Old age often requires changes in living conditions. This very thought provokes a rush of stress hormones and sends people running for the proverbial hills. It can feel like an insurmountable problem. Avoidance instincts kick in. But eventually the need can no longer be avoided and in the worse case scenario decisions must be made in a moment of crisis.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Transitions in life can be intimidating, but some thought and planning will make them much more manageable. The modification can be as minor as upgrades to a house such as installing better lighting and handrails. Or illness can require the massive change of moving into a skilled nursing facility. Some of the hardest decisions as a caregiver can be determining when and what changes are needed in living conditions. The following are some points to consider as you investigate your options and consider the path forward.
First, what are the health issues the resident is facing? For example, age related weakness and poor vision will often require less drastic changes in housing than what is needed for a resident who is dealing with dementia.
Second, what financial resources are available? The ideal path forward may not be feasible due to monetary constraints.
Third, how much human assistance is available? Often fewer changes in a environment are required when more human help is present.
When making decisions about changes in a living situation take care to consider future needs, not just immediate ones. How will a disease progress? Or, how long will finances hold out with a particular living arrangement?
A crucial issues to weigh is what the person in need of care would prefer. Often issues of finances or health means that the preferred arrangement cannot be completely accomplished, but these wishes provide a goal to aim for. Would they prefer to live at home for as long as possible, or would they prefer the social environment of an assisted living facility? Everyone is different, so a good start is talking with the person who needs changes in their living environment and reaching an understanding of their desires.
As you make preparations for the future, be realistic about what additional changes the future will bring. As an elderly person grows increasingly frail, they will eventually need in home assistance. Will they be able to pay for this help, or will you as a relative (spouse or child) provide the necessary care? Or is this the point where there will be a transition to a professional living facility?
This leads to more questions. What options are available for professional living facilities? Choices vary greatly from state to state, and even between different regions within a state. Do you live in a rural area or a major metropolitan location? If you are living in a rural part of the country options outside of living at home can be very limited and not of great quality. In a metropolitan area there may be good options, but cost may be prohibitive.
A generation ago the choice may have been as simple as “live at home or live in a nursing home,” but options now are much more nuanced. There are assisted living facilities which range in the level of services from something very similar to an independent apartment to options with increasing levels of services and support, including specialized assisted living facilities for people with dementia. Research what is available in your area.
The issue can feel very overwhelming, so break the problem down into smaller parts. Don’t try to figure everything out in one day. Be organized and make lists. Have a trusted person you can talk through the process with. Two minds are far better than one.
The bottom line is that today there are a multitude of options available. This is a good thing. It gives us the ability to create unique choices for living environments conducive to supporting someone with declining health, whether they wish to age in place in their own house, or move to a supportive institution. There is not a single choice that is best for everyone. Understand what is the desired option in your situation, research what is possible, and then make plans for the future. You will be glad that you did.