Well… it’s time to have “the talk.” If there can be any consolation, know that you are not the first! Many of us will have to face it eventually, and although it may be tough, discussing a senior living community for mom or dad does NOT need to come served with a side of emotional distress. Nobody, especially your parents, wants to bear the feeling of being “put in a home.” Luckily, they never have to. When having the talk about the transition to a senior living community, remember that you are discussing your parents’ new home. It is imperative that mom and dad are a part of the process – and more importantly – feel comfortable within their new abode. Below you will find a series of actions to take and factors to consider, supported by clinical evidence and senior care professionals, when embarking upon the journey of choosing a senior living community.
“My parents and I are nervous, and I don’t know where to even start. How do I begin?”
First, take a deep breath.
Good? Okay, let’s begin. After figuring out the all-important aspect of location, it is important to keep in mind one thing when going forward: quality of life (QOL). Including elements like well-being, personal satisfaction, and health, the metric known as QOL contains many more subjective qualities.1 Despite the personal nature of someone’s perception of quality, most experts emphasize three issues when reflecting on the testimonials from seniors regarding their quality of life: support, autonomy, and daily activities.1
Encompassing both physical care and social-emotional wellbeing, the umbrella of “support” represents the main focus of your efforts. Who leads the practices of the former and the agenda of the latter? The answer is the community staff. Walk through the social centers and lobbies when visiting a potential senior living community. Keep your eyes peeled when observing interactions. Are the staff polite and compassionate? What is the resident-to-staff ratio? Is the community audited and staffed with accredited employees? This last question is one that can be researched, or answered directly by the staff director.2 Even dealing with activities of daily living (ADLs), such as eating, bathing, etc., are staff trained in all areas of personal care? Although it may seem tedious, or even overwhelming, ask questions. Think about the basics like personal belongings, medical visits, or even just the move-in itself. While hard to find in nursing homes, some communities come complete with concierge services that support you in everything from moving-in, to scheduling appointments.
When you finish your tour at a senior living community, reflect on the following: “Will this community and staff best serve the needs and interests of my parents?”
Having adequate support is vital in a senior living community. However, it is possible for support to be overbearing, and quite possibly, unwarranted. It’s already a known fact that seniors who have their choices and freedoms respected report having a higher quality of life.1 Instead of solely focusing on making sure there is enough support and care for mom and dad, be sure that it is the right support. Keeping your parents in charge of their routines and empowered with daily decision-making does more than just increase satisfaction, it increases their health.3 When researching and visiting senior communities, keep in mind their planned activities and schedules. Are activities individually curated? For instance, some senior communities create self-directed activity plans which are then supported collaboratively by staff, rather than dictated. Assisted living communities even offer seniors the ability to receive a customized care plan to support their health needs and goals. Think next about the all-important family gatherings. Can residents visit family and friends regularly? What about more immediate concerns throughout the community that facilitate freedom of action, such as safety features? Are there ample hand-rails and grab bars? Do the outdoor gardens have nearby seating and shade? Are there accessibility options, like lifts/elevators or widened doors? These are all important factors to consider that contribute to senior autonomy and your peace of mind.
While support and autonomy make up the essentials when considering senior living communities, don’t forget to inquire about the things your parents will be doing each day: events and activities! Having the right support to create activity plans is one thing, but what about the actual day-to-day options and opportunities available to your parents? A good rule of thumb is to focus on the “Big Two:” exercise and socialize. Staying active is one of the best ways for seniors to stay healthy.4 Therefore, take a look at the location and amenities of the communities you are considering. Is the community near nature parks or walking paths? Is there a gym nearby? Independent and assisted senior living communities often contain on-site walking paths and private meadows to encourage physical activity. Many other communities include fitness centers and some even include senior fitness programs to promote both exercise and independence. However, mom and dad aren’t joining a senior community to get buff; they are joining a community. Socialization and engagement with others should be a top consideration when looking for a senior community. After all, some of the most serious health risks for seniors stem from isolation and loneliness, both of which can increase the onset of serious medical conditions like dementia.5 Does the community include dedicated social centers, such as social clubs and rooftop patios? Are there scheduled activities that incorporate the surrounding community? Be sure to ask for the senior living community’s activity schedule, or even better, plan a meeting with the activities director to see first-hand the various opportunities that would be available for your loved ones. If taking a tour, don’t stay inside! Ask to take a tour around the grounds and see if the marketed outdoor amenities are up to your standards.
“Whew, that was a lot…”
Finding the right place for your parents can be daunting. While covering the basics, you may have more questions and concerns than answers…and that’s okay. At Koru Health, we understand the gravity and stress that searching for a senior living community can bring. No matter how minute or grandiose your concerns may be, know that there are professionals here to help. When looking for a senior living community for your parents, remember to ask, ask, ask! From individualized support to social clubs – and everything in between – there are many factors to consider when looking for a senior living community. No matter what, the bottom line is that your parents not only deserve an engaging and comfortable community, but a high quality of life as well. After all, they raised YOU, didn’t they?