For those of us who have older adults in our lives, the new year is prime time for revisiting our loved ones’ needs – from health and wellness concerns to legal and financial considerations. While some elderly parents may be able to “age in place” in their homes, others may be ready to consider senior housing, assisted living, or long-term care.
Despite the importance of weighing the options for aging parents, many families are avoiding the conversation altogether, a recent poll finds. Nearly half of those surveyed have not discussed the topic. With the number of seniors projected to double over the next two decades – making up about 22 percent of the population by 2040 – the need to plan for elderly care may take on a new sense of national urgency.
“The biggest factor in long-term-care decision-making is finances,” says Terri Rasp, Director of Sales, Analytics, and Training for StoneGate Senior Living, a leading provider of senior living services in Texas, Colorado, and Oklahoma.
“Many people expect to rely on Medicare and Social Security to pay for their care needs as they age, but these programs typically don’t cover most long-term-care services or costs,” she points out. “Unless mom and dad have a sizeable ‘nest egg’ saved up or a long-term care insurance policy, or their children can pay for their care, they may find themselves in turbulent times.”
Senior living specialists can help seniors and their families find the best way to finance a move, she explains. StoneGate, for example, partners with a variety of trusted senior financial solution providers to evaluate the options, from loans to life settlements, veterans programs to Medicaid supplements.
Tracking the options
“It’s a weeded path to travel, and there are so many different directions you can go in,” Rasp explains.
“At StoneGate, we encourage families to continue to educate themselves in evaluating what’s best for their loved ones. Our goal is to offer family caregivers guidance and support on every choice. We listen to each family’s unique needs and strive to be a ready resource in helping them find the right solution.”
A particularly challenging area, she explains, is qualifying for Medicaid coverage of long-term care in a skilled nursing facility. Medicaid looks at whether daily nursing-home-level care is ‘medically necessary’ – according to a person’s overall physical and mental capacities.
“States have some flexibility in setting the benefits they offer and the eligibility criteria,” Rasp explains. “Our attorneys and advisors guide families through Medicaid’s complicated rules, helping them avoid the pitfalls and maximize the benefits available.”
Talking it through
Families often wait too long to make decisions about their aging parents, Rasp says.
Having the discussion before a crisis strikes is key. “Gathering information ahead of time and keeping a regular, watchful eye on your loved one’s changing needs is the best way to avoid panic and poor decisions.” A wide range of care options and living arrangements are available, she notes – from in-home assistance to adult day care, independent and assisted living facilities to Alzheimer’s care.
“Start the conversation early. Put in place a plan your family can follow when your parents can no longer make decisions on their own. Understand their preferences and the choices available so you can find one custom-tailored to their needs. Get any legal paperwork in order, including an advance directive and a durable power of attorney.”
Getting in the habit of discussing difficult topics can make it easier at critical junctures, Rasp explains. “Start with the smaller issues and build up to the bigger ones,” she advises. She offers the example of talking with an aging parent about when it’s time to turn in the car keys. “It’s important to ask questions and help your parent come to a decision on his or her own terms. For example, you might say, ‘Let’s talk about your car. How do you feel when you’re driving? Do you feel safe? Maybe we can get someone to drive you sometimes.’ As you get into the rhythm of talking about what’s really going on in your loved one’s day-to-day life, you can gradually lead up to a discussion about the long-term picture.”
At every turn, she emphasizes, it’s important to assure your parents that you want to maintain their way of life – and need their help in making the right decision with them.
Caring for an elderly parent is one of life’s most stressful experiences, Rasp says. It’s in essence a reversal of roles, with the adult child and the parent trading places in the part of caregiver and cared for. “A proactive approach – helping your loved one anticipate the future, consulting with the right resources, and offering continued assurance of your support – can help you confidently navigate the changing currents together.”