Dear Readers

This spring, I’m taking a brief break from blogging. While I have loved writing for you, I have an interesting opportunity that I just can’t turn down. However, I am still researching, speaking and writing about senior housing.

Although I’m not actively blogging, you can still find plenty of good stuff on the site about senior housing. In order to make it even easier, you can read my best, most informative articles by clicking on the links below. I’ve roughly grouped them by topic, but there is a great deal of overlap:

General:

Continuing Care Retirement Communities:

Independent Living:

Assisted Living & Memory Care:

Nursing Homes

Hospice/Home Health/Living at Home:

And, of course, you can always buy one of my books on Amazon:

Also, just because I’m not blogging right now doesn’t mean that I’m not here to help answer your questions. If you have anything that you don’t see answered on my site, feel free to email me: Virginia@SeniorHousingMove.com.

Additionally, I’m still happy to come speak to your group about senior housing issues. You can email me for more information.

Have a safe and prosperous 2015, and thank you for visiting Senior Housing Move.com.

Virginia

Warning to my Readers: Nursing Home Compare isn’t Reliable

medicare nursing home compare

For a long time now, I’ve written about how consumers can use Medicare.gov’s tool, Nursing Home Compare, to get ratings for skilled nursing facilities in their area.  However, today I have decided that I can no longer endorse the use of Nursing Home Compare use as a tool for deciding between facilities.

There have been complaints about the accuracy of Nursing Home Compare’s ratings for a long time, but last week, several articles came out that make it impossible to ignore the problems.  According to the New York Times:

Only one of the three criteria used to determine the star ratings — the results of annual health inspections — relies on assessments from independent reviewers. The other measures — staff levels and quality statistics — are reported by the nursing homes and accepted by Medicare, with limited exceptions, at face value.

The ratings also do not take into account entire sets of potentially negative information, including fines and other enforcement actions by state, rather than federal, authorities, as well as complaints filed by consumers with state agencies.

The remainder of the article goes into greater depth about how ratings are calculated and instances in which highly-rated nursing homes did not provide adequate patient care.  (It’s a good article, and well worth the read if you have family members who need skilled nursing care.)

What should consumers do with this information?  Well, a few things:

You can still use the site to find nursing homes in your area.  It’s pretty straight-forward to type in your city, state, and ZIP code and narrow your search to a specific area.  This is super helpful if you’re just getting started and need a quick, all-in-one place to find rating information.

You can still use the site to find basic information about a community.  Nursing Home Compare still has a wealth of information: ownership, inspection reports, type of payments accepted, and location.  So, feel free to use the site to help you learn more about potential skilled nursing facilities.

You can’t trust the site to provide accurate ratings. Unfortunately, you just can’t trust what you see on Nursing Home Compare.  It’s too easy for nursing homes to game the system right now, and that means that the ratings just aren’t indicative of quality of care.  Even using it to weed out seemingly poor-performing providers isn’t a good recipe for finding the best nursing home.

However, here are a few other ways of checking the quality of care at a senior housing community:

  • Call your local ombudsman. Nursing home ombudsman are awesome resources that you can use free of charge.  You can find your ombudsman by searching the National Consumer Voice website and clicking “Locate an Ombudsman.”
  • Make multiple (sometimes unannounced) visits to the facility.  I’ve heard of unscrupulous marketing agents who spray deodorizing spray in the skilled nursing wing of a retirement community prior to a scheduled tour.  Of course, they do this because the nursing staff isn’t doing a good job of removing odor-causing soiled clothing, diapers, or wound dressings.  But, because you only arrived for the “official tour,” then you won’t see (or, rather, smell) the truth. Another reason to make multiple visits is that, especially when you’re not accompanied by marketing agent, you have a higher chance of observing staff members revert to their “natural behavior.”
  • Talk to other families in the parking lot or hallways.  Now is not the time to be a wallflower.  If you want to learn more about a skilled nursing facility, the best folks to ask are those who have been through the process with a loved one.  To that end, feel free to strike up a conversation with other families that you see in the facility.  They’re highly motivated to share “the gossip” with you and they don’t have any competing interests (unlike the marketing agent whose job is tied to filling beds). Note: Make sure you approach families in a respectful, discrete manner.  It’s one thing to do your own due diligence.  It’s another to infringe on a family who is going through a difficult time.  Please do the right thing, and don’t be obnoxious or ask them overly personal questions.

I’m continually reminded of the fact that skilled nursing, assisted living, and dementia care are not easy jobs.  The senior housing industry has a difficult problem: How can it make money, offer the highest possible level of care, and provide an affordable product?  So far, no one has been able to provide a good solution to that equation, and it’s only served to harm seniors during a very vulnerable time in their lives.

Unfortunately, the odds are not in a consumer’s favor, and it’s very difficult to find a good, one-stop source for senior housing information.  Especially after this week’s article, I can no longer recommend Nursing Home Compare as a viable option.

Want to learn more? Here are a few other links that you might find helpful:

Who to call when things go wrong

Signs of trouble in any community.

Five questions to asking during your senior housing visit.

Finding communities that share your beliefs.

Crisis management 101.

Whom to Call when things go Wrong

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I hope that no one ever has to use the information in this post.  However, senior caregivers are in a unique position to either help people in their most vulnerable hour or inflict serious injury on them.   While the industry has been working (somewhat unsuccessfully) to improve its safety record, there are a few things that you can do if you notice a facility isn’t properly caring for its residents:

First of all, if it’s an emergency, call 911. I sometimes forget to mention this because it seems really obvious, but not everyone thinks about it.  If you see someone who is in serious danger, you can (and should) call the police.  It may turn out to be something that is best handled by another agency, but, frankly, why not let the management sort that out? Your job is to keep your loved one safe.

Also, don’t hesitate to remove your loved one from the situation.  There are probably other nursing homes in your area that meet your criteria and can provide good-quality care.  If something “just doesn’t seem right,” then feel free to take your business (and your loved one) elsewhere.

If it’s not an emergency, but you suspect that there are problems or if you feel that your loved one is being unfairly treated, then you have a few things that you can do to help the situation:

1) Document everything.  Whatever the situation, you will have a much stronger case if you keep a detailed record of your findings. Take pictures.  Write down notes if you notice unusual behavior, bruising, marks, treatment, or other problems with dates, times, and other pertinent details.  In some cases, police have even used hidden cameras to catch nursing home abuse.  (Note: Check with authorities before placing hidden cameras or wires, since recording without someone’s consent can be a crime in some areas.)

2) Call the nursing home ombudsman in your area. You may not know it, but there is an individual (called an “ombudsman”) who is designated as a consumer advocate in your area.  The nursing home ombudsman program is completely free for you to use, and the ombudsman in your area will be able to help you get your grievances resolved.  Click here for information about locating an ombudsman in your area.

3) Call the state health department, aging, or human services. States regulate nursing home and assisted living facilities.  Often, the state will handle certification and bed licensure, which means that a ding on the state’s database can prevent bad communities from having their licenses renewed.  Formally submitting a claim can help open investigations into nursing home abuse and cement the case against operators.  You should note two things about state oversight: 1) The department that regulates nursing homes differs from state to state, so you’ll have to do some research online to find the right person. 2) State regulatory oversight can be a slow and steady process, so you cannot count on the state to fix problems in a short time period.  If your loved one is in danger, remove them from the facility immediately.

4) Call the county health department.  Often times, the county will have some oversight in local nursing homes, especially when it comes to how the kitchen is handled.  If you encounter a problem with sanitation, county health department employees may be able to help intervene to fix the problem.

Again, I hope that you never have to use the information in this post.  Unfortunately, some residents of assisted living and nursing facilities experience abuse or neglect.  It’s up to family members, friends, and concerned staff members to do something to prevent this type of treatment from continuing.

Want to learn more about senior housing?  Check out some of these articles:

The naked truth about CCRC entrance fee refunds.

Understanding a CCRCs permanent transfer policy.

Who owns CCRCs?

Should a retirement community be run like a McDonald’s?

 

UnSCAMable Book Excerpt: A Basic Test of Internet Trustworthiness

You can learn more about my book, “UnSCAMable” on Amazon.

Danger

I’ll be going over a lot of different types of scams that happen online, but they all boil down to trusting the wrong people.  At the end of the day, you must make a judgment call on whether or not to let new people and organizations into your life.  The decision you make here is key, since going along with a scam could put you in financial danger, or (at the very least) make you a target for other scam artists.

There are three basic questions that you should ask yourself every single time you get a communication from someone who isn’t a close friend (be it online or in real life):

  1. Why is this person contacting me?
  2. Does this really make sense?
  3. Would I be embarrassed if my kids or friends found me reading this?

Let’s review them individually: 

Why is this person contacting me?

There’s an old saying that goes something like this: If you can’t find the fool at the table, then it’s you.  That’s the way it works on the internet.  Here are some common scenarios that can seem legitimate upon first glance but actually aren’t:

  • The person has inherited a lot of money and wants you to help her get it to the United States.
  • The person has uncovered a horrible truth about the future of the United States and wants to warn you about the impending economic collapse.
  • The person has secret political information about a massive scandal that she wants to share with you.
  • The person has uncovered a secret (insert medical problem like “wrinkles,” “gout,” or “obesity”) cure and wants to share it with you.

Ask yourself this question: Why on earth would this person care about me? If he/she really had a cure/secret/bazillion dollars, then why would he/she be emailing me?

The answer to all of these questions is that this person wants your money.  Let’s look at the above again.  In every single case, the communication is designed to separate you from your money.  It may just be a book or a bottle of magic potion, but every single one of these people has contacted you purely to separate you and your money.  Therefore, you should immediately be skeptical of anything (and likely everything) they say.

Furthermore, you should ask yourself how they got your email in the first place.  If you don’t know the person socially, then they’re likely sending out massive amounts of emails, hoping to catch one or two gullible people.

Does this really make sense?

Do any of the examples in the previous section really make sense?  Sure, they’re all plausible.  They all could possibly happen.  But, when you step back and think about it, do any of them sound true?

You might be saying, “Well, you’re just a young person who doesn’t know what’s really going on in the world today!  Things are different!  There is a lot happening right now!”

I concede that it’s possible that there is a massive government conspiracy to overthrow American ideals and usher us into a new age of poverty and strife.  I read about NSA surveillance and wars in the Middle East with just the same worry and concern that you do.  But, I don’t read or respond to emails from people trying to capitalize on my fears.  If you find yourself fearful for your future or safety at the end of an email, then you can bet money that they’re trying to scam you.

Would I be embarrassed if my kids or friends found me reading this?

The ultimate litmus test is whether or not your friends or family would be concerned to see you reading whatever it is that you’re reading.  Instead of the old “What would Jesus do?” test, let’s start a new one, “What would my kids do?”

The reason that this test is so helpful is that it takes out the story element of the email pitch.  In other words, you might be so worked up about the contents of an email that you can’t evaluate it unemotionally.  Why not ask someone else to do it for you?  The beauty of asking a dispassionate person for their opinion is that you’ll get an honest answer about whether or not this particular email or webpage is a fake.

If you’re at all embarrassed about looking like a fool, then alarm bells should be going off in your head regarding the validity of this particular email or webpage. 

Putting it to the Test

Use this test: when you get any sort of suspicious email, phone call, or message

Test:

1)    Why is this person contacting me?

  1. I don’t know why (3 points)
  2. I know this person, and it’s a friendly email  (1 point)
  3. This person is trying to offer me a job, get me to help them with transferring cash, or sell me a book/video/product that the government doesn’t want me to know about (5 points)

2)    Does this really make sense?

  1. Yes (1 point)
  2. No (5 points)
  3. I’m not sure (3 points)

3)    Would I be embarrassed if my kids or friends found me reading this?

  1. Yes (10 points)
  2. No (1 point)

Key:

3-5 points It’s probably not a scam, but do a bit of extra research just to make sure.
6-19 points It might be a scam.  Call your friends/kids and ask for their opinion.  Read the rest of this book and do more research into the topic.
20 points It’s almost certainly a scam.  Call the police if you have given any money or personal information to the crooks.  Otherwise, discontinue all contact with the individual or the company.

Here are some more interesting topics that you can read about on SeniorHousingMove.com:

Taking your pet to senior housing.

I built a scam website in 4 hours.  Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself.

The Naked Truth about Entrance Fees

Understanding a CCRC’s Permanent Transfer Policy.

The Naked Truth about CCRC Entrance Fee Refunds

Continuing care retirement communities market the entrance fee refund as a big selling point.  They try to make it sound like an easy transaction: You give them $100,000 to $1,000,000 up front, and they’ll return a portion of that fee to your estate when you die.  Since you’ll be selling your home to pay for the entrance fee, it’s not like it’s money you’ll miss, right?

Like most things in life, the truth isn’t that simple.  Entrance fee refunds are not the straight-forward transactions that CCRCs would have you believe.  In this post, I’ll share some of the hidden downsides of the entrance fee model, specifically as it relates to the entrance fee refund.

Be warned: This is kind of a dark subject, since it deals with what will happen after you die (or move out of the community).  But, for those who want to know, here are the facts.

Virtually all communities will have some waiting period after you pass. Obviously the manager of the CCRC won’t be standing over your bedside with a check waiting for your family the moment you pass away. But, you would except a check be presented to the estate within 30 days, right? Nope.  The truth is that your family may have to wait for a long time (in some cases over a year) for the refund to be processed.

Some communities require that your apartment be “resold.” In other words, your independent living apartment must be reoccupied by a new tenant.  How long does that take?  Could be months.  Could be years if the community has trouble filling the apartment.  And guess what?  Even after it gets reoccupied, the community usually has 45 days or more to cut your estate a check.

Some communities require that ALL of your apartments be “resold.” Spent a few months in assisted living and/or nursing? Those apartments must also be reoccupied by a new tenant before you get your check.

Refund policies vary if the apartment doesn’t sell. Some contracts stipulate a one-year maximum waiting period.  Others don’t say anything about when you’ll be getting a refund if apartments don’t sell.

No matter what’s in the contract, the community still has to have enough cash to pay it back. This seems like common sense, but most people don’t really think about it.  Your entrance fee refund is 100% dependent upon the community being in the financial situation that would allow them to pay you back.  While most states have laws requiring that CCRCs keep a certain amount of cash on hand for refunds, this can be put in danger if the community is in financial difficulty. Thankfully, this has been a rare occurrence historically.

Want to protect yourself? There’s two main things that you can do:

  • Check your contract. The resident agreement will contain a detailed description of how the community plans on paying you the balance of the fee.  If it’s important to you that your estate get the refund in a timely manner, then pay particular attention to this section of the agreement.
  • Don’t move in if the terms aren’t favorable. For too long, CCRCs have made all of the rules when it comes to resident agreements.  It’s worked out for the most part, but some seniors have gotten seriously burned when communities went bankrupt. While the CCRC lifestyle makes it tempting to overlook things like the entrance fee refund policy, I believe that seniors have the power to express their displeasure and be a force of change in the industry.

Want to learn more about CCRCs? Check out some other posts:

Who owns CCRCS?

What is adult daycare?

What is memory care?

Why pushing for a move to senior housing isn’t a good idea.

Understanding a CCRC’s “permanent transfer” policy

There are three things that I think everyone should understand about their move into a CCRC: the community’s amount of debt, the community’s entrance fee refund policy, and the community’s policy on permanent transfers to assisted living or nursing.  Today we’ll talk a bit more about the third one: permanent transfers.
When you move into a CCRC, you agree to move to a higher level of care in the event that you can’t stay in live alone anymore.  It’s called “permanent transfer” because they assume that you will never move back into independent living and thus can resell your apartment to someone else.
There are a few things you should note about CCRCs permanent transfer policy:
The community will decide when you have to move. By and large, almost all CCRC contracts have policies regarding residents who can no longer live on their own.  Due to the sensitive nature of the decision, most contracts require that the community’s executive director and its director of nursing sign off on the transfer.
You don’t have much say in the process. While the community will often consult you and your family about the move, you generally won’t have too much of a say.  This makes sense if you think about it.  Especially for residents who have dementia or other cognitive problems, it can be hard to spot one’s own inability to live independently. However, some seniors bristle at the idea of someone else telling them when they must move out of their independent living apartments.

Read your contract.  Policies vary from community to community, so read your documents carefully. In most cases, your doctor, the community’s head nurse, and administrators must “vote” in favor of your permanent move.  If you disagree, then you’ll have to either prove your independence or move out.  It sounds drastic, but that’s the way it’s handled in most places.

The benefits to the CCRC are many.  For one, the community can ensure resident safety by moving people who need more care to assisted living or nursing.  They can also resell the apartment, which improves their bottom line.

While permanent transfer policies help residents who are in denial of their conditions get the additional help that they need, sometimes there are disagreements.  Unfortunately, they usually work out in favor of the community.  So, if you’re not moving into a community that allows aging in place, it’s in your best interest to read and understand the permanent transfer policy.  It’s probably one of the most important things that you can do before signing on the dotted line.

Want to learn more about senior housing? Check out these posts:

Is it cheaper to stay at home or move into a CCRC?

How do I time my move into a CCRC?

Thoughts on the Frontline documentary about assisted living.

The naked truth about entrance fee refunds.

Who owns CCRCs?

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For many years, CCRCs were owned by local or regional companies or nonprofits.  By some estimates, up to 80% of CCRCs were nonprofits.  But, that’s been changing recently. When the housing market crashed, so did a lot of new nonprofit CCRC developments.  This caused a wave of acquisitions by for-profit providers between 2009 and today, which has forever altered the landscape of senior housing.

Here are some of the big players in the senior housing industry and a summary of who owns them: (Note that this list is certainly not exhaustive.  If there’s a big one that I’ve left off, please let me know.)

Also, as more and more retirement communities become more professionally-managed, companies have sprung up offering management services.  Life Care Services is one of the largest in the country.  They manage care for over 28,000 seniors.

Why does this matter for seniors?  For the most part, it won’t change life for seniors all that much.  But, there are some things to keep in mind:

  • Communities that used to be owned by small, local companies are now owned and operated by much larger companies. This doesn’t necessarily make that a bad thing.  Rather, it’s a fact that senior should keep in mind when shopping for retirement housing.
  • It isn’t always clear who owns what. Olive Garden is owned by Darden Restaurants, but you never really see their name.  It’s not that they’re being secretive.  It’s just that Darden owns about ten other chains of restaurants.  Similarly, Sunrise and Erickson are owned by much larger companies.  So, when you go visit the campus, remember that you’re visiting part of a much, much larger company that has service lines in dozens of other aspects of real estate and senior housing.
  • Get ready for that “big company” feel.  On the one hand, large companies having significant ownership stakes in restaurants, shopping centers, and other facets of American life has worked out well for us.  We see a Wal-Mart sign, and we know instinctively what types of things we can buy there.  It sets our expectations and helps us to understand the types of services offered in one location.  On the other hand, we’ve all had the experience of eating at a restaurant that “got too big.”  There will be senior housing chains that fail because they cut costs too much and service gets sloppy.  There will be others that people flock to because they offer the best service for the best price.

Seniors housing is undergoing a major change.  But, at the end of the day, you’ll still be looking for the same things when shopping for senior housing: good care, professional staff, a history of safety, well-kept facilities, and happy residents.

Want to learn more about CCRCs? Check out some more articles:

Should retirement communities be run like McDonalds? Part 1 Part 2

Signs of trouble in any community.

Helping friends find the right community.

Should retirement communities be owned and run like a McDonald’s? (Part 2)

fast food4

 Note: This is Part 2 of two. Read “Should retirement communities be owned and run like a McDonald’s? (Part 1)” here.

The Bad News:

Managers don’t always care as much about customers. To be fair, this is an issue that every company faces. As a business owner or manager, your goal is to make money. Most of the time, you do that by making the customer happy. But, sometimes that goal can be obscured, especially when managers have bonuses or other competing interests at hand.

It’s worse in corporate situations where managers get bonuses based on financial performance. This can sometimes lead to short-term thinking, which is not always in the best interest of the customer.

For example, real estate investors and hedge funds are under enormous pressure to improve their return on investment, and sometimes this means taking more aggressive approaches to investing. Some of these plays will pay off. Others will blow up.

Risk is magnified.  Aggressive growth strategies in a large provider of senior housing can blow up quickly if the market shifts at the wrong time.  What’s worse is that communities that are perfectly healthy and vibrant can be dragged down by disasters in other parts of the country.  For instance, declines in real estate in one part of the country can impact sales at retirement communities in that area.  If these communities are owned by a regional provider, then no one outside of that area is really impacted.  However, a national provider that has trouble in one market might be tempted to pull cash from an otherwise healthy community to help cover the costs.

Parting Thoughts:

None of these benefits or drawbacks are set in stone.  There are plenty of corporations that begin shaving services and customer care as they get bigger.  Also, there are plenty of companies that are huge behemoths and yet still manage to make customers happy every single day.  The success or failure of a national chain of senior housing communities depends largely on the way the company is run, which is why it’s really, really important that these companies hire good managers.

I can’t say for sure if the consolidation trend is good or bad. In fact, it doesn’t matter because it’s going to happen one way or another. It will certainly impact residents’ lives, although not necessarily in bad ways.

My instinct is to rattle my saber and declare war against the invasion of Wall Street. Seniors shouldn’t have to worry about their home being sold at a bankruptcy auction after hotshot managers make silly decisions and invest foolishly. But, then again, that sort of thing happened in the industry prior to Wall Street arriving.

Ultimately, I think the rules of the game will have to be rewritten a bit, and, unfortunately, it will be big corporations wielding the pen.  Competition will continue. Consolidation will continue. There will be bankruptcies, but, by and large, the ramifications will be felt only for managers and debt holders, not seniors themselves. However, the benefits of consolidation mean that seniors might see better amenities and more activities.

Read Should retirement communities be owned and run like a McDonald’s? (Part 1)

Want to learn more about senior housing? Check out these articles:

Five questions to ask during your visit to senior housing.

Why do CCRCs charge an entrance fee?

What is adult daycare?

Take your pet with you to the retirement community.

Should retirement communities be owned and run like a McDonald’s? (Part 1)

fast food 7

Note: This is Part 1 of two. Read “Should retirement communities be owned and run like a McDonald’s? (Part 2)” here.

Five or ten years ago, there weren’t that many really large companies building continuing care retirement communities. Sure, Brookdale and Sunrise were big, as was (and is) Emeritus and Atria. But, they largely focused on nursing homes and assisted living.  Most CCRCs were owned by smaller, regional companies or by nonprofits.

Since the market crashed in 2008, that has changed dramatically. Senior housing has become an increasingly attractive play for anyone from hedge funds to real estate investors.  This has spurred a round of consolidation that is relatively unprecedented.  It’s very possible that in the next decade, the majority of retirement communities in the United States could be owned by the same two or three companies.

Is that a bad thing? 

We tend to distrust big corporations, and I think for good reason.  But, yet, we all tend to eat at chain restaurants, shop at chain stores, and buy products from the same big online retailers.  Is it really a big deal if retirement communities follow suit? Would having a few national chains control the entire market impact consumers?

I see several benefits and drawbacks to this scenario:

Most large firms have better access to capital. Smaller retirement communities have to work harder to get credit in the event of financial difficulty, and it’s more expensive.  Larger firms can negotiate for loans and financing on a much more national basis, making it easier to finance campus improvements or new communities.  They also have better access to development consulting and other services, which might be prohibitively expensive for smaller companies. Overall this is good for residents, since providers can get the funding their need in a more efficient manner.

Standards and procedures will be more uniform. Ever visited a family restaurant that just didn’t function well? The cash register was too close to the buffet line, and the tables didn’t leave enough room for servers to walk? Well, most of those issues have been solved in chain restaurants.

As firms get larger, they learn which strategies work the best, and they optimize their organizations.  That’s good news for senior housing where staff have to handle a large array of situations and can benefit from additional training that smaller companies might not have been able to provide.

Lifestyle improvements. Larger corporations will probably be better-suited for creating amenities and activities that improve residents’ quality of life:

  • Better activities:  Smaller companies usually rely on one dedicated activity coordinator to handle all aspects of resident life.  If there were a few national providers, these organizations could pay a department of people to craft activities, travel, or other amenities that would help improve resident quality of life.  Since large corporations can negotiate on a grand scale, these services might also be cheaper.
  • Travel agreements among communities in the same chain would allow seniors to effectively visit any city in the country and always have a place to stay.
  • Large corporations can afford to investment in aging in place technology, which might help seniors stay independent for longer.

Read Should retirement communities be owned and run like a McDonald’s? (Part 2)

Want to learn more about senior housing? Check out these articles:

What to expect on your first visit to a retirement community.

Three sneaky sales tactics and your best defense!

How to find a CCRC.

What is LifeCare?

Helping Friends find the Right Community

Togetherness

I’ve got a friend who just moved into a senior housing.  Her children live miles away from here, and as she gets older, she has decided that her best bet is to move into a an independent living community.  As she’s gone through this process, I’ve helped her with some of the aspects of the move and, through it, have gained a better appreciation for the role that friends can play during this time in life.

If you’ve got a friend who needs your help in finding the right retirement community, here are some tips:

Ask first. Before moving forward with any of these other suggestions, make sure to ask whether or not your friend wants help.  It seems like common sense, but not everyone wants a companion when they visit retirement communities.

Offer to drive. The retirement community that my friend ended up picking was right down the street from her old apartment complex, but having me there to make sure that we arrived on time, drive her, and drop her off at the door really helped her focus on making the most out of the visit.

Help carry papers or purses. The marketing department will offer you all sorts of goodies during your visit: a folder containing community information, a bottle of water, etc. It’s a lot to handle, especially for a person with mobility issues.  Bringing a backpack or even just offering to help carry these items can be very helpful.

Make a list of questions beforehand. When in the thick of things, it’s hard to remember which items are important.  Consider helping your friend write down a list of questions ahead of time.  Carry the list in your pocket so that it’s easy to reach during the marketing visit.

Offer emotional support. The idea of moving to senior housing can be very stressful for some people.  Seniors often just need a friend to hear their concerns.  Try to focus on listening, and let them discuss their concerns.

Try not to push the issue one way or another. It may be blatantly obvious to you which decision is “the best,” but try to let your friend work through the decision on her own.

Allow her time to come to an independent conclusion. Again, it may be hard to be patient.  But, most people will recognize when they need help.  If you can, allow your friend time to come to a decision regarding her move.

After visiting the local retirement community with my friend, we went out for Chinese food and discussed our impressions of the visit.  At the time, she was against moving, since her apartment offered numerous advantages over the retirement community.  After several months of consideration, she finally decided to move.  Now that she’s been in her new apartment for a few weeks, she wishes that she had moved earlier!

Gone are the days when we could rely on our family to handle all of our aging needs.  Seniors who have no close family members benefit from the trusted companionship of friends.  If you’ve got a friend who is interested in moving into senior housing and has asked for your help, don’t hesitate to tag along and lend a helping hand.

Want to learn more about senior housing? Check out these other articles:

Why it’s not a good idea to get pushy with a senior housing decision.

Signs of trouble in any community.

How to time your move into a CCRC.

Slightly scary articles about senior housing.