Sometimes it happens fast. Serious illness comes from out
of the blue. Your spouse, who cared for you every day, dies. A grown child who
was always there for you moves away.
Other times, it’s a gradual thing. Your spouse is showing
signs of dementia, and you wonder how difficult it will become to care for him
or her, and whether you’ll be able to do it at all, after a point. Or you notice
it’s becoming more difficult to take care of your house and yard. Or maybe not
even more difficult—you just aren’t that interested anymore. Or maybe the stairs
are harder to negotiate. Maybe you’re simply ready for a change.
Whatever the reason you or an older loved one has for
needing to make a change, it’s always a good idea to do as much advance planning
as possible. Sure, things happen unexpectedly, but you can still make plans for
that. The old “expect the unexpected” adage applies here.
Here are some of the things you can do so that when and if
the time comes to make changes in your living arrangements, you’ll know what’s
available, what you can afford and what’s most appropriate to your lifestyle.
Housing for seniors is varied and changing
Most people 50 and older are aware of the basic types of
senior housing out there. There are independent-living communities, which offer
housekeeping services, meals that are served in dining rooms, social activities,
etc. Then there are assisted living facilities, which help residents with
activities such as bathing, dressing and getting from place to place. At some
point, if your health needs become more intensive, you have to leave an assisted
living facility and move to a nursing home. There are also some communities that
offer all types of services in one location. These are typically called
But things are changing all the time. Some companies are
beginning to offer assisted-living-type services right in a person’s home. Some
continuing care facilities have changed the criteria under which you are allowed
to remain there. Financial arrangements can vary from state to state, even in
places that are owned by the same company. And the types of rooms and living
arrangements can change too.
If you think there’s any chance that you (or a loved one)
will be changing your living arrangement at some point in the future, be sure to
do the following:
► Talk with a financial adviser
You need to know exactly what your financial situation is
before you decide on any new living arrangements. This might sound obvious, but
many people don’t find out about this kind of thing until the last minute.
That’s the worst time to make important decisions. So sit down with a financial
planner to find out what you can count on in the years ahead.
► Talk with a local geriatric care manager
This professional can help you sort through your options,
and help you determine whether things like staffing levels and basic policies of
a facility are adequate and beneficial for residents. Geriatric care managers
can also help you identify the kind of facility that would be a good match for
► Be aware of all the costs
Make sure you know which services are covered by the basic
fee, and which services cost extra. Find out whether costs are expected to rise.
Ask how often they rise, and by how much.
► Be sure you know exactly what’s in your
contract, and how it affects you
It can’t hurt to have your lawyer or financial adviser take
a look at the contract of the facility you think you’re going to choose. For
example, some people become sicker than they expected, and they have to leave an
assisted-living facility when they least expect it. You need to know exactly
what the criteria are for your continued stay.
► Talk with residents at the facility you’re
There’s nothing like getting information direct from the
people who live where you might choose to go. Ask them about all the things that
are important to you, whether it’s the quality of the food, the friendliness of
the staff, the level and quality of care, etc.
on Aging; The New York Times, “These Days, ‘Retirement Living’ Can Mean
Many Things,” 6 February 2005.