It is a simple fact of life that we will all age.  While some of us will age healthier than others, there usually comes a time in everyone’s life when they must consider whether they should stay in their own homes or make the transition to a retirement community or nursing facility.  In some cases, this decision may involve a temporary move to assist in recovering from an injury or an illness, while in other cases it may be a permanent transition.  Although most of our readers are not at the age where these decisions come into play, many are dealing with these issues with their aging parents.  Even if your parents (or other aging loved ones) are not experiencing memory or other issues that are impairing their function, they may still need your assistance when it comes to making living decisions.

Identifying Need

Sometimes it can be difficult to realize that your parents may need some help.  If they don’t live nearby, you may be relying on phone conversations and infrequent visits to determine their health and well-being, which isn’t reliable if they don’t tell you challenges they are experiencing.  Even if they do live nearby and you see them often, they may be hiding the fact that they aren’t functioning well at home by themselves, either due to pride or not wanting to worry you.

Kristina Krumme with Elk Ridge Village indicates a few areas to pay attention to when trying to determine if your parent(s) need help.  “Are they living alone?  Are they eating right?  Do they still drive or should they still be driving?  Do they have a lot of stairs to manipulate on a daily basis?  Are they engaged with other people or are they isolated?”  Some other indications might be a lack of food in the house (or food that is spoiled), unkempt appearance (which might indicate they are not bathing or washing clothing) and lack of care of pets (overflowing litter boxes, for example).  Remember, your loved one might not be forthcoming in the request for help, so it’s your responsibility to keep an eye out for signs they may need assistance.

Brenda Byfield with Freedom In Home Services says, “Openly discuss what you see.  Approach the situation light-heartedly with them rather than in a demeaning manner.  Tell them that you should look into options that can help them remain in their home by finding people to assist them with these activities.”  If this doesn’t turn out to be a good option, then you can discuss moving out of the home.

Staying in the Home

“Statistics show that seniors thrive more often in their own homes, even when health declines a bit,” says Ruthaa Kwalume Woolridge with Comfort Keepers.  “Being in familiar surroundings throughout the aging process brings seniors a level of comfort they often do not realize in retirement communities.  Most often, by the time the senior is making a decision about housing, they have lived in their home for many years and have often raised their children there, shared time with the extended family and created hundreds of memories.”

Many times, if your loved one or ones decide to stay in the home and you live nearby, you may find yourself becoming more of a caregiver than a child.  “Make sure you plan respite time for yourself to prevent burnout,” suggests Michelle Eske with Rehab Center of Omaha.  “You also need to make sure you provide the resources they need and want, and not just what you think they need.  Make sure you involve them in the decision making process.”  This will ensure that not only do they feel like they have lost control of their lives, but it will also take some burden off of you as you won’t feel like you have to do everything on your own.

Kendra Stauffer with Nebraska Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation adds, “Reach out to resources available to you, such as the local Area on Aging and eldercare advocates.  They are helpful and readily available.  There are also caregiver support groups to provide guidance and support to caregivers.”

“Freedom In Home Services offers both non-medical and medical services,” Brenda Byfield explains.  “One of our RNs came come in and do a health and environment assessment to customize a plan that best meets their needs or, on the non-medical side, our team of trained, bonded and dedicated staff can act as companions, homemakers or personal care aides.”  Both of these services can be offered in their own home or in an retirement community or nursing home.

Ruthaa Kwalume Woodridge with Comfort Keepers states, “Along with in-home care and companionship, Comfort Keepers also offers a variety of Life Line products in our efforts to keep seniors safe as well.  These systems are designed to alert a loved one or responsible party should any incident occur.”

Deciding to Move out of the Home

If you and your loved one decide it’s no longer feasible for them to stay in their home, don’t let it feel like a ‘failure’ on anyone’s part.  “You shouldn’t wait too long or wait for a crisis,” points out Kristina Krumme with Elk Ridge Village.  “Be the one to step up to the play if your folks are resisting.  You are doing this because you love them and want them to be happy and healthy!  They might hesitate at first, but they will still love you and be happy you did this for them once they are settled into a community and have made the adjustment.”

“Many seniors simply do not understand senior housing,” explains Roxann Rogers Meyer with Immanuel Communities.  “Most people believe that the only choice they have when they are considering a retirement community is a nursing home.  Most seniors are pleasantly surprised when they discover independent living as an option.  Many of the prospective residents who tour our Immanuel Communities express their surprise that independent living offers an exceptional lifestyle in an independent setting.  The hardest thing that most seniors deal with when they make a move to a retirement community is the feeling that they have lost some of their independence, when in fact, they have gained the freedom and independence to explore their interest and their passions.  Many of our residents tell us that they wish they had made the decision to move to a community much sooner!”

Choosing the Right Community

“Navigating the senior housing choices can be overwhelming,” says Roxann Rogers Meyer with Immanuel.  “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.  Searching web sites for senior housing providers is the first step. Most web sites have their services listed along with their company philosophy and other specific information.

Scheduling a personal visit with the retirement communities you are interested in is the next step.  A personal visit allows the senior and their decision-makers to get a first-hand look at the community and meet the staff and get more detail regarding the financial arrangements, the services and the amenities.

The most important factor to consider when looking for a retirement community is finding the right fit.  Seniors will know when they feel comfortable with their choice, they will know when it feels like home.  Immanuel Communities owns and operates seven retirement communities in Omaha, Papillion and Lincoln and we advise prospective residents to tour many communities so they can find the right fit for them.”

“My advice to those seeking placement for a loved one is to do your research in an effort to find the right fit,” adds Kendra Stauffer with Nebraska Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation.  “Tour the facility, ask questions and visit with social workers and discharge planners in the hospital setting who are familiar with the various specialty services each facility offers.  I feel it is especially important to place your loves ones in the least restrictive environment based on their clinical needs.  Also, seek a therapeutic environment that promotes wellness and recovery.”

“It is important to ask what the overall management philosophy of the retirement community is and what are the backgrounds and experience of the staff,” says Roxann Rogers Meyer with Immanuel. “Another good question to pose is to ask about the longevity of the staff and the community’s training and education plan and what is the customer service program.  Making a decision to move to a retirement community is one of the most difficult decisions a senior will make and it is important to understand who will be serving and caring for you.

It is also important to ask about the financial strength of the organization and what the average annual increase in fees are each year.  Most communities have an annual increase in monthly fees.  At Immanuel Communities we encourage our prospective residents and their families to ask about financial strength and past history of annual increases so that they are completely informed.

You may want to ask what the average age of the currents residents is and how they have aged in place.  It is also important to understand what levels of care are offered at the community and how does the staff help you if your health needs change and you require more care.

Ask about the resident agreement, this agreement typically details the specifics of maintaining your residence in the community.
Because you are adopting a new lifestyle, you will want to consider the programs and services that are offered and if those programs and services match your lifestyle choices, your hobbies and interests.

Many of today’s seniors want to make one move so a continuum of care community is attractive to this group of seniors.  A continuing care community includes Independent Living, Assisted Living and Skilled Care.  As your health declines you can move through the continuum.”

Help in Making the Decision

Making the decision of how best to help your aging parent or loved one can be a difficult one.  Fortunately, there is help out there.  Care Consultants for the Aging, for example, informs families about the options available.  Because they produce the ElderCare Resource Handbook, they are able to give a complete listing of services for families to make an informed decision.  If they decide to remain in their home, their home care registry will screen and schedule qualified caregivers to fit their needs.

“Educate yourself on what is available, have patience and try not to feel guilty when you realize you cannot do it all and need help,” says Robbie Nathan with Care Consultants for the Aging. “There are a lot of emotions and stages that you go through when making health care decisions for someone.  Take each decision one step at a time and if you are doing the best that you can then forgive yourself for not being able to be there all the time.”

Many caregivers of aging parents will find that taking care of their loved ones makes them also take a look at their own lives and how they will handle the aging process.  This can lead them to important decisions that have an impact on them and their families, including the decision to buying Life Insurance.  Mike Story with Physicians Mutual offers the following advice:

Four Simple Steps to Buying Life Insurance

Buying life insurance can seem difficult, but it can actually be easy if you follow these simple steps.

Step 1: Find out what type of insurance you need.

With life insurance, there are two basic types of policies to choose from:
Term life insurance provides protection for a specific amount of time only. It normally costs less than whole life insurance and often offers a higher benefit amount.
Whole life insurance is coverage you can own for your entire life. Whole life insurance offers permanent protection, and normally has no renewal rate increases.

Step 2: Choose a reputable company.

The insurance company you choose should:
• Have been in business for many years
• Be financially stable with strong ratings
• Report high customer satisfaction

Step 3: Talk to an advisor.

Talking to someone who knows the details about different policies and can offer credible advice is invaluable.

Step 4: Choose how you want to buy.

There are many safe ways to buy a life insurance policy:
• Online
• By phone
• Through the mail
• Face-to-Face through an agent

Buying life insurance can be a simple choice with lasting value. Don’t leave your family unprotected – make the decision that can help keep them covered today.