What are your options and how do you choose the right long term care community for mom or dad?

Adults with aging parents often have to face this tough question at a difficult stage of life. As hard as it might be, it can’t be put off when the time comes. The choice is easier when you understand the different levels of care and have a few guiding principles.

It’s actually not one question, but two. The first question relates to the level of care they need. Once you know the level of care required, you can then choose which community is best for you and your family.

Make the choice together

Whenever possible, make the decision with mom and dad, not for them. Unless they’re unable, they should be involved. Your family doctor can also help you understand the appropriate level of care for your situation.

Some of the clues that indicate the need for long term care relate to daily habits. Are medications being taken the way they need to? Is the mail being taken in? The refrigerator properly stocked? What about the laundry and dishes? Are those habits in normal order?

What are the levels of care?

To keep it simple, there are three main levels of care related to long term care communities.

Independent Living Communities: These communities provide the lowest degree of oversight, but in a protected environment. The living space has a kitchen for minimal use. Usually only one meal per day is prepared by the resident. The other two meals of the day (normally lunch and dinner) are prepared by the community and eaten in a common room. Housekeeping services are performed and transportation is usually provided on some level. Independent Living communities offer a lot of social interaction. The typical stay can be as long as 10-15 years or even more.

Assisted Living Communities: These are licensed communities for residents that need help showering, transferring in and out of bed, or going to the toilet. More oversight is provided, along with medication management. Typically at least two social activities are enjoyed daily. The typical stay in an assisted living community is under 5 years.

Skilled Nursing Communities: These communities are also licensed, but are more medical intensive. They are designed for residents with the greatest need. The community offers 24/7 care, often in a shared room. The typical stay in a skilled nursing center is less than 3 years.

Which specific community?

After you have identified the appropriate level of care you can then choose from a community. This choice is largely a matter of three things: cost, style and geographic practicality. The question of reputation is often asked. It sounds like it makes sense to ask others about their experience, but here’s the rub: You’re likely to get very different opinions from people, even when they’re relatives of the same resident.

Cost varies widely. Do your research and compare different long term care communities, their staff members and the amenities offered. Again, get input from mom or dad. You want them to be happy.

Style matters. Communities differ in cost, but they also vary in style. Think of cruise ships and the way they’re built and decorated. Your experience on an Alaskan cruise will be much different than your Caribbean cruise or a European river cruise. Spend enough time in the community to get the basic “vibe.”

Geographic proximity. When it’s time to choose the right long term care community, it’s often a matter  a matter of practicality. it’s a lot easier to make frequent visits if the community is close to family members. Don’t underestimate the importance of accessibility. Families and their responsibilities grow and change. What initially seems like an “easy” drive across town in a large city can become more difficult over a period of time. Here’s more information about how to compare senior communities and make a choice.