Choosing a Senior Living Community
What to Look For/Questions to Ask
As America’s population continues to age and live longer, with 90 now being the new 70, children and family members may at some point face the decision of shopping for, and eventually moving a loved one into a senior living community. While moving is never easy, this can be especially difficult for someone who has lived in one place for decades. Therefore, the decision to re-locate a loved one should be well planned and well thought out.
It is important to do your homework and utilize all resources available to make an informed decision. First of all, what are your options? Many senior communities offer independent living, where you have your own private apartment with the option of having a kitchen. Many residents in independent living communities still drive their own car and cook their own meals.
Some independent communities offer additional assistance with activities of daily living, which can range from medication reminders, bathing and dressing assistance, and mobility assistance to services provided by visiting physicians, podiatrists, dentists, and many other medical support services, including Physical Therapy. Many times, these services are provided on-site through third-party professional resources.
Typically, the following services are offered at independent living, senior communities:
- Maintenance free apartment/condo style living
- Restaurant style dining with continental breakfast, lunch and dinner available
- Housekeeping services
- Laundry, personal care and medical services
- Social and recreation programs
- Concierge services
- Transportation services
Respite care and short stays are an option in some senior living communities, where seniors can stay for just a couple of days to sample the community or have a place to stay in a private apartment while family caregivers go on vacation or need a respite from care giving for a short period.
Seniors in need of advanced, around the clock monitoring will find that level of care in licensed assisted living facilities or skilled nursing facilities, which are often referred to nursing homes.
When is it time to consider senior living for a loved one? Experts cite the following warning signs:
- Their refrigerator is empty or filled with spoiled food or your loved one is losing weight. These could be signs they are not eating well because shopping and/or cooking may be difficult.
- Bruises may be a sign of your loved one falling or facing mobility and balance challenges
- The same clothes are worn repeatedly or personal hygiene is being neglected. This could mean bathing and doing laundry are both physically challenging.
- The house and yard isn’t as clean and kept up as it was in the past
- Forgetfulness, including missing doctor appointments and when to take medications. These are possible signs of memory loss.
- Your loved one is depressed. Depression is common in seniors who are isolated or alone.
- Strange or inappropriate behavior. As an example, your loved one may dress in summer clothes on a cold, winter day. This could be a sign of confusion.
How do you choose a senior living community? This may seem like a daunting task at first, but it really boils down to the people who live and work there and its “feel.” A place with many amenities and a high industry ranking may be nice, but does it feel “homey?” Will your loved one be comfortable here? Some guidelines to follow as you search and visit senior living communities include:
- Are they taking the time to speak with you or are you being rushed?
- Do they appear genuinely interested in you and your loved one?
- Do they interact warmly with current residents?
- How well do they handle emergencies?
- Do they appear happy?
- Do they enjoy interacting with one another?
- Are they people your loved one would like to get to know?
- Are there hobbies or activities that look interesting to your loved one?
- Is the food appealing? Nutritious? What options are there?
- Is the community in good standing with state and local licensing requirements?
How do you pay for senior living communities? In most cases, the majority of the costs will come out of your loved one’s own pocket. Senior living communities are owned and operated by both for-profit and non-profit organizations, and can range in cost from approximately $800 to $4,000 per month, or more, depending on location. Needless to say, this is a big investment, so it is very important to come up with a budget and determine long-range plans and needs.
Other options for financial assistance are listed below.
Programs for veterans are sponsored by the federal Veterans Administration, and provide compensation benefits and pension-related options (Aid & Attendance) to eligible United States veterans. You can visit www.va.gov or call 1-800-827-1000 for overall information.
Some senior living communities offer the option where two single adults can share a double companionship suite to reduce the overall costs to each individual, which can be an extremely affordable senior living option.
Seniors who no longer need life insurance can, in many cases, liquidate an existing life insurance policy in as little as 30-90 days for a lump sum payment much higher than the cash surrender value. This is commonly known as a “Life Settlement” and can be a viable payment option.
Many families sometimes forget, or do not know to ask, if the family member moving into a senior living community has long-term care insurance. Be sure to inquire as to whether a long-term care insurance policy was purchased years ago. If so, and depending on the actual terms, it could help cover part of their stay.
A federally funded HUD program, called Section 8, has federal income guidelines, and provides eligible recipients monthly financial assistance with a portion of their rent. This portable rent subsidy is offered through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) office or a local housing commission.
The Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program offers reduced rental rates (a rent subsidy) for income-qualified residents. You will need to inquire with the senior living community to determine participation and unit availability.
The MI Choice (Medicaid) Waiver Program is state funded, and eligibility is based on meeting medical and financial criteria (such as monthly income and total assets limits, which can differ for individuals and married couples). Eligible recipients may receive assistance in paying for meals, housekeeping and personal care services.
An Elderlife Line of Credit can be an easy way to finance senior living, helping your family make the move today while taking the time you need to properly address your loved ones’ financial affairs. Families who need to bridge the time it takes to sell a home, liquidate a portfolio, or receive veteran benefits while a loved one makes the move into a senior living community can benefit from an Elderlife Line of Credit. Typically, the program is an easy, fast way to finance senior living with same day decision and funding within 48 hours in most cases.
When evaluating the costs of a senior living community, don’t assume that expensive always means it’s better. Again, focus on what the community has, based upon your loved one’s needs and wants, combined with the quality and responsiveness of the staff.
Make sure you understand how the community bills its residents. Is it a flat fee, or are there separate costs for additional services? It is your right to have access to this information. If the community refuses your request or is vague about its billing procedures and cost structure, find another community.
Get a sense of rate increases. You do not want to be unpleasantly surprised by sharp rate increases. While you can’t predict the future, you should be able to determine how rates have risen in the past.
Once your loved one is in their new home, remember to support them. Call and visit as often as possible, work through their concerns and anxieties together and help them personalize their new space.
Together, you can make this a smooth transition into the next chapter of their life.