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Exploring Senior Living Alternatives for Aging Parents

As your parents age, it’s likely they may require new or extended levels of care. Research indicates that up to 75 percent of seniors will require outside care at some point in their lifetime. Finding a senior living alternative is a necessary but complex part of the aging process. 

Before you and your parents begin research living alternatives, it’s important to first focus on their health, social and financial needs. The following questions will help you uncover the benefits they want and need:

  • Are they able to stay in their current residence or will they require a move or additional services within their residence?
  • Are they looking for a home for the duration of their lives or simply for the next life stage?
  • How much can they afford to spend on housing?
  •  Is it a viable option for them to move in with you or another family member? Would you feel comfortable taking on this added responsibility?
  • What kind of health care will they require?
  • What are the safety and risk factors of their current home?
  • What types of social needs or interests do they want their living situation to fulfill? 

When weighing your parents’ potential living options, keep in mind their ability to perform daily activities, such as eating, dressing, using the bathroom, and getting in and out of bed. Secondary activities include banking, shopping, cleaning, cooking, using the telephone, managing medication, etc. Assessing the degree to which your parents are able to perform these daily tasks will help determine the level of care needed. If your parents can perform all or most of these duties, they may be able to age comfortably in their current home. If they struggle with essential tasks, such as feeding or dressing themselves, you may want to explore other options. 

Senior living alternatives are generally distinguished by the level of care needed. Naturally, as the level of care, staff credentials and ratio of staff to residents increases, so do costs. Costs vary from facility to facility as well as by region. The financial cost of senior living will also depend on your parents’ health insurance coverage, whether they took out a Long-Term Care policy, or if they qualify for Medicare or Medicaid. Finding the ideal fit for your parent or loved one is usually a matter of helping them find the right balance of financial and health considerations. While you don’t want to sacrifice care for budgeting concerns, it’s also important to not let senior care burn through all of their retirement savings.  

Considering these options can be difficult, especially as your parents may not be ready to give up their independent style of living. However, avoiding the conversations needed to plan for senior living only creates larger problems down the road, should a health crisis occur. By having a rainy-day plan in place, you will know how to proceed and can minimize additional stress during an already stressful time. Once you have considered your parents’ health and financial characteristics and discussed what is most important to them in a living facility, it’s time to look into the types available. These include: 

Aging in place: This option allows your parents to grow older without having to move from their current residence in order to secure necessary support services. This also allows for the additional option of in-home care, if necessary. Aging in place is best for those seniors whose home is comfortably equipped for an aging person (one-level, wide doorways and hallways, not a lot of maintenance, etc.) and who are able to easily perform most daily activities. 

Moving in with family or friends: This option is ideal for those who require more support but do not have the financial means to pay for a formal senior housing option. Living with a family member or friend can help your parents feel more comfortable knowing they are not alone should a crisis occur. This also allows for the option of in-home care. Before choosing this option, you should consider the extra financial and emotional responsibility you will be taking on by having an aging family member move into your home. If you can’t fulfill these responsibilities, it may be best for both you and your parents to skip this option. 

Downsizing your home: Moving to a smaller or more manageable home can help to lower maintenance burdens. Moving to a smaller space can also provide additional retirement income for them. 

Senior housing/independent senior living: This alternative provides a range of options, from congregate housing to home sharing, adult foster care, or board and care homes. Senior housing allows seniors to maintain an independent lifestyle while also offering a moderate level of help, should they want it. This option is best for active seniors who are still able to care for themselves but want the benefit of available senior services. This option also can provide substantial social benefits, as it provides a community of seniors who share similar interests.

 Continuing care retirement communities: These residential campuses provide a number of senior services. They combine several other senior living alternatives (independent living, assisted living, and nursing home care) into a continuum of care, so your parents can move through levels of care while still staying within the same community. This eliminates the need to find another option for housing if they have a change in their need for care and allows them to keep developing relationships within the community. The next two options are stand-alone alternatives where the resident would have to move out of they needed additional care services.

Assisted living: Assisted living is a hybrid of independent living and nursing home care, where residents can continue to live independently but also have access to a higher level of assistance than independent senior living. This assistance can include providing meals, housekeeping services, laundry, dressing/grooming assistance, medication management, transportation and social/recreational activities. 

Nursing homes: Nursing homes provide 24-hour skilled care for residents. They offer the same kind of services as assisted living, but to a larger extent. This is an ideal alternative for seniors who don’t need to be in a hospital but cannot receive the level of care they need at home. Choosing a nursing home can be difficult for some seniors, as they see it as giving up their independence. It’s important to acknowledge this and try to work through your parents’ feelings when choosing a senior living option.

The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging provides a valuable resource called the “Senior Housing Locator,” which allows you to search for senior living alternatives by area and help determine which option is best for your parent or loved one. For more information, visit www.n4a.org.

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