According to the U.S. Administration on Community Living, nearly 70% of adults will need long-term care at some point in their lifetime; however, the type of care, its duration, and its costs will vary greatly from person to person.
While assisted living and nursing homes offer long-term, permanent residential options, many communities offer intermittent assistance or specialized care for those with dementia or other specific conditions. Even among the same type of community, you’ll find large discrepancies in the types of amenities available. For example, one independent living community may offer a pool, spa, and onsite beauty shop, while another may offer only a library and onsite gym.
When beginning your search for senior care communities, the first step is to understand your options.
The Different Senior Care Communities
Amenities and budgets aside, your top concern should be the type of care your loved one needs. Consider their ability to perform the activities of daily living (ADLs): personal hygiene, dressing, toileting, transferring, and eating. If your loved one needs assistance with performing some or all of these tasks, then this points you towards a community capable of providing this assistance.
You’ll also want to consider any medical concerns. While some communities have limited staff with medical training, others will have onsite doctors, nurses, and other specialists.
Generally, we can separate senior living communities into five different groups, each of which denotes the type and level of care provided.
The most minimal in terms of care, independent living refers to apartment, condo, or housing communities in which seniors can manage their daily care on their own or––in some cases––with the help of a private-duty caregiver. In most cases, living in these communities works the same as living in anywhere else. The main difference is that your monthly payment can cover meals, housekeeping, activities and transportation fees.
One step up from independent living, assisted-living communities provide care and support to older adults who can’t safely or effectively live on their own. Similar to independent living, assisted living communities charge a monthly fee that generally covers a private room, meals, housekeeping, and any other community amenities; however, these communities can also provide assistance with daily living activities. While 24/7 emergency support is included, these communities generally charge extra to provide residents with this type of extra assistance.
Respite care is a short-term care approach that often takes place in assisted living communities. Ranging from a single day to over a month, respite care is an effective way to relieve family caregivers of the work it takes to care for their loved one. Respite care can also be an effective way to test out an assisted living community before following through with a long-term transition to said community.
Often set in the campuses of assisted living, memory care facilities provide a similar level of care tailored to those with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Since these conditions come with an array of unique concerns like confusion, wandering, and agitation, memory care staff members are trained to care for those with cognitive conditions.
Skilled Nursing Facilities
Also known as nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities provide 24-hour care from doctors, skilled nurses, and other medical professionals. In many cases, skilled nursing facilities provide short-term stays for people recovering from hospital stays. Alternatively, they can provide long-term residential care for those with terminal illnesses or other medical needs.
Consider Your Lifestyle Needs
When transitioning to a senior care community, you’ll ideally choose a location that supports your loved one beyond their safety and personal care needs. This is when hobbies, religion, ethnicity, and other interests come into play.
While most senior care communities are open to all backgrounds, some of them cater to specific religious groups. For example, a Christian assisted living community may have an onsite chapel, weekly religious services, and easier access to clergy members––not to mention a majority of residents will be united by a common faith. If religion plays an important role in your loved one’s life, then one of these communities may be ideal.
Are Pets Welcome?
For many, pets provide an essential bond that makes us happy throughout our days; however, each senior care community has different policies regarding animals. Often, you’ll find that cats and dogs are allowed in private apartments; however, restrictions will likely apply to the size and breed. The allowance of other animals––rabbits, birds, or reptiles––will vary by location.
Amenities, Amenities, Amenities
While most senior care communities will have a dining room, a library, and various function rooms for clubs and other activities, you’ll want to carefully consider which amenities your loved one will most likely appreciate. Pools can provide access to low-impact exercise, while onsite gardens can provide a chance for residents to utilize their green thumbs. Some assisted living communities will even have golf courses, movie theaters, or bowling alleys.
The key here is to consider what your loved one would actually use. Moreover, you’ll want to consider how the residents make use of these amenities. Finding a group of people with shared interests is one of the best ways to make a senior care community feel like home.
Consider the Financial Component
In 2021, the national monthly average cost for assisted living was $4,500, and skilled nursing facilities were significantly higher at $7,908. While your cost for a senior care community will vary depending on the type of care and location, it’s important to begin planning how you’ll pay for this type of long-term care.
In most cases, Medicare won’t cover the costs of senior care communities, unless the care provided fits the criteria of medically necessary. In some cases, Medicaid can help pay for care; however, these issues will vary by state and the specific Medicaid programs. Long-term care insurance can be an essential financial tool; however, the vast majority of Americans don’t have a policy of this nature.
This is why it’s important to have a conversation with your loved one about the financial components of senior care communities. By combining insurance, federal assistance, and private funds, it’s often easier than you think to afford long-term care communities.
Choosing a Location
Certain states like Utah, Georgia, and Arkansas have significantly lower than average costs for senior care communities; however, selecting a location will often come down to proximity to loved ones. That’s why we recommend choosing a neighborhood––one that your loved one is already familiar with––and, from there, selecting a handful of communities.
A great place to start your search is the internet. By typing in a city and the type of community you’re looking for (ex: Shoreline Independent Living), you’ll likely find many different options in said location. You might also consider asking friends, relatives, and even church members if they’d recommend any places in particular.
Once you’ve come up with a list of potential communities, you can begin the process of reaching out to them. Community representatives will happily answer your questions, sending you brochures and offering you a time to come tour the community.
While online reviews can certainly flag serious issues with a community, the best way to figure out if a community is a good fit is by touring it. While your parent or loved one does not necessarily have to be a part of the search process, you’ll undoubtedly need to attend a tour (if not several) together. Much like viewing a home before a purchase, experiencing a senior care community in person is the only way to know if your loved one will benefit from their stay.
On a tour, you can expect to meet the care staff, interact with residents, try out the food, explore the facilities, and experience the overall atmosphere of the community. While walking through a tour, pay close attention to the way in which staff members interact with residents. Do they generally seem happy? Do residents seem to be partaking in the day’s activities, or is everyone pent up in their rooms?
Another good idea is to make an unplanned visit to communities of interest. This way, you can be sure that the atmosphere you find is authentic rather than planned.
Questions to Ask a Senior Care Community
After touring a community, be sure to ask the following questions:
● What kinds of training do your staff undergo?
○ In particular, you’ll want to know if they have experience caring for people with conditions of your loved one.
● Is there staff onsite at all hours of the day?
○ This will let you know what kind of assistance is available at certain hours.
● What kind of meal services do you offer?
○ Some communities have designated meal times while others allow more flexibility.
● What types of activities are available?
○ Pay close attention to the different physical and recreational options.
● How does your community respond to resident requests?
○ In some cases, a community will have a representative board that helps create new clubs or amenities.
● How do you create a sense of community?
○ Consider how quickly and easily your loved one can integrate with the social aspects of the community.
Knowing a Great Community When You See One
At Encore communities, we work tirelessly to provide each of our residents with a new home that helps them thrive safely and independently. Through resort-like amenities and highly trained staff, we provide an experience that is sure to impress even the most discerning of seniors.