When it comes to senior care communities, there are many options to choose from. It can be overwhelming to make a decision that will so greatly impact your loved one’s life.
Being as informed as you can and knowing what to look out for will help you find a community that not only provides quality care but suits your loved one’s preferences.
Long Term Care (LTC) Communities refer to senior living options that provide a range of support for your loved ones, depending on their needs.
Some communities offer a continuum of care, meaning they allow your loved one to age in place.
Knowing what care services are possible at a given option, can guide you in making the best decision for your loved one. Keep in mind that there can be some variation between communities, depending on the state.
Independent living communities allow your loved one to live in their own apartment in a building with other seniors and access to support and amenities.
They generally have access to:
One meal per day
In independent living, your loved one is responsible for their medications, bills, most meals, and activities of daily living either on their own or with the help of family members.
Assisted Living facilities can provide your loved one with assistance with some day-to-day tasks. Assisted living residents also have their own apartments.
Older adults in assisted living can receive:
Assistance with medication management,
Support with activities of daily living
Memory care neighborhoods are specifically for individuals living with some kind of memory impairment that impacts their ability to safely live independently, such as Alzheimer‘s disease. They provide support with all activities of daily living, oftentimes through cueing and encouragement.
Memory care neighborhoods have staff specially trained in dementia care. These neighborhoods are generally secured.
Independent assisted living and memory care are typically considered social models of care, rather than health care models. This means the number of physical care services that they provide may be limited. They do not provide medical care, but some may have medical health care providers within their community.
Skilled nursing facilities, also known as nursing homes or long-term care facilities, provide a higher level of care compared to assisted living as well as skilled nursing services.
Individuals who may need significant transfer assistance such as a Hoyer lift, and sometimes even wheelchairs, may find their needs best met in a nursing home. Skilled nursing services can include
Monitoring vital signs
Nursing homes can frequently be paid for by Medicaid. Different facilities can be compared by going to medicare.gov and searching for “Nursing Home Compare”. This can give you insight into any citations a facility may have.
Having a basic idea of what level of care your loved one may need can give you a starting point in determining the best fit for them. Individual communities may have different levels of care that fall under Independent and Assisted, but the staff at the community will guide you in the specifics of their facility.
Before you can begin touring communities, you’ll need the names of places to start. Consider talking with your loved one’s medical providers or friends and family members for personal recommendations.
Some families will work with a professional such as an eldercare resource finder or a geriatric care manager to work with them personally to find a community.
Regardless of what type of care you are looking at, there are general themes to look at when making a decision.
Key areas to look at include: physical building, staff, engagement, and ability to age in place.
When looking for a long-term care community, consider the physical building - this is likely permanent!
Is the building in a location that your loved one likes? City or suburbs?
Is it close to you as the caregiver, that you can get there as needed?
Is the apartment size appropriate for your loved one?
Does your loved one like the decor? Does it feel like home?
Is the building clean and well taken care of?
Trusting the staff members is key as they will be the ones providing support for your loved one.
Do direct care staff seem happy with their job? Are they interacting with residents?
What’s the average retention time for staff?
Does the sales manager seem to be working with you to understand your loved one’s needs?
Meals are an important part of the day seeing as they offer both nutrition as well as an opportunity for your loved one to socialize with other residents. Look at the menu to see if it appeals to your loved one.
Ask questions such as:
Can they accommodate special diets and dietary restrictions?
How do they encourage residents to dine together, and how do they seat the residents?
Engaging in the community is a key aspect of improving quality of life. Socialization is often an area that older adults struggle to access at home. Ask to see a couple of months‘ worth of activity calendars and take some time to talk with the activity director.
Are there activities that your loved one enjoys? Do they have trips outside of the building?
What programming existed during any COVID19 lockdowns?
How is the calendar tailored to the resident’s interests?
How will staff approach your loved one if they are apprehensive about engaging in activities?
How will staff facilitate relationships between your loved one and other residents?
If your loved one has Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, are the activities appropriate?
The community will develop a care plan which will outline the amount of assistance that your loved one needs, based on their assessment.
The care plan should look at your loved one’s whole well-being - not just their physical needs. Ask the team how frequently the care plan will be reassessed and what factors go into the plan.
Unfortunately, a lot of care decisions come down to finances. Many care options expect private pay. Medicare or private insurance companies do not generally cover the cost of senior living.
However, some communities do accept Medicaid (especially nursing homes) or long-term care insurance. Planning ahead can help avoid any surprises in the future. Ask questions such as:
Does the cost include all care? Or, is there a standard monthly fee with the cost of care dependent on how much your loved one needs?
What happens if your loved one runs out of money? Does the community accept state programs to help pay for care?
Each residential care option has variations among other communities. Other things to ask on your tour or informational session include:
Is there a waiting list? And, is there a cost to being on the waitlist?
What are the responsibilities of family members versus staff members?
What quality measures and training are provided to staff to ensure a high quality of care?
Who is the ombudsman (or resident advocate) for the community?
When looking for your loved one’s new home, it can be helpful to think about whether your loved one has the potential to age in place in that community. Some communities may have a level of care that they may not be able to provide. For example, independent living generally cannot assist with activities of daily living.
However, a community may have independent living, assisted living, and even memory care all under one roof. Some communities may have home health care agencies within the community that can provide one on one assistance if needed.
Finding a long-term care community for your loved one can be an overwhelming process.
When possible, always start the process ahead of when your loved one needs it so that you can take the time necessary to choose the best fit, where your loved one can thrive.
Laurel McLaughlin has over a decade worth of experience in various sectors of the elder care field- home care, senior living, and non-profits. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is a certified dementia practitioner.
Ready Set Care is creating a community to provide guidance for anyone caring for an aging loved one.
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