Local experts share tips on if it's time to move a parent into assisted living

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Shelly Birkelo
Sunday, March 19, 2017

JANESVILLE--Carole Francis will never forget what her parents went through when they had to move her grandmother out of the house where she'd lived for 60 years and into a studio apartment at a retirement community.

“She did not want to leave,” Carole said.

That upset her father, who had power of attorney.

But there were no other options for her grandmother, who suffered with dementia.

That's why Carole's parents, Zona and Kenneth Mennicke, planned for their senior years.

“They saw how hard it was to make decisions for grandma and weren't going to put us—me, my sister and husband, John—through that,” she said.

The Mennickes talked with their immediate family members about their plans and finances, Carole said.

They did yearly financial reviews, making sure they had their health and financial power of attorney paperwork set up and beneficiaries updated, John said.

Carole and John made their two adult children, who lived out of state, aware of their decisions.

“My grandma did nothing. My parents planned for the future, and we wanted to make it as easy as possible for our children,” Carole said.

That's why the Francises, both 68, spent a decade downsizing before retiring five years ago and moving in August into an independent apartment at Cedar Crest in Janesville, John said.

About 1 million Americans live in senior care facilities, according to the Small Business Administration assisted living facilities business report.

The number is expected to almost double by 2030, according to the report.

A growing number of adult children have concerns when their aging parents are experiencing issues and wonder if it's time to move Mom and Dad into assisted living.

Just the thought of such a sensitive subject can be overwhelming.

To help families through this transition, local experts offered insight by answering the following questions:

Q: How do we know if this is the right time?

A: “When the parents ask for it, a medical provider says it might be time for Mom or Dad to look at an alternative home situation, or if you're seeing signs they're not taking care of themselves or the house,” said Julie Seeman, family caregiver support and outreach specialist for the Rock County Council on Aging.

Laura M. Doll is owner and operator of Senior Lifestyle Concierge, Beloit, and specializes in relocating and downsizing to independent apartments and assisted living. She said it's time “when you've noticed their quality of life has declined.”

Ben Reese, sales manager at Cedar Crest, agreed: “It's time when the home becomes a barrier to their health.

“I tell people when benefits of owning a home become more of a hassle than a joy, that's the tipping point. If they can't get in and out of the house or do stairs anymore, then it's time to make a move,” he said.

Q: What is the best way to introduce the topic of assisted living to parents?

A: “Sit down with an open mind and have a heart-to-heart,” Seeman said.

If you are noticing signs that they are becoming frailer—can no longer mow the lawn, struggle to clean their house or are not cooking or caring for themselves—then you need to explain what you are seeing, she said.

Ask your parents if they want to stay in the house, how you can help plus make suggestions to bring help and meals into the home, Seeman said.

“But don't press the issue,” she said.

Also, very important, is to discuss and look at your parents' financial situation. Determine what resources they have available and what outside resources they might qualify for, Seeman said.

“I'd say 50 to 60 percent of seniors can't afford assisted living that can be $3,000 to $6,000 a month,” she said.

If that's the case, they could be out of money in less than six months and back to square one, Seeman said.

But not matter the situation, Seeman said, adult children have to let their parents make the decision about going into assisted living.

Doll agreed a candid conversation is the best way to introduce the topic.

But in doing so, “have information available to them about what exists and discuss the benefits from simplification of their lifestyle to less worries and chores,” she said.

If the adult children are initiating the move, Reese said, they should consider scheduling an appointment for a facility tour, pick up information and take what they learn back to their parents.

“It's a big decision to move,” he said.

Q: What should we do with all their belongings?

A: “Work backward from where they're going. That helps you know what and how much you can take,” Doll said.

Parents also must assess their needs when going through belongings and be willing to let go of things, she said.

To accomplish this, Doll suggested going through everything one room at a time and labeling boxes according to what's being kept and what's going.

She suggested organizing items by category into decorative organization bins.

“They'll look nicer in a new and smaller space and eliminate having to pack and unpack twice,” Doll said.

Doll suggested selling what's not being kept at a rummage or estate sale, online or through a local consignment shop.

“It depends on the individual situation and how much stuff they have plus what sort of income you want from selling your possessions,” she said.

Seeman proposed parents take their bed, TV, pictures and the things that matter most to them and working with their adult children to downsize the rest of the belongings.

It's daunting to downsize a whole house, Reese said, so start with a closet and place items into one of these categories:

-- Keep

-- Give to family and friends

-- Sell

-- Donate

-- Trash

Once the closet is done, move onto the next room, he said.

“Dice it up into a bunch of little jobs instead of one big job so it becomes less overwhelming,” Reese said.

For someone who has a lot of keepsakes, he suggested taking pictures of the items and putting them into a photo album.

“Looking through that album will give you the same emotional response as seeing the item that has sentimental value because it's more about the memories related to them,” he said.

Every situation is unique when it comes to moving belongings and depends on whether the family wants to be involved or if the family wants to get a professional involved, Reese said.

“Quite often, if parents are of a certain age, their children are at a point where they don't want to do any heavy lifting anymore. Yet some families are very hands-on,” he said.

Q: How do you choose the right facility?

A: Look at what it costs to see if your parents can afford it, tour facilities you're interested in, visit with residents and their family members and ask around to get people's opinions, Seeman said.

“Walk in. Does it smell nice and fresh, or not so good? Are people in the hallways without anything to do? Do people look happy? Do the meals look good?” she said.

Doll agreed: “Go to these facilities, take a tour, observe and see what they have to offer. Pay attention to how you are greeted upon arrival. Ask staff questions and see how they respond. Get brochures and information then do a follow-up tour unannounced. Finally, make a list of advantages and disadvantages.”

Reese said to “take a look at the facility, staff, what it has to offer and what fits with your budget.”

Also consider if you want to plan another later, he said.

If a facility doesn't have the skilled care you need, then you may need to move again, Reese said.

Q: How do you know if a facility has had problems?

A: Visit the Wisconsin Department of Health Services website at dhs.wisconsin.gov to view reports of violations and citations, Seeman said.

This is important if there's been an ongoing issue, but state reports are just one piece of the bigger picture, she said.

“The biggest thing is to go and talk to the people living there and their family members,” Seeman said.

Doll said each assisted living center has a binder at the front of its facility for public viewing that would list citations or violations that happened during inspections by this state department's division of quality assurance.

“That's the law,” she said. “It's public information, so ask for it.”

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