Adults are living longer than ever, thanks to improvements in medical care and healthier lifestyles (good genes also help!).  

One of the most important decisions aging adults can make is choosing the type of living environment that’s best for them later in life.  As the number of elderly adults increases, so has the variety of housing choices available for seniors.  The last decade has seen significant changes and improvements in senior living options.

Choosing a senior care facility, like any significant decision, can take time.  Doing your research and asking the right questions can help you decide which living environment is right for you, a loved one, and your family.  

Focus on important factors

• Determine the right level of service and care: are you looking for independent living, assisted living, or skilled nursing care?  Often this decision can be determined with the help of family members and a physician or care provider.

• Is the care community close to familiar surroundings, friends and family?

• Does the community provide engaging activities and an active social lifestyle?

• Does it offer private rooms or apartments, or shared accommodations?

• Do you seek a large setting with more neighbors, staff and amenities? Or is a smaller, cozier environment more to your liking?

Find out how the services will be paid for and what the cost will be

• How is the monthly rate determined?

• Do you have the resources to pay? If personal funds will eventually be depleted, are there other sources to pay for the care available?  Is family willing to help?

• What other funding sources can be used to pay, such as Medicaid, Medicare, long-term care insurance, or veterans’ benefits?  

Schedule a tour 

Arrange a tour of the senior community. This can be done virtually at the present time.

Things to consider:

• Are residents well cared for, happy and comfortable?

• Are staff members engaged with residents? Are the interactions kind, respectful and considerate?

• Is the environment clean, well  kept and inviting?

• Are meals diverse and appealing? Does the facility cater to particular dietary preferences and nutritional needs?

• Are staff members attentive to residents’ needs and requests?

• Are there opportunities to engage with others?

• Do they offer fitness and wellness programs that focus on both brain and body health? 

Explore the extent of care and the contract

• Is there a limit to the care available?  What are the limits and what happens if a move is needed, based on a residents’ changing health condition or needs?  Is the resident able to stay at the same facility or will a new location be required?

• Do they offer different services/care on the same campus if a parent’s healthcare needs change over time?

• What living options do they offer for spouses who require different levels of care yet want to stay near each other?

Some communities enable spouses with different care levels to reside on the same campus, helping them stay connected and see each other daily. 

Benedictine Living Community-Wahpeton, for example, offers a “continuum of care” for guests that provides a range of services on one campus that encourages independence longer and adapts to meet seniors’ changing needs, beginning with assisted living and transitioning to basic care (Medicaid), or long-term nursing care. 

Benedictine Living Community-Wahpeton also has therapy and rehabilitation services including occupational therapists, physical therapists and speech pathologists as guests’ needs vary over time.    

Ask about the personal support system in place

• Is there a staff person to schedule medical appointments? 

• Is transportation available to appointments?

• Do physicians and other needed professionals visit the location or must one leave the premises to receive the service?

Gauge your overall feeling about your experience visiting the senior care community

• Who is the organization providing services? Are they nonprofit or for profit?  What are their mission, values and reputation?

• Are regulatory surveys and safety features in good standing?   

Encourage discussion

Throughout the process of finding the right care center or housing for your loved one, you have a golden opportunity to make mom or dad’s transition a positive experience by:

• Including your parent in all discussions and letting him/her make as many choices and decisions as possible.

• After a move-in, visiting (as Covid regulations allow)  and encouraging calls, cards and visits from other friends and family members. This is especially important soon after the move when surroundings and fellow residents are still new and unfamiliar. This can be difficult during times of Covid- just  check with the staff as to the regulations.

Considering a major life change, such as moving from a parent’s home to a senior community, is an important decision. Individual preferences can vary, so taking time to do the research, ask good questions and understand options can help make the process easier.  Starting early instead of late can help make it a positive experience for everyone involved.

As you and your parent move through this transition, it is helpful to focus on the knowledge that most residents in senior housing not only adapt well to their new lives, but blossom, benefiting from new friendships and activities, the freedom from responsibilities, and the escape from the loneliness that they may have experienced on their own.

Pam Meyer is Wellness Director of Benedictine Living Community-Wahpeton.

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