What to Consider When Finding Care for Your Aging Parents
Your parents may have expressed to you that as they get older, they hope to age in place in their own home. However, you may start to see indicators that they will need more care as time passes. Changes in their health, physical abilities or mental capacity may be the first clues that a conversation about senior living options may be needed.
This can be a difficult discussion to initiate with your parents, and the choices may seem overwhelming. Experts suggest that you take some time to educate yourself about the various living options available before you begin talking with your parents. Include your parents’ healthcare provider. Encourage your parents to be active participants in the decision making, as much as they are able. Finally, keep in mind that there are no right or wrong solutions. Everyone’s retirement is different, and different living options appeal to, and are suitable for, different people.
One of the best ways to begin is to evaluate your parents’ basic self-care tasks, known as ‘Activities of Daily Living’ or ADLs, such as bathing, personal hygiene, dressing, and feeding oneself. If you’re starting to notice that any of these tasks are getting more difficult, make sure that the option you and your parents choose offers this type of assistance.
Other questions to consider are:
- Can my parent keep track of their medical – and other – appointments?
- Can they manage their medication(s) on their own?
- Are they able to prepare meals on their own?
- Are they able to safely move around their living space on their own?
- Are they engaged in an active social life?
- If they are living alone, do they seem isolated or overwhelmed?
- What financial limitations do we have?
The good news is that retirement living options have evolved leaps and bounds over the last few decades. There is a variety of choices that offer a range of personal and health care services, including: care for those who can no longer live independently but do not yet need or wish to move into a specialized facility; independent living communities, which offer a rich social life and daily activities; and care facilities that provide a continuum of care as your parents’ needs change over time, allowing them to stay in place as time passes.
Here is an overview of the most common senior living options:
Independent Living – This may be the right choice for parents who are able to live on their own, but who are looking for a social life and group activities. Residents live in their own apartments, but they can take advantage of services such as community meals, housekeeping and transportation to appointments and other events.
Adult Day Care – This option will ensure that your parents receive care and companionship during the day in a safe, friendly environment. These centers usually operate during normal business hours, Monday through Friday. Some centers focus primarily on social interaction, some provide medical care, and some specialize in Alzheimer’s and dementia care.
Home Healthcare – This option will allow your parent to remain in their own home while still receiving necessary medical attention. A nurse visits regularly to help with medication management and other medical needs. Homecare workers can also assist with meals, housekeeping and other tasks as often as needed.
Assisted Living – Designed for seniors who can no longer live independently, assisted living facilities offer ongoing support with daily tasks such as the administration of medications, bathing, dressing and grooming. Residents have their own living space, with the added assurance that help is nearby. While assisted living facilities do not offer medical care, they are continuously staffed to provide help when needed.
Extended Care – If your parent has a health condition that requires constant monitoring by medical personnel, this may be the choice for you. Many extended care facilities offer social activities, a beauty salon and restaurant-style dining. Rooms may be private or shared. Some extended care facilities also specialize in caring for patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Regardless of the choice you make, keep in mind that you have an important role as your parent’s caregiver and advocate. Make sure you meet the staff who will be assisting your parent and learn about the daily schedule and other protocol. Help your parent settle in to their new home by decorating it with family photos and other familiar items from their previous home. Make an effort to meet their new neighbors and friends. Finally, frequent visits, and outings if possible, will help with the transition.
Helping your parent move from the home they are familiar with can be a difficult and sometimes bittersweet experience – after many years, you are now the caregiver. It helps to keep in mind that the move is for your parent’s safety, security, health and well-being. There are many caregiver support groups that can help you along the way. A good place to start is with AARP’s Family Caregiving web page. Click here to learn more.