Finding Your Perfect Match in Senior Housing
Navigating Life’s Transitions ~
By Rick Adler ~
Recently I sat down with a wife and husband of 60+ years who had just relocated from the Midwest to Colorado. “I knew we needed to move,” Sally confided, “but I just wasn’t ready, and then things seemed to happen so quickly.” Change of this order is always substantial; add to that other health, financial or COVID concerns and it can be overwhelming without support. Just a few weeks before we talked Sally and Bill had boarded a plane one day in Pennsylvania bound for Colorado. The day they arrived they walked straight into a new independent living apartment in Denver.
How does one successfully navigate “a very difficult transition,” as Sally and Bill called it—finding the right community, putting all the pieces together for a move of this magnitude, so that by the end of their first weekend, while eating dinner at the community’s bistro, Sally exclaimed, “Bill, they are playing our songs” as they danced.
The priorities are safety, planning, the right resources sequenced in the right order, and the right people. Let’s unpack their journey to provide you with some ideas and tips so you or your loved ones can be better equipped to be successful during a similar move.
First, are current living conditions and arrangements safe? Is there any risk of falls, injuries, or worsening health while remaining at home? Below are just a few examples to consider:
1. Has the fall risk been mitigated? I recently helped a couple who desired to extend their time at home; the first call they needed was for a doctor’s referral for a “home safety check.” Typically, this is coordinated with PT and OT (physical and occupational therapy) once the doctor places the referrals. Things to consider include the following: Have you installed grab bars? Are small area rugs a trip hazard? What other safety features in bathrooms, showers, bedrooms, or kitchens need to be added? TIP: Most experts agree that the fall risk is greatest in bathrooms; simply safety proofing the bathroom can have an immediate and significant positive impact.
2. Where is the laundry located, and how is laundry moved around the house?
3. How are meals prepared, food purchased and stored?
4. Is movement between floors required, and how safely can it be done?
5. How are activities of daily life (ADLs) accomplished? TIP: ADLs are one of many acronyms used in the senior industry. If you hear an acronym, ask what it means. ADLs include walking (ambulating), feeding, dressing, grooming, toileting, bathing, and transferring. Transferring focuses on safely moving between chair and standing, bed to wheelchair or mobility device, toileting or any movement from one to another.
Wherever you or your loved one is in the aging and housing process: at home, in a hospital or rehabilitation, or even transitioning into some level of senior living community, you want to make sure safety is ensured. Often when someone is at home having a safety inspection is good next step.
Planning should ideally cover three unique time frames; while these could be distinct or run together, general areas and themes emerge in this important process. First, is the immediate or, as I often say, “the next right step”; next is a midrange plan that could encompass 1 to 6 months from now; and finally would be a long-term plan. The further out the time span, the broader the areas of life that must be covered. Examples of each time frame and areas of life might look like this:
1. “Next right step” examples:
A. Home care assistance (either hired, family members, or a combination).
B. A PT/OT referral for safety reasons (see above).
C. Legal assistance (call an attorney to get powers of attorney or other estate documents in order). TIP: Online forms and templates can be a problem due to unique state laws or your family’s situation. Be upfront with your attorney if your budget is limited, bearing in mind that it is much better to spend money on legal assistance ahead of time than to have to clean up a legal mess later.
D. Financial advice contacting your estate or financial advisor or trusted loved ones to determine income sources to pay for home care, a care community or other services focused across all three time frames.
General advice from a trusted advisor to aid in determining next steps or long-term plans. Get educated about sources that can offer help.
E. TIP: Given the risk of falls and our human tendency to wait too long for help, my advice is DON’T WAIT. One chapter from my experience with an unexpected 18-month health crisis for my spouse and being a caregiver resulted in a shoulder injury that required treatment for me while caring for her. Not having a plan or knowing what you are doing can often mean the caregiver can be injured or an injury can occur to the person being cared for. In our case, during a home PT or OT visit, I learned some techniques and principles on helping safely and on home modifications, and now we enjoy our home with features to ensure a sustainably safe home environment.
A midrange plan, typically for the next 1 to 6 months, involves finding help in selecting a care community, seeking out a real estate expert to help with determining your home’s market value, and consult a financial advisor. Besides your home as an asset, look at other resources like pensions, social security, veterans’ benefits, savings, and long-term care insurance as places for financial resources. The shift here moves beyond weeks or a month to months and years. Simultaneously, be sure to gather all legal documents, including a will, powers of attorney, and trust. Is everything current and relevant for transition? TIP: Pros in senior referral industry and senior real estate should not suggest selling your home as the first step because homes sell faster than the selection process for a care community can take.
Also,2. to meet the growing need of seniors, many real estate professionals have gotten additional training and certification focused on the unique needs of seniors and their families. This could help with decluttering, moving, repairs, or estate sales, to name just a few.
3. A long-term plan would cover you or a loved one through end of life. This plan should also take into account potential future needs or changes, with a discussion on potential future events and what the answers for those might be.
The Right Resources Sequenced in the Right Order
Remember as children playing hide-and-seek with the refrain being “Ready or not, here I come”? Sometimes as a child we were ready, but other times we were scurrying around to find a place to hide. Too many seniors find themselves in that exact place: they wait, and then, when the need becomes urgent, panic sets in with the question, “What do we do now?” Suddenly, they are desperately trying to find a place to go and perhaps wishing they had planned.
It has been refreshing to work with several couples recently who “wanted help putting a plan together.” This is about finding a team. In one case, the couple’s discussion started with their PCP (primary care physician), who directed them to their staff nurse, who offered some ideas, one of which was contacting me.
We started with a discussion about safety at home, then took a deeper dive into current health and potential timelines for their associated plans. In the end, we made appointments for home safety and other specialists and planned several care community tours.
The communities were preselected based on my interviews with the couples about fits for unique care needs, location, and budgets at a high level. In the case of communities we quickly discovered some ambiance or cultural aspects that made one the preferred choice and another a viable alternative. This process is purposeful because we live in a fluid and dynamic world, often requiring a plan B or in some cases even a plan C.
Having narrowed the acceptable community options, the next piece to the puzzle is the personal aspect, the feel the couple gets while touring each care community and the amenities that appeal to them. I often tell families, “This is your choice. None of these are good or bad, just different.” This process is purposeful because we live in a fluid and dynamic world and must have a plan B or in some cases even a plan C.
Plans are wonderful, but what if you find yourself or your loved one in the midst of a crisis, where you say, “We need our long-term plan yesterday” because some unexpected event has happened? The answer is the same; the approach is not. We still want the right resources in the right sequence, but now we have to triage what needs to be done and prioritize. TIP: Often it is helpful, in the selection of resource, not to reinvent the wheel but instead to lean on teams and partners who can solve the different issues from positions of expertise. I often have families get references from other families I’ve worked with in the paste. This helps them because they are talking to someone who is well on the other side of a similar crisis and can show them what is possible.
Family members are also a significant resource; they should be engaged in support, decision making, and guidance. The same can be said of close friends or spiritual advisors or pastors, counselors, and PCPs who know us well. The only caution is that differing ideas about care standards or opinions, rather than the senior’s care needs, can drive the process. While making a decision in a vacuum isn’t good, neither is decision making by committee. So be sure to balance the need for input with the risk of having too many opinions.
Back to Bill and Sally’s story, Sally shared with me how they had a great reveal of their new residence, which sounded like an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Addition: “When we walked in the door to our new apartment, it was beautifully set up for us with many of our belongings that were familiar to us.” That was made possible because Bill and Sally’s daughter and son-in-law helped with planning and execution of packing, moving, unloading, and setting up their belongings as well as taking care of the things that were left behind. Changes like these are always significant, but for Bill and Sally, following the process outlined here allowed their discussion to shift.
Now they are making new friends in their community, participating in community activities, and even meeting the executive chef. They are also engaged with family dinners, visits with grandchildren, and the views from their apartment of Denver’s skyline. Sally and Bill also love the view of the high school football field from their apartment: “Bill loves fall high school football games and listening to marching bands.” And maybe they will even be playing their songs.
Rick Adler is the founder of Senior Placement of Denver. He’s a son, a senior, a father and grandfather, author and business coach. He and his wife of 44 years live in Arvada, but he serves families and seniors up and down the Colorado Front Range, finding their “next right step”[DH9] in navigating life’s transitions. Contact Rick at https://seniorplacementdenver.com or 720-665-9948.