While statistics tell us that most older Americans prefer to “age in place” and stay in their homes and communities, some because of health or other reasons, may decide to reside in a long term care facility such as an assisted living or a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC). Whether it’s at home or one of these choices, there are factors to be considered. A facility can wonderful if it’s chosen with care and with the right attitude.
Whether the older individual makes their own choice about their care or has a caregiver or family member help them, there are certain things to remember:
Home Care — Home care can be either medical or non-medical. Caregivers can assist with bathing, dressing, household chores, cooking and bill-paying, or they can administer medications or IV therapy, monitor vital signs, and provide wound care, among other tasks. Depending on the level of care required, an in-home caregiver can be your family member or a Certified Nursing Assistant or someone in between. Your local Area Agency on Aging will have information on services and people available. They will also have a Care Coordinator or Care Manager who is qualified to help develop a plan of care and make recommendations. You can find your local Area Agency on Aging at Eldercare Locator.
Alzheimer’s Care or Skilled Care — More than ever, special care focused on individuals with Alzheimer’s or other types of memory loss/cognitive impairments is available, either in a stand-alone facility or as part of a continuing care/assisted living/long term care community. These facilities provide specialized care and assistance necessary to caring for individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Again, your local Area Agency on Aging will have information and referral services to these facilities. You can also get information at the Alzheimer’s Association website.
Assisted Living – This type of care is essentially an in-between: residents need varying levels of assistance here; most of the care is non-medical in nature. When looking at assisted living facilities, check for staffing levels, especially at night. There should be adequate staff to provide cover 24 hours per day. The assisted living should also provide recreation and socialization activities on a regular and frequent basis.
Independent Living — From senior apartments to retirement complexes to active adult communities, this housing option offers engagement with peers, and independence with the option of turning over household and property maintenance to the community’s staff.
Continuing Care Retirement Communities – In a CCRC, an individual can enter into the community living independently in a cottage or apartment, then as the individual’s medical or personal care requirements increase, they can move within the community to facilities with advanced levels of care. This way, the older individual remains within their community and with the staff and neighbors they know.
Nursing Homes — Though not as popular given the other options available today, some seniors may still require the skilled services provided in a nursing home. Choosing a nursing home can be a challenging endeavor. You can find quality measures for all nursing homes at data.medicare.gov
Once the facility’s been chosen, there may be a period of adjustment as the older individual moves in. If you’re a family member or caregiver with someone in a long term care facility, there a actions you can take to help with the transition:
- Take a walk. Don’t let weather interfere; if they can’t walk outside, they walk up and down and through the halls of the community. It’s imperative that they get up and move to the greatest extent possible. When you visit, walk with them.
- Find things to do that promote social interaction and personal enrichment. Help them check out the activities calendar for events and programs of interest. Participate together when you come for a visit.
- Meet people in the dining room. Maybe your father prefers to read books alone in his apartment. Perhaps your grandmother would rather not play Bingo every Tuesday afternoon. That’s OK, as long as they take advantage of opportunities to socialize and connect with their peers at meal time. Enjoy a meal together during one of your visits and encourage these interactions.
- Make sure there are healthy food options. You should do this before you move in!! If the menu is lacking in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other good-for-you foods, speak up, or if there is a place for safe food storage in Mom’s apartment, bring some fresh items with you when you visit (either for snacks in-between — or to supplement — community meals).
Again, while “Aging in Place” is preferable to most, living in a long term care facility doesn’t have to be depressing or sad. There are wonderful facilities with caring and compassionate staffs who are dedicated to providing the best quality of life for their residents. With a little research and visiting, your loved one will make the decision that’s right for them.