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When Assisted Living Isn't Enough

By Dana LarsenJanuary 19, 2017
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Your family may be beyond frustrated and sad about your aging loved one’s situation, and you may think you have no options. However, the truth is that there’s always something that can be done to optimize health and well being when assisted living isn’t enough.

Whether it’s consulting a geriatrician for expert advice and care information, finding a senior care community that specializes in memory care, or exploring the Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE); there are services available to you and your family.

What to Do When Assisted Living Isn’t Enough

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the nation’s 65+ demographic — which currently accounts for 13% of the overall population — is expected to more than double by 2050 to more than 89 million, which is roughly 20% of the population.

It’s no mystery that people are living longer these days, so families are having to make tough choices for aging family members on a daily basis.

Discover the care options that may be available to you when assisted living isn’t enough:

Continuing Care and Memory Care Communities

If your aging family member’s needs have outgrown their assisted living community, family home or senior living community, there are other options available.

Some families know in advance that they want a community that offers different levels of care as their loved one ages, and these communities are known as a continuing care retirement communities (CCRC), or lifetime communities. CCRCs are retirement communities with accommodations for assisted living, independent living and nursing home care, offering residents a continuum of care. Your elderly family member can spend the rest of his or her life in a CCRC, moving between levels of care, as needed.

This type of community is often called “aging in place” as the accommodations offered evolve as level of care progresses with age. As with any living arrangement, it is important to look at services offered by each community, the possible benefits and disadvantages, the costs, and the contractual obligations of the CCRC.

Memory care communities have become very prevalent these days for people who suffer from Alzheimer’s or dementia. Memory care caters to residents’ specific needs, and the communities are often in a secure assisted living or nursing home setting, usually in a separate floor or wing with layouts to accommodate wandering. Residents may live in semi-private apartments or private rooms and have structured activities delivered by staff members trained specifically on caring for those with memory impairment.

A person who suffers from this disease will eventually require 24-hour supervised care in catered settings, making memory care a preferred choice for many families. But, again, it’s important to do your research and find a community that compliments your loved one’s needs and personality; while also keeping the family budget in mind.

Palliative Care and Consult

The goal of palliative care is to improve the quality of life for those suffering from life-threatening or serious chronic health issues. Typically managed as a complement to primary treatment, palliative care focuses on pain relief, symptom reduction, and general physical and spiritual comfort. Palliative care clinicians are also trained to help families and patients consider the overall big picture of a person’s health, and the person’s goals for medical treatment. This can help a family uncover alternate options for helping an older person who is in declining health, or suffering from symptoms.

Palliative care is sometimes conflated with hospice care, but they aren’t the same thing. Hospice care is a package of palliative care services that is available to those at the end stages of a terminal illness or major health crisis. To qualify for the Medicare hospice benefit, doctors have to state that a person is unlikely to live for more than six months.

Today, it’s become easier to access palliative care services outside of a hospice program. For family members in the later-stages of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, cancer, congestive heart failure, kidney failure, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s or stroke, palliative care may be the right option for your family. Most hospitals and long-term care communities offer palliative care teams, in addition to many outpatient clinics and home health services.

So if your loved one receives a diagnosis that warrants palliative care, talk to your family care doctor about options and resources available to your family.

Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) 

PACE is a Medicare and Medicaid program that helps people meet their health care needs in the community instead of going to a nursing home or other care facility.

If your aging loved one qualifies for PACE, he or she would have a team of health care professionals working with your family to get the care needed for your family member’s specific medical condition.

PACE organizations offer care in the home, community and the PACE center, but there are specific requirements needed to participate in this program, so you’ll need to research whether it’s right for your family.

Talk with a Senior Living Advisor

Our advisors help 300,000 families each year find the right senior care for their loved ones.

When to Speak with a Geriatrician

Last, but certainly not least, a geriatrician is always an excellent source of information for families. As a medical doctor who specializes in senior care, a geriatrician is specially trained to meet the unique healthcare needs of older adults, and answer medical questions for family members and patients. If you are looking for another perspective or second opinion from your loved one’s doctor, a geriatrician is an informed professional who can help answer questions and discuss unique care needs.

Geriatricians are in fairly short supply, as to date relatively few doctors have chose to specialize in aging adults.

“Try checking with your local academic medical centers, which are the centers that host medical schools and medical residents,” says geriatrician Leslie Kernisan, MD. “Most of them have a geriatrics clinic or geriatric consultation service.”

As an added benefit, she notes that geriatricians are cross-trained in palliative care, and are experienced in helping families navigate goals of care, difficult symptoms, and other challenges that come up in the last years of life.

Something can always be done when assisted living isn’t enough for you or your loved one’s needs. Has your family used a service or an organization not listed above? Share your recommendations with us in the comments below.

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Dana Larsen