The choice in senior living is yours. Make it wisely.
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Senior LivingGuest Columnist

The choice in senior living is yours. Make it wisely.

Tips for choosing the facility that is right for you

(Photo courtesy of Pexels)
(Photo courtesy of Pexels)

Many of us go through our lives believing that we will age in place, in our homes, where we are comfortable until the end of our days.

But reality may not match our beliefs, and home may not be the best or safest place for us to remain. It may be more expensive to stay in our own house with assistance. Perhaps we need more specialized care and attention. Or maybe our home needs too much work to make it suitable for aging in place.

In those cases and others, a senior living facility may be the best choice.

So how do you determine whether moving is the right option for you or your loved one? Think about these questions:

• What can I do on my own, and what do I need help with?

• Is the help I need manageable on my own or with my family, or do I need more than they and I can give?

• Do I want to live alone, or do I prefer to live among other people?

• Can I afford to live in a facility?

• For family caregivers: Can you keep up with all you have been doing, or are you suffering from burnout? Your needs matter and count in this decision, too.

There are a few things to think about when considering different types of senior living facilities.

While some seniors may prefer an independent living facility, others may need more dedicated care.

Living facilities have varying levels of independence or assistance, such as independent living (think retirement homes or senior high-rises), personal care facilities, assisted living facilities and skilled nursing facilities. Each of these types of homes offers different amenities, activities and accommodations, depending on the residents’ needs. Consider what you or your loved one may need and want in terms of how much independence or care a living situation offers.

Cost is another issue. Contrary to common belief, Medicare and other health insurance do not pay for long-term housing at any level. Long-term care insurance policies can cover housing only if it was built into the policy when it was purchased. Skilled nursing facilities can be paid for through Medical Assistance but only after all other options have been exhausted and applications have been made and accepted. Housing costs at this age are therefore the same as at any age: out-of-pocket.

Once you’ve thought about these questions and considerations, visit some residences. Take a tour and ask questions like: Are residents allowed visitors anytime or only during certain hours? Are all staff members given background checks? Is staff available 24 hours a day? Is there an automated defibrillator on site?

Ask about your particular needs: How will they be met?

Use your senses on these tours. Look around. Do you see an activity taking place or are residents just napping in the chairs in the lobby? What do you smell? Do you hear residents chatting and laughing or does it seem too quiet? Does the furniture feel like home or like institutional pieces you might see in a hospital?

Have a meal there if you can. Would you want to eat there on a regular basis? Talk to the residents, if possible; find out what they like about living there and also what they don’t. These conversations will help guide you in making this momentous decision.

Older adults often hesitate about moving into a facility, worried that they would be losing their independence. But people of all ages receive help in some ways — no one is fully independent. Whether we have cleaning help or an accountant, benefit from Instacart or use Uber, we all avail ourselves of assistance when we can. Seniors should take note that accepting a little bit of help can go a long way in allowing them stay as independent as possible.

As a geriatric social worker for more than 20 years, I always come back to the same advice time and again: Plan ahead with your loved ones, especially when it comes to issues like living arrangements. Do your research, communicate with each other, and know what is out there before a crisis occurs.

When you work from a crisis point, choices are made for you and not with you. But if you look at different scenarios and plan ahead, the decisions you make will be based on your needs, your wants and your choices. PJC

Stefanie Small, LCSW, is the director of clinical services at JFCS, overseeing senior programming as part of AgeWell Pittsburgh.

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