Monday, December 1, 2008

Help your aging parents choose options before crisis strikes

I have read many emails recently in which daughters and sons are trying desperately to find and afford a quality retirement community for their elderly parents. The stories are heart-wrenching. For many, their parents have fallen into frail health; many are at the end of their funds. Options are extremely limited. Everyone struggles and suffers.

So, for all the baby boomers out there, READ THIS!!!

Prepare yourself with education and communication, before your parents encounter a crisis situation. Similar to the way in which you research(ed) all the issues surrounding your children's selection/choice of college, use due diligence as you "partner" with your parents in researching options for their retirement. Bring the issues out in the open, talk about their preferences and perceptions. Oftentimes, we take myth to be fact without investigating. My mother believed she would have to turn over all her money and personal belongings to the retirement community. This is absolutely NOT true.

Yes, our lives are extremely busy. But, when a crisis situation with a parent hits, you will have to act decisively in the best interest of your parent. Know that it will likely be an emotional and exhausting time for everyone involved.

Fortunately my mother recovered from her health crisis last March but we continued to pursue a retirement community option for her. We sat down and talked about how the next crisis might actually prevent her from passing the required physical and psychological exams for getting into independent living in the place of her choice. Facing realism is hard. This is not easy territory to traverse. I helped Mom by listing the pros, the cons and all the factors on a sheet of paper. This helped us take the emotion out of it. We made ourselves think long-term.

So educate yourself now!!

One big lesson we learned was about "Continuing Care Retirement Communities".
If at all possible, seek this out. It is a retirement community for the remainder of one's life, with a choice of services and living situations. Residents can move between independent living, Assisted Living, and Nursing Home care. Your parent would sign a long-term contract that provides for housing, services and nursing care, all in one location. My mother purchased her apartment and her monthly fee will never change (except for small inflation increase) regardless of how much care she needs. She retained total control of all her assets. If she runs out of funds after her life expectancy age is reached, an endowment established by her retirement community will cover all her needs.

The real benefit of a place such as this is that it becomes a wonderful network of support with other residents, extended families of residents and all the staff. Her contract is all-inclusive, including all her meals, medical appointments, cleaning services, etc. My mother calls me every day to share upcoming afternoon and evening activities. She sits in on board meetings and reaches out to other residents in need. It is truly amazing to see her strength and spirit restored.

In looking for a CCRC (Continuing Care Retirement Community), look for these things
1. Find out if the CCCR is accredited by CARF
2. Seek to understand the community's mission
3. Determine if the community will meet your lifestyle and financial situation
4. See if you can spend a night and a day at the site and fully participate in all activities, meals

When you visit, check these things out
1. If your parent has a pet, will it be allowed (my mother loves the many cats and dogs that people have)
2. What kinds of social, cultural activities are offered? Is there bus service to local spots, such as malls, churches, theater?
3. Does your parent like the food? (take advantage of the "free" complimentary meals as you visit these communities)
4. Is the staff responsive and friendly? At my mother's community, every staff member knows every resident's name and addresses each resident. This means so much to my mother.
5. What types of health care services are available on site?

I always felt a sense of joy watching our children launch their careers and raise their families. I get a similar sense of joy now watching my mother "grow and flourish" in her new home. What a legacy we can all leave as our parents age!