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Senior couple on porch

Chapter 6 - Options for senior living

Finding the Right Fit for Mom - Finding the right fit
“There are so many choices to make. How do we know we’re making the right one?”

With all the options for senior living, there’s never been a better time to be a senior. But like a 20-page menu, sometimes there’s just too much choice, and it can seem overwhelming. Home care, retirement residences, long term care — how do you pick? And what about the costs, what’s reasonable?
With all the options for senior living, there’s never been a better time to be a senior. The right “fit” is as unique as your mom and dad.

Short answer: it depends on who’s asking. The “right fit” is as unique as your mom or dad. But let’s assume for the moment that we’re talking about someone who can still live independently, for the most part, and wants to stay at home. Is this your parent? If so, then home care is a good starting point.

Home care offers many positives. For one, there’s no need to move, so your mom can continue to enjoy her house and surroundings, her neighbours and general routine, with the caregiver coming to her. Besides the care she receives, the home itself will likely require some changes to make it more accessible, such as a stair lift, a no-step shower and so on.

Here, the choices relate to the type of care she needs, or qualifies for, as well as any renovations that are needed to make the home easier to move around in. For some, it’s the perfect choice. But the challenge is that home care requires a frequent re-evaluation of needs. Today, your mom might manage well on her own, with a helping hand from you and her caregiver. But what about in five years? Also, has she given any thought to the neighbourhood itself? Have her friends moved away? Is she spending too much time alone?

Now let’s imagine the same person; she’s still independent for the most part and continues to live where she is, with some home care. Except now, her kids can’t come by as often as she’d like, and the care she qualifies for isn’t sufficient, so she’s been topping up at her own cost. This person might benefit from moving into a retirement home. Now she’s getting the care she needs, right at her doorstep, as well as the camaraderie of like-minded friends in a building or community designed specifically for seniors.

Of course, it has to feel right. If the residence isn’t her style, or it’s lacking in any way — whether it’s the level or quality of care, or the food or something else — then this isn’t a good fit. Because every retirement residence is unique, you really need to get out there and see what’s available, and what the costs and options are.

Now let’s imagine a different person, someone no longer able to live on her own and with health challenges such as dementia that require comprehensive nursing care and support. Does she want her own private room, or would she welcome the company of others in a shared room? Does she want to be near her kids, or near her previous home? These questions are key, as is making sure the long term care homes on your list feel right to you, and that you would be comfortable with your mom or dad living there.

Of course, in long term care, a big step is getting your loved one’s name on the waiting list; you may not always get your first choice, so make sure you’ve got a close second and even third. As with the other options, it’s always worthwhile to see what’s available, and what the options and costs are, before making a decision.

Does it Feel Like Home?

Finding the right fit isn’t just about matching up needs with wants. It’s also about creating, or maintaining, the feeling that this is comfortable, and lets your mom or dad be who they are.

If they’re receiving home care, then it’s about finding the best fit in terms of cost and level of care, and making choices based on preferences and what’s most important. If a move is in store, they need to choose a place that feels like home, says Marlene Williams, executive director of the BC Senior Living Association.

With retirement communities, it’s about finding a space that suits their style and needs, and that is a match in terms of options, food and overall feel. “The only thing you’re doing is changing the bricks and mortar,” says Williams. “They’re still independent, they still have choices.”

If it’s long term care, it might be more a matter of turning your room into a space that’s as inviting and homey as possible, bringing in a pictures of family and other personal belongings.

“It’s amazing to see the change that can occur once someone makes a move,” says Williams. “They’re able to get back to what they love most, and suddenly there’s this rejuvenated feeling of purpose.”

Take the Tour

Finding the right fit isn’t just about helping your mom look inward or comparing costs. You both need to experience these options first-hand. This is especially important if they’re considering a retirement community or long term care home. Don’t just read the online reviews. Get out there. Book a tour. Sit at the café with your mom. Taste the food and talk to residents, staff, caregivers and other people like you who are visiting their mom or dad. What’s the vibe? Does it feel right? Can you imagine your mom living here?

No doubt this can be an overwhelming experience. And most likely, you’ll encounter people telling you different things. After a visit, sit down and discuss what you witnessed, while it’s fresh, and what you still aren’t sure about. Need more time to decide? Most retirement homes allow overnight or even week-long stays, as a trial. This will give your mom or dad a true sense of daily life, and is especially important if they are considering a move to a new neighbourhood or city.

Before taking a tour, create a checklist (or use ours, below) that covers everything from care and cleanliness to rooms and amenities.

Click here for our retirement community checklist.

If you are exploring long term care, it’s important to visit a few options. There may be waiting lists for some homes, so while you may find a place that seems perfect, that doesn’t mean your mom or dad will get into it. Still, it’s always worthwhile checking out what’s available and making sure their first, second and third choices meet at least most of their requirements and preferences. Remember that they will still need to go through an assessment process once they have settled on their choices.

Visit the dining room and a typical resident room. See how staff members respond to resident questions and needs, and ask about recreation activities. Ask about the Resident and Family Councils – most homes have them, and they can be an important source of input when decisions about the home and resident life are made. Check out the cleanliness of the home, and the accessibility of common areas and outdoor spaces.

It may take a couple of visits to get a feel for each long term care home, so take your time. A long term care home is just that – the home of those who live there.

Click here for our long term care checklist.

With home care, there’s not a tour, per se, but there are many options to consider, beginning with costs. For one, there’s any accessibility upgrades, and finding a reputable service provider to do the renovations. Second, there’s the care itself. What type of support do they require? What is the family able to do, and are there any other community supports available? Do they need assistance with daily tasks, or more complex care? If the caregiver isn’t a good match, then you might need to consider other options. Finally, keep in mind that both private and government-funded home care require an assessment, so give yourself plenty of time.

Whichever option seems the best fit, the key is not to rush your mom or dad into making a decision. It has to be right for them, in terms of care and cost, support and comfort. And, if it is outside of their home, it must feel like home. But by looking into this now, you’re putting your parent in a much better position when it comes time to make a decision. Because you’ll know you’ve found the right fit. One that you can both be happy about.