5 Tips To Smooth Your Senior Living Search
Finding the perfect senior living solution can be overwhelming. The uncertainty, high prices, and potential disappointment can leave you feeling lost and unsure where to begin.
With over three decades of experience in the industry, I have seen firsthand the challenges that families, seniors, and senior living operators face. The truth is that everyone is struggling to find a balance between cost and quality care for loved ones.
If you're facing a senior living decision in the next few months or even further down the road, I hope the advice below will give you some insight and ideas to help navigate what can be a difficult process.
1. Start With Two Lists
Many families start their search for senior living simply looking for a beautiful facility with great amenities. This approach can be a fast track to frustration and disappointment. Instead, I recommend creating “must-have” and “nice-to-have” lists. The must-haves equate to the care required for your loved one to survive: medication management, a private room, or an outdoor walking space, for example.
Most other factors fall in the nice-to-have category, and these often have creative workarounds. If you don’t like the food options at a facility, maybe you can supplement the menu with home-cooked meals twice a week. If mom or dad wants better transportation options, consider an Uber subscription or a non-emergency transport service.
In short, focus on critical factors and get creative with the rest. Most communities will be unable to check off your entire list of wants and needs, and no community is perfect.
2. Put Costs In Perspective
Sticker shock is common when evaluating senior living. It’s also easy to get tangled in comparing the cost and benefits of one facility to others that might be in entirely different categories.
For the most part, operators working to make senior living as affordable as possible have to contend with three main factors:
- rising costs in areas like food and property insurance
- finding and retaining high-quality staff
- accommodating the expectations of residents and families
The cost of food and wages, the two things most in operators’ control, are high and rising precipitously. The margins for operators serving middle-income seniors are not as good, which is why they often supplement with government funding, and there are fewer options than we need.
For added perspective, consider what it costs to bring care into your home with a private duty aide. For a qualified individual, you might spend $20 to $25 an hour. Round-the-clock live-in care can run upwards of $15,000 a month. It is a great option for some seniors and does allow them to stay at home longer, but you only have coverage for the hours you are able and willing to pay for. A facility that costs, say, $6,000 a month and offers socialization and other benefits can make more sense for some families who are heavily considering their financial options over time.
3. Rethink Your Timing
It’s understandable why seniors want to stay in their long-time homes instead of moving into a senior living facility. There’s no substitute for your home, where your most cherished memories take place, and your curated belongings bring comfort. Families often want to wait until mom or dad is OK with leaving their home and moving to senior living. This is not likely to happen, and prolonging the transition can have negative consequences.
For one thing, independent living costs significantly less than assisted living, and so an elderly person’s resources can stretch a lot farther if they transition out of their home at the right time. Families also underestimate the pressure that taking care of an elderly parent can have on their own health and the rest of the family’s well-being. It’s often not a sustainable solution. I have personally experienced this conundrum.
In 2017, my grandmother’s health declined because she was the caregiver for my grandfather with Alzheimer’s disease, and ultimately, we moved her to an independent living facility. This was a timely decision because if it were up to her and some of our family members, we would have left her at home until she needed full-time care. However, I fought for her to move earlier because I knew she would benefit from the socialization, nourishing meals, and the support of others in similar situations. Six years later, she is still thriving in independent living.
This choice has prolonged her independence and quality of life and ensured her resources are used more efficiently.
4. Give Yourself Some Grace
One struggle I hear often is family members feeling a lot of guilt for just “placing” their loved one somewhere. The counsel I usually give is this: you’re not placing mom or dad somewhere, you are making a smart informed decision to ensure they are cared for, and their resources are used wisely. You are looking at the big picture, and if you can bless them with a facility that can support them, you should do so. I’ve seen what happens when families don’t make the transition, and it’s too often a heartbreaking outcome.
The process is hard mentally and emotionally. It’s crucial to be aware of what you are feeling, and what feelings may be driving others’ behaviors. Take time to center yourself throughout the process, and remember, you’re doing the right thing.
5. There's No One-Size-Fits-All
Every family’s story is unique, and your situation might require different considerations. For advice tailored to your unique situation, there are many resources in our community who have experience in everything from elder law to financial planning and senior care management. One of my favorite resources to give families is One Senior Place. Seniors and their families can get help with Medicaid filing, legal assistance, and advice and recommendations for facilities. The staff is genuinely passionate about helping seniors and helping to navigate you in the right direction.
Finding the right senior living solution is a complex and emotional journey. Just know that you are not alone, and there are so many of us in the community with years of experience willing and able to help guide you. Each family is unique, and the circumstances in the journey are equally as unique, and the approach taken will be and should be different in every case. I hope the advice above inspires you to think differently about finding senior care and helps you navigate the process with more clarity and confidence.
Virtuous Senior Living
Meet Our Thought Leader
Stacey Clark started working in the senior living industry when she was just 15 years old. Throughout her career, Clark, a registered nurse, has worked in a variety of roles including assisted living director, executive director, and vice president of operations. In November 2022, Clark opened her own consulting and management business, Virtuous Senior Living. The company is guided by its motto, “Doing the right thing at all times.”
From the Archives:
July 2023: MEET: Virtuous Senior Living