When Should Single People Move to Assisted Living?
Q: My sister lives alone at age 78. She has no children. I’ve noticed a growing number of changes in her health over the past two years. She seems to have problems with anxiety, and recently became immobilized with fear of evacuating her home, prior to a severe hurricane. Fortunately she was OK, despite four days without power. Home maintenance tasks are becoming a huge burden for her and I worry about her vulnerability to scams. When should single older people start making plans for moving to assisted living?
A: Determining when to move to a senior living facility is a complicated decision — making process that involves being able to think dispassionately and realistically about long-term needs. That’s a tall order for anybody. It often means talking to others, getting outside opinions, and help from professionals.
Yet according Sara Zeff Geber, PhD, author of Essential Retirement Planning for Solo Agers, very few childless adults reside in assisted living or continuous care communities today. That’s because it’s the adult children, who are the primary caregivers, who help make the decision when mom and/or dad needs more care than can be safely provided at home. It’s the adult children who assist with the tasks of helping parents shop for the right senior housing, help with the downsizing and moving, and assist with the complicated transaction of selling a parent’s home and financing senior housing.
Senior housing experts say they frequently hear clients say they want to live in their own homes. But over time, it can become a great burden, especially when people don’t have family that lives close by. Health and physical changes can make it difficult to climb stairs, keep the home clean, and keep up with paying bills. There may be a growing need for help with simple chores like driving to the pharmacy or grocery store. Home maintenance and repairs can even become a source of exploitation from unscrupulous vendors.
People frequently say they are “not ready” to move into a senior living facility, but the thoughtful solo adults who cherish their independence might be convinced that, by making decisions ahead of time when they are still healthy, is how one preserves that autonomy. Waiting until a health crisis could mean winding up where someone else decides she or he needs to be.
For example, you may want to suggest that your sister put a simple plan into writing. The plan should outline how she wants to live. It’s important for your sister to consider who is going to take care of her, if there’s an emergency, or, if she needs someone to drive her to or from doctors’ appointments. Do you have such a plan for your own long-term care? Perhaps this is something the two of you can do together. Your sister is not too young to start her plan. In fact, age 78 is an ideal age to put a plan in place, and, even to consider moving into a senior living community.
In shopping for housing you will find that many senior living communities have medical criteria for acceptance. Since your sister has no children, she may need a facility that provides a continuum of care. As her health declines, she would move from independent living to assisted living, and finally nursing or memory care as her health declines. If her income is limited, all the more reason to start looking for affordable facilities ahead of time. It’s not uncommon to encounter waiting lists at the most desirable facilities.
By doing her research now, your sister can start learning about her options in the area where she would like to live. She needs to get an idea of how much senior living options cost, how the options are financed, and what she needs to do to get ready for such a move. There are companies that specialize in helping older adults downsize, and she may need to talk to a financial planner and real estate agents to get her home ready to put on the market.
By making decisions now before her health changes, your sister can have more choices and a better chance of telling you “she only wished she would have moved sooner.” Doing this together may have you saying the same thing.
Resource: Essential Retirement Planning for Solo Agers, A retirement and aging roadmap for single and childless adults, Sara Zeff Geber, PhD