Note: This is a guest post by Ms. Lydia Chan. Lydia is a caregiver of a family member with Alzheimer’s Disease.
If you are the caretaker of an aging parent or grandparent, the question of whether they can live alone has likely crossed your mind more than once. Typically, when we consider moving our parents out of their home, assisted living is our first choice. However, how do you know if it’s the right time? How do you prepare? And, more importantly, how do you talk to someone about it?
Signs of the Time
There is no single behavior or circumstance that might lead a senior to assisted living. Instead, you have to look at their living situation, budget, abilities, and health. If they have been experiencing falls related to stroke or mobility issues, for example, it may not be safe for them to live alone. In addition to becoming hurt through accidents, falling may also point to potential cognitive or physical impairments. When you suspect health problems, pay close attention during your next visit. Check to see if they are taking their medicines or have more bruises than usual.
Self-care is something else to evaluate — specifically a lack of self-care. If your senior loved one is no longer able to manage their own activities of daily living, which Elder Law Answers asserts is a good measure of your loved one’s need for more care. You’ll also want to pay close attention to the state of their home; for instance, look to see if they have food in the refrigerator and if things are being maintained properly.
Perhaps the most sensitive issue is that of mental health. Many seniors in the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease are defensive about their memory. Probe if you must, but you will likely get better answers to your concerns by paying attention to their behaviors. If they are suddenly isolated, withdrawn, or become angry with no provocation, this is a good sign they may be suffering from mental or cognitive health concerns.
The average assisted-living resident is 87 years old. Because of this, it is an unfortunate realization that moving to assisted living often means that your loved one is already well past the average life expectancy. For a woman, American Senior Communities says this is 86.6 years of age. As uncomfortable as the preparation process may be, it is essential that you help your loved one get their affairs in order.
This starts by looking at their life insurance. If they have a fully paid policy or their premium comes out of their account monthly, your loved one may not even remember what, if any, life insurance they have. So, plan to sit down with them and go through paperwork, and if they have one be sure to look in their safety deposit box. Keep in mind, however, that their life insurance is not necessarily meant just for death, and some policies offer living benefits that might help them cover the expense of assisted living.
Opening Up the Conversation
Your best bet when you think it may be time for assisted living is to begin talking about it sooner rather than later. If you have siblings, get them to help with this conversation as well. Even if the decision has been made, approach the situation as though it’s still optional. Be careful with your words, and keep in mind that using “retirement living” may sound less threatening than “assisted living.” Most importantly, be patient. When a senior is facing the perceived loss of their independence, they may need some time to absorb the situation. Listen to their concerns, and don’t discount any potential alternatives, such as hiring a live-in caregiver.
Ultimately, if your loved one’s health is at risk, assisted living may not be an option, but a necessity. That said, it is not a decision to make in haste. Evaluate your loved one, and be gentle, understanding, and patient when it’s time to have the talk. Also, don’t forget to handle the more pragmatic aspects of their new living arrangements, which includes getting their legal documents together. If the time is right, things will fall into place, and the senior loved one in your life will find that their new living arrangement is exactly what they needed.