The catch phrase we hear in aging is “Age in Place.” And, most likely, if you speak to your parents or friends about long term care, they emphatically state that they will never be moved into ‘one of those places’ by which they mean any senior living options. Though this can be further distilled to mean “nursing home” despite the fact that independent and assisted living are quite different from nursing care. Already you can see the challenge is education. We must educate ourselves about the various types of senior living, learn about services that can be brought in the home and finally, have an honest and frank discussion about whether remaining in the home is the best option.
1. Know your Senior Living Options
These days, it’s hard to tell a new upscale apartment/condo complex from senior living community. In fact, that’s the hope; you’re not supposed to feel like you’re in a nursing home, because it’s not. To be fair, they cover the spectrum from new and modern to older and homey. The independent living spaces may be exactly like an apartment building except they have a community dining room and may offer a meal program. They’ll have a few ‘hidden’ services, such as a medic alert button in all the bathrooms. The obvious difference is there are activities going on all the time; the garden club, book club, day trips, etc. My condo doesn’t come with that — though I suppose it could.
An assisted living is not too different, except a nurse is available 24/7, and caregivers are available to assist those who may need some assistance in things such as: cleaning your apartment and linens. All of your meals are available in a dining room because there aren’t usually cooktops. Nursing homes have modernized, but they remain a more obvious medical setting since most of these individuals need a lot of care and attention.
Before ruling out the option of senior living visit a few. Find out what’s included. Not every senior community is for everyone, but there is a senior living community for everyone.
2. Bringing Services into the Home
Another option is to bring services into the home. We automatically think about the caregivers that can be brought in and this is a primary service. However, nowadays almost anything can be brought into the home; hair dressers, doctors, sometimes even dentists! Groceries and meals can be brought in or a caregiver can assist. Universal design specialists can make changes that make it easier to remain in place — for example, widening doorways to fit a walker or wheelchair, making bathrooms accommodating and safe for everyone, adding stair glides or elevators to transport seniors from one floor to another and the list goes on. Keep in mind, all of these services cost money and they do take some preplanning.
3. The Discussion
Knowing that all these services can be brought into the home, it’s obvious that it is possible to remain in place. But is this always the best decision? The challenge is making the decision soon enough so that we can enjoy our home or our time in the community. More importantly when a crisis situation rears its better we’ve already prepared the ground work. Otherwise, that same “crisis” may dictate our options during a time in which we’re already overwhelmed and too ill to make decisions for ourselves. Consequently, planning ahead and being realistic about our capabilities and our finances are key.
Consider the following:
- Look at the senior living options. There are places that can be affordable. And there is likely one that fits your personality.
- Take a look at what you do each day. Have you made concessions because it’s no longer easy? For example, are you eating regularly? Is cooking for one person too much trouble?
- Are you keeping up with the home maintenance or are you letting things go?
- How about the seasonal work such as: Shoveling snow, mowing the lawn, maintaining the garden?
- How often are you late in paying bills or getting to read an important piece of mail?
- How limited is your mobility in your home? Can you get up and down steps? Are you confined to a room or two? Are you able to get to the bathroom or is it on a different floor?
- Do you ever miss a dose, or two of medication?
- Do you feel safe in your home, in your neighborhood?
- How connected are you to your immediate community? Are there neighbors who stop by and check in with you?
- Have you done a cost comparison of what it would take to maintain you in your home verses living in a community?
Aging in place is possible, but it does require thinking ahead. And there are professionals, like Geriatric Care Managers or Consultants, who are willing to assist with this process. It’s also important to recognize that everyone ages differently, and sometimes the best laid plans need some adjustment or just don’t work out the way we expect.
Christine Bitzer, LICSW, is the Assistant Director of Seabury Resources for Aging’s Care Management service. Care managers work with older adults on an individual basis to advise them on a variety of issues and services; such as home care, transportation, medical/legal assistance and housing. Families are put at ease having a knowledgeable guide to provide recommendations and resources to meet their unique needs. This expertise can save families money and reduce stress and time away from work. Christine can be reached at (202) 364-9663 or email her at CBitzer@seaburyresources.org