The transition from independent living to assisted care can be challenging for the elderly and their caregivers, but knowing when to make that change doesn’t need to be a mystery. It’s important to talk with your aging loved one, family members, their doctor, and other professionals before making a change in their living situation or their daily routine.
There are a few signs that indicate a transition in housing or additional assistance might be needed. These can include:
- Taking medication incorrectly
- Signs of physical injury
- Weight loss
- Lack of hygiene
- Increase in car accidents
- Feeling suspicious of others
- Increasingly forgetful and/or disoriented
Options for Eldercare
There are several housing and health care options for your aging loved one to smooth the transition process:
Staying at home- Your loved one might feel comfortable continuing to live in their original home or apartment. Or, perhaps they move to a retirement community where amenities are more convenient, but they still live on their own. The older adult at this stage might have assistive technology to help with daily tasks, such as adapted bathtubs, phones, medical alert devices, etc. A home health aide may come to help with medication, dressing, or other hygienic needs.
Assisted living- This environment feels very home-like to many older adults. Additional assistance is offered with meals, laundry and social activities. Also, nurses and medical assistants are available to assist with medications and other basic medical care.
Continuing care community- Here, your aging loved one is able to move through the stages of housing. They could enter first into the independent living portion. Then, the older adult moves to assisted living or nursing home facilities as needed. These accommodations offer a continuum of care as they experience deterioration in health or greater needs arise.
Skilled nursing facilities- Those who do not need to be hospitalized but still require 24-hour nursing services can benefit from this housing situation. There are also rehabilitation services available for those who are capable of returning back to independent or semi-independent living.
Eldercare Legal Issues
It’s important to discuss end-of-life decisions before your aging loved one becomes mentally incapacitated. An attorney can help you and the older adult talk through the legal options and responsibilities. The following list provides some basic legal definitions that are important for you to understand:
Durable power of attorney- When a person becomes incapacitated and can’t make major financial decisions, a durable power of attorney comes into play. This is different than a power of attorney, which is effective only when the principle person is competent. A health care power of attorney acts as a durable power of attorney, making medical decisions when a person is incapacitated.
Guardianship- When the court declares someone incompetent, a guardian, or conservator, is appointed. This person manages financial affairs, makes living arrangements, and handles medical decisions.
Living will- This is a written statement where the person gives specific directions on medical treatments after they are incapacitated. These often include what life-sustaining measures should or should not be used. A living will also states if the person desires their medical decisions be made by the health care power of attorney.
Planning for Caregivers
Caregiving responsibilities range in levels of involvement. Above all, it’s important to keep communication open between your aging loved ones, family members, doctors, and yourself. The following tips will help you plan for a successful transition to caregiving for an older adult:
Be honest- Having open and honest dialogue with your parents or for whomever you will be providing caring is appropriate. Ask how they would like their needs met, and listen to any concerns or worries they might have. Recognize there could be a level of grieving your loved one experiences, as they come to terms with the aging process.
Make a plan- Distinguish between what is urgent and what is moderately important, and then prioritize your plan of action. Consider having an alternative option in case your loved one’s first wishes aren’t available or don’t work. Seek out medical, legal, and financial advice as needed, and be sure to involve other family members in the planning process. Your plan might include:
- Housing and accommodations options, such as meal delivery, home health services, etc.
- Medical history, physician’s contact information for the older adult, and informing the doctor as to who is serving as the health care power of attorney.
- A contact list of your loved one’s support network such as clergy, friends, neighbors, etc.
- Financial plans including income sources, possible liabilities, and individual net worth.
- Legal plans outlining the location of all wills, living wills, and legal documents. Establish who is acting as the power of attorney
Get support- Caregiving for another can take a physical and emotional toll. Start early by developing a supportive team around you. Delegate tasks to other family members to give yourself respite and a chance to enjoy spending time with your aging loved one.
Caring for another has its challenges. However, eldercare is a gift, both to yourself and the one in your charge. Staying informed about the legal, medical, and emotional aspects of eldercare can help maintain a positive transition for all.
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