Growing old isn’t for sissies

Helping your parent or loved one to find the right living environment as they consider retirement communities will take time, attention to detail and a great deal of care. There are multiple things to take into consideration, including the level of care, the professionalism of a staff, the quality of service and amenities, safety and security and cost.  Keep in mind that it’s your job to gather the information, and then make sure that your parent or loved one is highly involved in the final decision. 

As Bette Davis said, “Growing old isn’t for sissies.” But wise decisions about how your parent or loved one will live out their golden years, and including them in the process, will provide the best options for this next life adventure:

Speak with your parent or loved one

Saying “goodbye” to the home filled with treasures where a lifetime of memories have been made is never an easy time in any person’s life.  It is important to discuss how the family will manage a change and a time to affirm and learn from a parents’ life review as a family.  Take plenty of time to talk about what the next step should be, and the things that will define the new home.  This will provide important parameters, as well as a time to laugh about the good-ol’-days, and begin to ease the transition.

Research and identify a few select options

Based on the goals you’ve established as a family, research and identify a few select options for a senior living community that you can investigate further.  Visit websites, look for testimonials (and critiques), understand operations and lock-in-on the things that are most important to your family.  This initial legwork will provide a realistic starting point for you.  Visiting too many communities may be overwhelming, so it is important to narrow your choices to a few. 

Schedule a visit

Once you’ve identified your choice options, contact their management office and request a visit and meeting with a management executive.  Set the expectation that you would like to meet more staff than the one marketer typically appointed to tour people through a community.  A community that is not only able, but happy to meet this request, is a good indication that you’re on the right track. Once the visit has been scheduled, have a list of your five to ten most important questions you are prepared to ask.  Pay attention to the questions the community’s staff asks of you and/or your loved one.  Is the community going to cater to your unique family situation?  Take a tour, and while on the tour, be aware of things such as cleanliness, security how happy the residents and employees are, are they interacting with one another, and the overall ambiance of the property. 

Learn about amenities and services

While you’re touring, find out as much as you can about the amenities and services of the community and evaluate how nimble a community will be as the needs and wants of the residents change.  For example, what are their dining options (do they simply have a cafeteria, or does the community have multiple restaurants, including fine dining and a personal chef); what type of programs do they have in place so the residents remain active, engaged and have real purpose daily (are there trips, are speakers invited in to give presentations, are daily fitness classes provided and educational opportunities); can friends, children or grandchildren spend the night, participate in programs; does the community provide a continuum of care (so that a person can remain on the property, as their health needs change); what is their level of experience when it comes to memory care and Alzheimer’s patients; do they have residential options for couples with different healthcare needs; are they locally managed; what is the longevity of their staff; do they provide transportation (what is the schedule and level of flexibility); do they have a physician on-site, and, do they provide an Ambassador Program (to help new residents feel welcome and well acquainted)?

Understand the financial model

Senior living communities can have very different financial models, and you should take great care in understanding what the costs will be, how you will be charged, and over what length of time.  For example, there are “buy-in” models that can start at a cost of $250,000 and exceed $1,000,000, and sometimes are duplicative of an insurance plan your loved one may already have in place.  A rental-plan means that there is a monthly payment due.  Rental models often provide much more flexibility as individual situations change.  Evaluate your situation to know how important it might be for funds to be liquid (typically a few weeks is all that is required should the community not be a fit or a relocation is necessary for the family).  When considering a buy in, find out if the apartment home needs to be “resold” before the buy-in deposit will be returned; ask how much of the deposit will be returned (if any); understand what the monthly obligation is under the buy-in model (will a resident still be responsible for the monthly fees and upkeep until a new resident occupies the space when they vacate)?  Have each community outline the expected increases and provide data on the history of increases.

Report back to your loved ones

After you’ve gotten the answers to your family’s most important questions and goals, plan a meeting to discuss all that you’ve discovered.  Outline the positives and negatives, and why you believe your first choice is the most realistic option.  Obviously, everyone will have questions, objections, support and input of their own.  You’ve done a lot of hard work, so be prepared to answer and address whatever concerns they might raise.

Finding the best senior living community for a parent or loved one is a large undertaking.  As long as you and your family take the time to do the necessary research and ask the right questions — and support your loved one in the decision making process —  you can feel comfortable in the choice you make, together.