Aging in Place, Part 3: Choices, choices and the power of planning

Elder Law Attorney Peggy Sanders reports that many of her clients are scared. Something unforeseen, something alarming has happened to them or a member of their family. What’s going to happen now? What are the options?

There is good news in that there are many, many options for senior living in our area. We are blessed with an abundance of choices, ones that will fit almost any situation.

There are continuing care retirement communities that provide a wide range of care and services in one place. There are independent living communities, long-term care communities, assisted living communities, memory care facilities, adult family homes, adult day care and nursing homes. And there are communities that provide an assortment of some or all of the above.

The choices can be overwhelming.

According to David Haack of Cadence Living, the most important thing you can do now is make a plan. Don’t wait, as most people do, until it’s too late. Explore what your options are if life throws stuff at you, which it will. Do it while you’re healthy and have time to make changes along the way.

How to choose? David advises that the best way to judge a senior living facility is by how it makes you feel. Were you made to feel welcome by the team? Were you greeted warmly? Did they smile? Are they accepting of your family of choice? Did they take the time to show you around and answer all your questions? If you don’t feel welcome, don’t go there.

The benefit of doing it now is that once your plan is in place, you can put that big step behind you and go about living and enjoying your life.

A good place to start is with an elder law attorney. They can review your estate documents to be sure they are up to date and reflect your current life situation and do what you want. An elder law attorney can also create a long-term care plan, which maps out your options at various stages of your life. They can also refer you to trusted professionals to help you along the way.

Given the number of options, consider talking to a senior living advisor. These are people whose job it is to know the senior living market in detail. They visit communities regularly, they know the individuals involved, they keep up on the latest developments, they maintain data bases and share the information with their colleagues. They can also be good at dealing with your physical, emotional and financial situation. They know which ones to avoid. They can be your insiders.

In selecting a senior care advisor, it’s very important to deal with one who is based in your community. These advisors rely primarily on word of mouth for their good reputation. That means that the client comes first; they put your needs ahead of any commission.

Mark Ibsen, a housing and care advisor with Silver Age Senior Care Advisors, says he see three main objections to moving to a senior community:

  1. People don’t like to admit that they are seniors, and they don’t want to hang around with a bunch of old people.
  2. People are worried that a senior community is too expensive.
  3. My stuff. What do I do with my stuff?

Mark likes to point out that some of the most interesting people you’d ever want to meet are in senior communities. In my own experience working with the elder law firm, we met with individuals who lived through the London blitz (she would bring us homemade lemon curd), a Rosie the Riveter, doctors, lawyers, teachers, police detectives, concert musicians, wonderful and unexpectedly interesting people.

As for finances, yes, it’s expensive. And here’s a good place to point out in no uncertain terms that you can’t rely on the government for help. Medicare doesn’t pay for long-term care. Medicaid will pay, but only after you impoverish yourself and possibly your family. The facilities that accept Medicaid are few, provide only basic care and have years-long waiting lists.

It helps to think of care communities not in terms of cost in dollars but in the value you receive. Sylvana Rinehart of Concierge Care Advisors suggests this formula: Add up all your monthly living expenses – not just mortgage or rent, dues, maintenance and utilities, but also that gym membership you never use, your cable and internet bill, and your subscription to Netflix, all the costs of living at home. Once you have that figure, divide it by 720, the number of hours in a month. This will give you your hourly cost of living. You can then compare that to the hourly cost of a senior living community. You might be surprised at how little the difference.

In a community, you can get chef-cooked meals, housekeeping services, internet, cable TV, care services, excursions and outings. In many, you can have pets. You can join community events or stay in your own abode.

As for your stuff, there are services that specialize in helping you find the value of your possessions (don’t get your hopes up) and finding the best uses for them. Of course, there are also non-profits that can help too.

The senior care business, from what I’ve seen, tends to attract dedicated professionals, people who are truly interested in helping elders and their families age as gracefully as possible. For many of them, it’s a calling.

There is no one, right solution to living a dignified, satisfying life as a senior in America. With planning and foresight, and with the help of qualified professionals, we can pick and choose our own course.

— By Ralph Sanders

You can read Part 1, Aging in Place: Resources to help seniors stay at home, here and Part 2, Staying at home is not for everyone, here.

Thanks to the following for their help with this series:

Peggy Sanders, Attorney, Northwest Elder Law,
David Haack, Chief Marketing Officer of Cadence Living.
Sylvana Rinehart, Concierge Care Services,
Mark Ibsen, Silver Age Care Senior Living Advisors
Lisa Satin, The Right Place Senior Options
Adrienne Miller, Forever Care Services

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