October 3rd, 2012 at 10:10 am
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5 options for elder housing, and how to choose

by Dorian Martin

As my parents aged, we talked about their moving into some sort of retirement community. They at one point put a down payment on a property in a Sun City development near where I lived, but eventually decided to buy a condo right down the street from me instead. That was the first time I started thinking about the housing choices that my parents were facing. And those options have burgeoned, especially since my prior experience with the elderly, which was back in the late 1970s when my grandmother was placed in a nursing home.

Balancing an elder’s wishes and needs

Decisions about housing really depend on the elder’s desires and — equally important — ability to care for himself or herself. Seniors may be able to remain in their homes with in-home care. The American Academy of Family Physicians lists these other residential alternatives for elders:

  1. Active adult communities, such as the Sun City development that my parents considered. Ownership in this type of development may be open only to adults who are 55 and older and who are fully independent. These communities often organize a range of social, recreation and educational activities.
  2. Independent living communities, which provide older adults with some assistance such as meals in a dining hall and transportation services. In these settings, residents don’t usually need assistance with their daily living activities, such as bathing, taking medications and getting dressed. Also known as retirement homes, retirement communities or senior apartments, these may be available for rental or purchase.
  3. Assisted living residences, which are similar to independent living communities, but offer assistance for residents who have difficulty performing daily tasks. There may also be special living areas for elders with dementia that is in the early or middle stages.
  4. Nursing homes, which provide skilled nursing or extended care facilities. Nursing homes offer care for residents that’s available 24 hours a day, as well as meals and personal care services. This is often a choice for elders who need medical care but not hospitalization.
  5. Continuing care retirement communities, which feature independent living, assisted living and nursing home services on one campus. The good part about these types of facilities is that they provide a progression of services in one setting as elders face more issues with daily living and health.

Facilities, finances, fine print: do your research

So how do you help a senior select the type of residence? First of all, do an honest assessment of their capabilities and their needs. For instance, I naively thought my mother would be able to live in an independent living facility, even though she was actually struggling with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and memory loss that turned out to be Alzheimer’s disease. Because she was at a stage where she needed skilled nursing care, she was placed in a nursing home.

You also need to be aware of your loved one’s finances and consider that the cost for these types of communities could rise as the number of services required increases. The 2011 MetLife Mature Market Survey estimated the national rate for a private room in a nursing home at $239 daily ($87,235 annually) while the rate for a semi-private room was $214 daily ($78,110 annually).

Once you settle on the type of residence that is appropriate for your elder, tour the places that you are considering and talk with the facility’s general manager, director of nursing, residents and the residents’ family members. Finally, be sure to read the housing contracts carefully. And, as mentioned in other blog posts, there may be an adjustment period involved with a decision like this.

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