Families moving a loved one into a senior living community for the first time can be filled with worry and uncertainty about trusting new caregivers, says Kathleen Leonard, a Senior Living Advisor at A Place for Mom and former director of an independent living community. “It can be an overwhelming process,” she says.
How can you ensure your loved one is well cared for? A senior care plan is instrumental, followed by involvement with the community and good communication, Leonard says.
A senior care plan is essential for care management in senior living communities. Learn more about senior care plans for elderly parents and how to effectively monitor your loved one’s care, whether you live nearby or thousands of miles away.
A senior care plan provides the blueprint for your elderly parent’s care plan at the senior living community of their choice. A senior care plan focuses on the personal and medical needs of a senior, their wishes and detailed actions needed to meet those desires. The senior at the center of the plan should be integral to its development.
“Strategic planning prior to placement finds out the needs of the resident,” says Nick Chareas, a Senior Living Advisor at A Place for Mom. “Once they move, the community will do a care plan for fulfilling needs done by the property.”
As the most important step, a senior care plan provides the basis for developing a care plan through your loved one’s senior living community.
According to Leonard, the senior care plan should be crafted with the help of one of A Place for Mom’s 400 local senior living experts, family members, and the senior. Ideally, a point person — a family member or friend with specific expertise — should be assigned to each category, but it may be more feasible for one family member or loved one to cover all four categories. The following four categories should be addressed when putting together the senior care plan:
Think about all of the medical needs and aspects that apply to the senior. Who in the family will handle these? Is there a medical power of attorney? Name a point person for this category. This person will act as a liaison between the community and medical resources in the future.
How much money does your loved one or family have available for paying for senior living? How long will the money realistically last in the senior’s chosen community? Is there a financial power of attorney? A person with strong financial acumen will excel as the point person for this category. This individual will make sure the bills get paid at the senior living community.
Social needs and activities
According to Leonard, it takes most seniors four to six weeks to adjust to their new community. The point person for this category will need to support and build the senior’s confidence in their choice of community. For example, accompanying your loved one to bingo or eating meals with them in the community. If you live far away, ask the community to designate a community ambassador as your loved one’s “friend” until they become familiar with their new routine.
Select a community
The point person for this category handles planning visits, communicating with family members, bringing their loved one to the community to get his or her buy-in and more. Once a community is selected for move-in, this individual becomes the point person for the community. Ideally, this individual will have power of attorney to make decisions regarding the senior’s living situation and dealing with the community.
The process varies in each community, but a care plan is often created in a collaborative effort with the senior, the community’s staff, medical professionals, and the family. These people use information from the senior care plan to provide valuable starting points for the care plan at the senior living community.
While a senior care plan and a care plan at a senior living community sound similar, they are separate documents with unique functions. The community care plan focuses on the medical and personal care services provided on-site by the senior living community. Planning for an elderly parent’s care at a senior living community typically involves several evaluations:
A community care plan and pricing are discussed and put in place based on these evaluations. A community care plan may also address activities at the senior living community that are tailored to the senior’s interests and hobbies. It’s common for communities to closely monitor the senior’s care in the first 30 days and reassess the care plan at the end of that period.
After a senior care plan is developed for the senior’s overall needs and desires and the community care plan is drafted from the blueprint of the senior care plan, you’ll need to continually check in with your loved one and the senior living community to ensure all is going well. Here are five ways to remain proactive with your parent’s care:
It’s important for families and communities to have consistent communication, says Leonard. Equally important is for both parties to be aware of expectations early on to avoid miscommunication.
Being an effective communicator with caregivers builds positive long-term relationships. Conflict between parties may negatively affect your parent’s care.
“Research has shown that having a lack of communication, or strained communication, between families and caregivers results in more stress and adversely affects resident care, primarily due to the time being spent on managing conflict,” says Erin Yelland, Ph.D., CFLE, Associate Professor and Interim Director at the Center on Aging and Associate Editor of the Journal of Extension at Kansas State University.
Ask when and how often the community will provide updates to avoid confusion. Ask how these updates will be communicated. Each community handles the frequency of contact differently. Establish a balanced schedule for care updates. Keep in mind the demands placed on caregivers during their shifts.
“Families should consider that staff are SO busy during the day passing meds, taking residents to the bathroom, etc., that they would be much more able to talk at a less busy time,” says Dr. Déon Cox Hayley, Program Director and Professor at the University of Kansas Medical Center and Landon Center on Aging. “Most individuals in facilities go to bed pretty early, so later in the evening may be a time that the staff has some free time to talk.”
Let key staff members at your loved one’s community know it’s important to you to be aware of your parent’s care. If you live outside of the area, make sure to tell the staff what time zone you live in so they know the best times to get ahold of you. Discuss the kinds of situations where you’d definitely want to be notified versus the scenarios where staff would use their own judgment.
If possible, visit regularly or participate in community events. Whether you’re able to help with activities, join for lunch, or socialize with residents and staff, these moments provide an easy and effective way to remain present and part of their life and care.
“Your loved one’s care is built on a solid relationship between family members and the caregiving team,” says Julie L. Masters, Ph.D., Terry Haney Chair of Gerontology and Professor of Gerontology at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. “The involvement of families in the care of a loved one can be of great benefit to the senior living community, especially if a loved one is facing physical and cognitive health issues.”
Stay connected with the community by following their social media accounts. Many communities post updates and photos about the activities and events for residents. Monitor the website for menus or activity schedules. You can ask your loved one about that day’s meal. Or, connect with them by suggesting activities they may enjoy.
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Ideally, families think of and treat their loved one’s caregivers like an extended member of the family, according to Leonard. Building a relationship like that takes time and trust, but putting forth the effort and care will help you stay up to date on your parent’s health and well-being.
If you are geographically remote from the community, establish initial relationships through an in-person visit to the community. Then, continue relationship building through regular contact via phone or email with the necessary staff members. If life makes that impossible, ask a local friend or relative to visit the community for you.
Remember to express your appreciation for being included in routine communication with caregivers. Going the extra mile to start the relationship off on a good note typically pays off in the long term.
“It’s amazing how well people respond to kindness — if staff knows that a resident has a caring, considerate family, I believe they are treated better,” says Cox Hayley.
“Take time to let the caregiving team know of your appreciation for their efforts. Flowers are a nice touch as are sweets,” says Masters. “If sending something is not possible, a thank you note can go a long way in showing your appreciation.”
Although it may sound simple and straightforward, it’s important to listen to your elderly parents’ experiences, Leonard says.
If they tell you they haven’t received their medication, regular bath, or any service you’re paying for, don’t ignore it. Take their experiences seriously, investigate it, and work to find solutions to make sure they’re receiving the care they need.
As with any living situation, communicating with the elderly in nursing homes or other senior living communities doesn’t have to be limited by your physical location. If you live far away, plan to provide them with a tablet, a laptop, or a mobile device. Teach them how to make calls via FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, Duo, or another video messaging service. You’ll be able to see your loved one, which is both reassuring and provides insight into their mental and physical condition along with their living conditions.
New technologies integrated into senior living communities are gaining popularity. Masters suggests asking your loved one’s community if they participate in LifeLoop, a calendaring device that shares information on your loved one’s daily activities. Or, ask if they use GrandPad, a device designed with large buttons and easy-to-navigate interface. Also, do they have a designated volunteer or staff member available for technology troubleshooting?
“Not all aging adults are interested in incorporating technology into their lives — even if they have the financial resources to do so,” says Masters. “Lower tech options available to everyone include phone calls on a landline (a plus especially in more rural areas where internet access may be limited) and cards and letters.”
The AARP’s Prepare to Care: A Caregiving Planning Guide for Families suggests keeping a list of important phone numbers for your loved one with you at all times, including the contact information for doctors, your loved one’s insurance carrier, and local friends or contacts. If the senior living community calls to double check information, it will be right at your fingertips. This is especially important if you live far away from the senior living community.
You may be able to access your loved ones’ medical records on your mobile device through their provider’s mobile app or online patient portal for quick reference. Set calendar reminders on your computer or phone for important dates, such as doctor appointments or care plan updates, so you remember to follow up with your loved one’s caregivers. Being organized makes it simpler to keep things straight and limits stress, even as a faraway point person.