The Life Transition Blog

Choosing Your Senior Living Solution

So, the day you’ve been dreading has come. You have concluded that you simply can’t live in your home a moment longer. If you are like many older adults, you’ve avoided confronting this reality and don’t want to think about moving into a “facility.” I’m happy to report that there are many wonderful options for you. Enjoy my top strategies for choosing your senior living solution.

Scout ahead of time –There are many options for senior living. If you remember going to look at colleges with your teenager you’ll know exactly what I mean. It can be overwhelming to figure out what you need and what you want. So start the process, even if you can’t imagine that you’ll ever choose to move. Understand the math – Money does matter. Your resources will determine the range of available options. For example, if you have equity in your home, are a veteran, or own a long-term care insurance policy you may be in a very different situation from someone whose only resource is a monthly social security check. Crunch the numbers ahead of time to figure out how much can be spent each month and what is included. Most communities provide a worksheet that will help you understand this calculation. Don’t confuse the issue by spending time visiting a place that is outside of your means.

Narrow the choices to no more than three or four using the “Five S” method – Once you have a list of possibilities that are within your budget and preferred geography, it’s time to narrow the choices to a few where you think you will be happiest. My “Five S” method, considers size, sights, sounds, smells, and services. What you are really doing is looking for a good match based on a sixth “S” – similarities. You are looking for a place where the residents are as similar to you as possible in terms of age, activity level, mental acuity, hobbies and interests, and socio-economic factors.

Size – Will you be more comfortable in a larger community with many residents or a smaller, more intimate setting? Can you still get around reasonably well, or will a large campus become frustrating? Will you take advantage of the facilities that might be available in a larger community or will these amenities likely go unused? Will the size of the living unit work? To many women having a full kitchen is very important, even if they will receive two meals each day as part of their living package. On the other hand, many men are sure they need a “den” or “office” within their living unit and won’t hear of moving into a space without it.

Sights – The classic line I hear from people exploring senior living options is, “Everyone here is old!” Sometimes that’s true. Some communities cater to an older crowd with more physical limitations and you’ll see lots of walkers and wheelchairs. Other communities attract younger, more physically active residents where jackets and ties at dinner are expected. You’ll also find that there are distinct differences in the “look and feel” from one residence to the next. Some have a homey feel, while others look like upscale hotels or even cruise ships! And still others give a more clinical or medical impression. Ask yourself whether you can “see” yourself in a particular community. Take the time to notice the details, especially in the public spaces.

Sounds – When you first enter the community, is there a hush, or do you hear a loud television set? Or perhaps, you hear ringing phones and beepers, much like you would in a hospital. Do you get the impression that the residents are socializing, gathering, and participating in activities?

Smells – Try to visit about a half hour before mealtime, and notice the smell. Is it appealing? When you are in the living areas, does it look and smell clean? Does there seem to be a strong “air freshener” odor everywhere that might be used to mask less than optimal cleaning? Our sense of smell is a fabulous clue to what’s really going on.

Services – Some communities offer a continuum of care, so that residents can come into an independent living situation and then move to assisted living, skilled nursing, or a memory unit if needed. This is ideal if you and your spouse need different levels of care or if you suffer from a condition that you know will progress over time. You’ll also want to look at the services available to help with activities of daily living, transportation, physical therapy, etc. Take a close look at the social calendar since interaction with others is one of the huge benefits of community living.

Ask for and check references – Before you decide that a particular community is on the short list, be sure to ask for and check a few references. Ask for permission to talk with the family members of two or three residents in addition to the residents themselves. When you have these conversations, don’t be shy about asking some tough questions.

Once you have arrived at a decision, it is important that you move ahead with it quickly. As the saying goes, “time kills all deals”, and this one is no exception. You will always be able to come up with a reason why this isn’t the right time to move. But the truth is, if you have reached the point where you have even started visiting communities, you probably know in your heart that this move really is in your best interest.

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