Most of our readers have not yet reached the age where they are having trouble remaining in their home alone or are beginning to look at the different living options that retirement communities provide.  However, many of you may have it on your minds as your parents or grandparents are probably reaching that age and you have taken on the task of trying to help them as much as possible.  This can be a very challenging process, especially if your senior loved ones are experiencing physical or mental health impairments that make everything more emotional and difficult.  Fortunately, there is help available!  Whether you are trying to help your loved one remain in his or her home or it’s time to think about other options, you can easily find those who are educated in these types of issues and can guide you in the right direction.

Staying in the Home
If they are able to, many people want to stay in their own homes and it’s understandable why.  This is probably the home they have spent many years in and is full of their possessions and memories.  They may have raised children in this home and perhaps they have lost a spouse who they bought and shared the home with.  Many times, with some adjustments, it is possible for seniors to remain in their homes for much (or all) of their retirement years.  You simply need to communicate with them and know how to recognize when they need help.

“It is always better to talk openly and honestly to your parents about what their wishes are when they get so they are not able to take care of themselves before they reach that point, so that you can have a plan of action before you need it,” explains Teresa Million with Freedom in Home Care.  “However, realize that sometimes their wishes may not always be realistic  based on their needs and that keeping them safe and healthy is one of the major priorities.”

“Be observant when you are around them or at their place,” she continues. “Most likely they are not going to tell you they need assistance as they don’t want to burden you or they may be embarrassed that they are no longer able to manage everything on their own.  Many things could suggest that they just need a little bit of extra help such as piles of unopened mail, disconnect notices, messy house, laundry piling up,  bare cabinets/fridge to name a few.  Things that suggest that they may need more help include not bathing or changing clothes regularly, unintentional  weight loss,  smell of urine in the home, frequent falls or injuries, not taking their medications as prescribed and increased confusion just to name a few.

There are many agencies out there, like Freedom In Home Services, that can assist your parents whether they need some companion care, homemakers or personal care assistance on the non-medical side or whether they need more skilled medical care from nurses and therapists.

Sometimes you parents may just need a little bit of assistance a few hours a week to be able to manage staying in their home or they may require several hours a day to 24 hours a day to be able to safely remain in their home.  There are many agencies out there that can assist with meeting your parents’ needs and most of them just require a simple phone call to inquire about services.  Find an agency that you feel is the right fit and willing to meet your parents’ needs.”

“Today there are a variety of services available to help your parent be able to stay in their home by having staff come in and assist with their specific needs,” concludes Teresa. “Safety needs to be one of your major priorities in determining how much care or assistance your parents need. However, if it is determined that home is not the best place there are many options from Independent Retirement Communities, to Assisted Living Facilities to nursing homes depending on the level of care needed.”

Transitioning to a Retirement Community
Many seniors may be hesitant to move to a retirement community.  Some of them feel that moving from their beloved homes is the same as losing their independence.  Others don’t want to leave neighbors or nearby friends.  And still others worry that they will be moving to the equivalent of an institution.  While they will have to deal with moving away from familiar surroundings, you can help make them feel more at ease about where they are moving as retirement communities are not about losing independence and they certainly are nothing like an institution.

Lisa Arp with Silver Ridge Assisted Living explains, “Retirement communities have changed to the point that skilled care facilities (nursing homes) aren’t even considered long-term anymore, Assisted Living communities are. Plus, more independent communities are like Club Med.  You receive some meals with your rent, you can park your car in an enclosed temperature controlled garage and basically go on vacation and not worry about the security of your things, mowing the lawn or utilities.”

“Senior living communities offer socialization, meals, transportation, housekeeping services, laundry services, healthy meals, outings and so much more,” concurs Tracy Marcinski with Elk Ridge Senior Living.  “I know there is no place like home, but home can be lonely when you are alone, can no longer drive, etc.  Just the benefit of healthy meals and companionship can brighten most people.  With so many options I believe there is a senior living community to meet everyone’s needs.”

“Seniors (or their children) need to do their research and see what is out there,” continues Lisa. “Too many folks of this generation consider all facilities to be like nursing homes and that is not true. Also, they should know that their quality of life would be better, allowing them to live a longer, happier life. This allows them to see great grandchildren be born, attend weddings and other landmark things they might miss if they stay at home and possibly have an event such as a fall etc. that would cause them to maybe go to a skilled facility (nursing home).  I would also encourage the children not to wait too long. Bring it up subtly around holidays. Find out if their friends live in a retirement community. It would be planting a seed that hopefully they would turn around and make it their idea rather than it being forced upon them. And be honest.  If you are not comfortable taking care of them or don’t feel you can, than say so. There is nothing wrong with that. It is still about them and what is best. If you know you can’t, you are still thinking of their best interests.”

When the decision is made to make the transition, calling in some help is usually a good idea.  Hiring movers can definitely make the experience much less stressful on both you and your parents as they will know that everything will arrive safely at their new home and you won’t have to spend weeks helping them pack and load everything.

More than likely, your parent will have too many possessions to have in their new retirement community home.  Unless you have a ton of extra space and are able to take it all to your home, you might want to look into a storage unit or having an estate auction.

Auctions are a great way to reduce the number of possessions and raise money that can be put into your parents’ retirement account.  They can always hold on to the possessions that have sentimental value and just auction off furniture, fixtures and other pieces that they don’t have room for.

Helping Them Make the Choice
“Navigating the senior housing choices can be overwhelming,” states Roxann Rogers Meyer with Immanuel Communities.  “There is a lack of education and understanding on the part of the consumer and most consumers do not know the difference between Independent Living, Assisted Living, Alzheimer’s and Skilled Nursing.

At Immanuel Communities we often visit with the adult child initially before the prospective resident has the opportunity for a personal visit to the community.

Many adult children become involved in the research and decision when they are dealing with their aging parents.  Oftentimes these decisions come with complications including health, finances, insurance, family dynamics, lack of future planning or understanding when it comes to the various levels of care available to seniors.  Our goal is to help guide adult children and their parents on this journey and help them come up with the option that best meets their needs.

Planning for the future is the most important factor to aging successfully.  You can enjoy your loved ones when they are living in a senior living community.  Rather than caring for them, you can use your time and energy to focus on spending time with them, enjoying events, activities and conversation.”

Looking at the big picture and deciding what is best for your parents’ overall health (both mental and physical) is the most important thing when helping them make decisions.  Getting some outside help to focus your efforts is always a good idea.  Michaela Williams with Care Consultants for the Aging says, “I help families look at the whole picture—what they or their loved one both want and need for themselves, where they want to receive their services, how they would like care done and who they will have do that care.  It is helpful to understand not only the person you are assisting, but also the family and the environment.”

When a representative from Care Consultants works with a family, especially if they are staying in the home, they always encourage them to LISTEN to each other.  “It is very difficult for parents to have their children care for them, yet alone they admit they need extra care,” Michaela explains.  “Sometimes is it less challenging if a child suggests that they are tired and have the need for someone else to come in and perform the care.  This takes the focus/guilt off the person actually needing the care.  Introduce a caregiver early and slowly.  Sometimes just a couple of hours a week sets the stage for more detailed care in the future.  Be proactive and again, listen!”

Fortunately, the senior living industry continues to progress in a more positive direction every year.  “I see better communication when several ‘services’ are in place with one client,” says Michaela.  “Hospitals and rehabs are working to decrease the ‘under 30 day’ readmits.  When a person goes home with home health care, the caregivers know much more about what is expected of them.  I also see the families suggesting and seeking outside help somewhat earlier, whether in the home or at a senior living campus.  The stigma of needing ‘help’ is fading.

Lincoln is so fortunate to have quality services.  There is always a fit for everyone.  It is so vital that there is a comfort level between the caregiver and the family.  This is possible if research and decisions are made before a crisis or during a crisis.  Care Consultants for the Aging has an excellent ElderCare Resource Handbook for just that purpose and it can be obtained by contacting their office or website:”

Health Issues
Living environment is not the only issue that may arise when it comes to caring for your aging parents.  There are many health issues they may experience that you will need to figure out how to help them with.

Many seniors experience hearing issues and this can be a challenging issue for their children.  “Children can encourage seniors to have their hearing tested by an audiologist,” suggests Ken Stallons, MS, FAAA with ENT Specialists, P.C.  “Once hearing is tested, there are several options that can be presented. Oftentimes seniors have preconceived notions about how hearing aids look or perform.  With new technology, hearing aids are barely noticeable and perform very well. There are also options for TV and phone amplifiers.

It’s important for an audiologist to understand the challenges and desires of the person with a hearing loss in order to find the appropriate solution for that person.  Children should be involved in the treatment options for hearing loss.  I often recommend family members attend hearing consultations to learn the realistic treatment options and possible limitations.”

When hearing concerns are apparent, Ken recommends going to a professional.  “An audiologist has the experience and education that brings a high level of understanding of the different levels of hearing loss and the many treatments available.  Beware of sales that sound too good to be true.  Also, be cautious of people who are simply trying to sell you a product instead of working to find the cause of your hearing problem and the appropriate solution.  Some audiology professionals tend to want to put amplification devices on people too quickly.  I suggest that all people struggling with hearing challenges receive counseling and a complete hearing consultation by an audiologist.  It is important that an audiologist is sensitive to the priorities of each patient, knows how hearing loss is affecting each individual, and where a person is in the process of accepting the idea of amplification devices.  Hearing aids are not the solution for all hearing disabilities.   Finally, pay attention to word of mouth and testimonials from others and always ask for recommendations.”

Mobility and Respiration
Whether staying in the home or residing in a retirement community, many seniors experience problems with mobility and/or respiration (breathing).  With the help of some medical equipment, even those seniors who are experiencing these types of problems can remain in their home or another independent living environment.  Troy Anstine with Midwest Respiratory & Rehab says, “Being a Home Durable Medical Equipment Company, we like our customers to know they have the option to allow for “aging in place”.  What this means to us and our patients is that we focus on being a company that is dedicated to providing wellness solutions to the communities we serve in the form of state of the art treatment options, education and products so people can stay home if they chose to.  We offer quite a few products helpful to seniors ranging from simple things such as walkers and canes to more complex mobility items such as wheelchairs, lift chairs and scooters.  We also provide for respiratory needs with home oxygen, CPAP/BIPAP, and even ventilators.    We are also starting up a home modification division with wheelchair ramps and stair lifts to help make their lives easier.”

Troy goes on to say, “A number of the products we offer can also be used in assisted living and skilled nursing facilities.  Insurance rules do differ for those in skilled nursing as opposed to assisted living, but we do partner with several nursing homes throughout Nebraska to help provide their equipment needs.  We also have a great staff who will help walk seniors and their family members through what is sometimes a complicated insurance process to help make the transition easier so they do know what is and what is not covered.”

When it comes to deciding what your loved ones’ medical equipment needs might be to help them successfully age in place, Troy points out that communication is key.  “This can range from home assessments to help see what will work best for the senior, especially those with mobility needs.  Sometimes families just need an ear to know that their parents are going to be taken care of and that things will be okay.  We also work with families on the process as a whole.  This can range from scheduling to delivery of goods, assessment and education on the equipment for the primary caregiver.  We also like to educate on what insurance will and won’t cover so there are very few surprises on out of pocket cash cost.  Costs are real and sometimes are forgotten in the process, so we like families to keep this in mind and make sure they aren’t overwhelmed by the financial responsibility.”

Vein Health
“Many of the infections that the elderly have need to be cleared up by an IV antibiotic and not just a pill they take every day,” states Jamie Hamm with Vascular Access Plus.  “As we age, our veins get harder and harder to find and the drugs get harder and harder on our veins.  A vascular access device, more commonly known as a PICC line, gives them infusion therapy and getting poked several times a day is no longer necessary.  We specialize in the insertion of these lines and can do so in the senior’s home, in  senior community or even in an acute  care setting.  We can be notified by the health care provider, home health care agency, nurses, families, infusion clinics and administration to find you the best resources available for you and your loved one.”

Helping your senior loved one be their happiest and healthiest is top priority for anyone with aging parents.  With the help of the wonderful aging experts in our community, you can make sure you guide them on their way in the correct fashion and with the most support possible.