A person 65 or older has about a one-in-four chance of spending at least some time in a nursing home, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics. Yet, generally people are unprepared for that possibility because the idea, rightly or wrongly, is so distasteful to them.
No one knows that more than Liz Pencak, director of marketing at the Village at Marymount, a senior living campus in Garfield Heights. She says it’s time to change that mode of thinking.
“I spend most of my time talking to seniors and their adult children,” Pencak says. “They don’t take time to shop around for senior living options because it’s not something anyone wants to think about.”
“When we meet with a family, it’s amazing to learn how much information they don’t have,” Pencak says. “We want to provide the family with as much of that information as possible.”
Toward that end, the Village at Marymount in 2020 is resuming its “Did You Know?” campaign to address questions about aging and senior living facilities. The campaign, first launched in 2018, will feature a speaker series on various senior health care topics, including battling depression and navigating Medicare.
Sister Mary Alice Jarosz, director of mission integration at the Village of Marymount, says past speaker events have been popular because people are hungry for knowledge when it’s presented to them.
“When our doctor comes in to talk about dementia, that’s always almost standing-room only,” Jarosz says.
The “Did You Know?” campaign also will include public-service announcements on WDOK-FM, also known as Star 102. The tagline for the ads, which started in January 2020, is, “You wouldn’t wait until the last minute to choose a college for your child. Don’t wait until the last minute to choose the appropriate level of care for a loved one. Be proactive. Be prepared.”
That’s vital now more than ever because shiny new nursing homes, assisted living units and independent senior apartments are popping up all around for aging baby boomers. Some places look fancy, but appearances don’t tell the entire story.
“You have to look past the chandeliers and marble floors and pay attention to the people and interactions with the caregivers because that’s what is most important,” Pencak says.
Here are a few questions and answers to keep in mind when searching for the appropriate senior living digs for a loved one:
How do I know when to talk to a loved one about moving to a senior living facility?
Pencak says each family and situation is different. However, if an aging parent is living alone, and family members notice changes in memory capacity, or if the parent has fallen once or twice, it’s time to start looking, just in case.
“It’s not easy, but you have to sit down and have an adult conversation about it with your loved one,” Pencak says.
Those who ignore the aging issue may have it forced upon them. If a loved one is suddenly hospitalized due to a fall or other medical condition, doctors may determine at discharge time that the senior is not yet ready to return home and give the family a list of nursing homes that provide physical therapy and rehab. Families, using that limited list, must decide where to place their loved one, with no time for research.
What should I keep out of the decision-making process?
Pencak says family members shouldn’t consider their own needs, promises or guilt. For example, someone might have promised dad before he died that mom would never end up in a nursing home. That promise could become impossible to keep if mom needs 24-hour care. Further, by keeping an aging loved one at home alone, the family may be denying him or her the socialization that senior living can provide and three meals a day.
“We have a negative, preconceived notion about long-term care facilities, but it doesn’t have to be that way anymore,” Pencak says. “Contrary to popular belief, there are some very lovely campuses out there providing great care. That’s why it’s important to do your due diligence.”
What are my senior living options?
Independent living is for seniors who can’t or no longer want to maintain their large home. Independent senior developments maintain properties for seniors and some even house cafes so residents don’t have to cook so much.
Assisted living facilities help residents with household chores. Meals are served restaurant-style in a dining room. Laundry rooms are on the same floor as apartment units so seniors don’t have to climb up and down basement stairs.
Long-term care and memory care are similar. Both fall under the traditional nursing home category, but memory care units are secure so that patients with dementia can’t walk out.
“That doesn’t mean memory care is institutional,” Pencak says. “In our memory care unit (at Villa St. Joseph), the apartments are lovely. The unit is set in a figure eight, so residents can wander, but somebody always sees them. It’s very bright and has lots of windows.”
Does Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance cover senior living?
Medicare and Medicaid don’t cover independent senior living. The Medicaid waiver program pays for assisted living in participating facilities, including the Village at Marymount, but residents must first spend down their savings.
Private, long-term insurance may pay for some assisted living costs, but it is important to check the policy. And, premiums are expensive. As for nursing homes, Medicare covers only short-term rehab after a hospital stay. Medicaid pays for permanent nursing home living after a savings spend-down.
How do I begin the search for a nursing home?
Go to medicare.gov, where nursing homes are listed and graded. Every 12 to 15 months, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Systems inspects and watches nursing home staff, then assigns the operation an overall grade of between one to five stars.
Visitors to medicare.gov can type in their zip code to find nursing homes in their area. They can see whether a nursing home has been cited, view the reports and learn the seriousness of any violations.
When I tour a nursing home, should I make an appointment or just show up?
Pencak says appointments aren’t required for nursing home tours, although some people might need to schedule an appointment if they’re busy. If a family feels good about a nursing home, they should return for an unscheduled tour, and if they don’t have that same good feeling, they should move on.
“If they say you have to schedule a tour, don’t go back,” Pencak says. “We are serving people all day, every day, so there should be someone there all of the time who can give you a tour.”