alert.
9. Ask for and check references – Before you decide that a particular community is on the short list, be sure to ask for and check a few references. Ask for permission to talk with the family members of two or three current or recent residents. When you have these conversations, don’t be shy about asking some tough questions, especially if there is anything on your mind about what you have observed.
10. Visit with your parent – Finally, it’s time to bring your parent around on a tour of the three or four best options. Only have them visit communities that fit their needs and budget and that you feel good about. If at all possible, it’s best to let your parent make the final decision about which community and which living unit will be their new home.
Once you have arrived at a decision, it is important that you move ahead with it quickly. As the saying goes, “time kills all deals”, and this one is no exception. You, or your parent, will always be able to come up with a reason why now isn’t the right time for this move. But the truth is, if you have reached the point where you have even started visiting communities, you probably know in your heart that this move really is in your parent’s best interest.
©2009 LifeBridge Solutions, LLC
Sheri Samotin is a Certified Professional Coach and the founder of LifeBridge Solutions, LLC. Sheri brings more than 25 years of business and management experience to helping baby boomers and their aging parents navigate life’s transitions. LifeBridge Solutions offers family transition coaching, daily money management, household transition services, and estate administration support. Sheri is a member of the International Coach Federation, the American Association of Daily Money Managers, and the National Association of Senior Move Managers. Please visit our website to register for our e-newsletter or sign up for our Family Transition blog.
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