One hears it everywhere these days: 60 is the new 40, 70 the new 50, and so on. The reality is seniors are living longer and may remain independent well into their later years. Eventually, though, most everyone will need help with their activities of daily living. In time, many seniors will likely need much more than that, and the key to aging well is having a plan in place.
The decision to transition to senior living should occur after “a series of conversations” that begin in one’s 50s, says Cleveland Clinic Center for Geriatric Medicine Section Chief Dr. Ardeshir Hashmi. However, when it comes time for senior care, many Americans are forced into making a decision during an emergency.
Keep reading for Hashmi’s advice on how to know when it’s time for senior care, along with what caregivers should look for to ensure their aging loved one remains safe and supported for as long as possible.
The vast majority of older American adults want to age in place. In fact, “76% of Americans age 50 and older say they prefer to remain in their current residence,” a 2018 AARP study concluded
Whether or not your loved one is open to discussing senior living, Hashmi says it’s most important to be observant of your loved one’s living conditions. In a recent interview, Hashmi notes that a caregiver needs to be a “good detective,” especially if their loved one lives alone. This means paying attention to the kitchen, pantry, bathroom, and office — or any area where their parent conducts home business, such as paying bills.
“It can all become very complicated,” Hashmi says. “Errors can start to creep in, when bills are not getting paid, for instance — not just mail, but bills piling up.”
Medication management is another common issue to look for, Hashmi notes. Does your loved one remember to take all their pills regularly? Have they ever taken a medication more than once per cycle? When talking with their doctor, can they answer important questions like how many medicines they take and at what time of day?
Top areas of focus
Kitchen and pantry
Outside the home
Behaviors occur in the moment — they include gestures, speech, and posture — but they can leave a sign after the fact, too. For example, the turned-up corner of a rug could indicate shuffling.
Look out for these key behaviors:
Appearance and hygiene
While Hashmi says aging to the completion of one’s life at home is possible, he notes that doing so comes with “incredible financial expense.” As a person ages in their home and their faculties deteriorate, the upkeep of the home remains a constant — at the very least — and care needs inevitably increase. “To recreate a robust care structure in the home is incredibly financially intensive, and it’s incredibly labor intensive,” Hashmi adds.
Senior living in a group setting also requires a significant financial commitment, but, on average, it costs less than in-home care, or in-home care with added in-home health care. Genworth’s 2020 “Cost of Care Survey” is now available. Learn more about the current costs.
Furthermore, in a home setting, the primary caregiver bears a great deal of responsibility, and burnout is a real risk. Self-care is critical, as is reaching out for help when too much is too much. In a communal care setting, caregivers rotate in regular shifts, specialized care providers are either on call or in house, and the community takes on the responsibilities of maintenance, meals, and social engagement.
“If the goal is to promote physical robustness and mental sharpness,” Hashmi explains, “then we know that social connectivity is a huge piece of that. If the goals are to get better and stay better, then a structured environment may help.”
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It’s easy to miss what we don’t want to see. A loved one’s declining health surely falls into that category, even if you’re their caregiver and see them every day, and especially if you’re exhausted from your duties.
“Internally, caregivers can experience a sense of denial in the early phase when things are maybe going along nicely,” Hashmi explains. “You don’t want to see that early warning signal because you are afraid of a couple of things: One is that the Pandora’s box might open. Two: You really can feel alone because you might be one of few people who are truly concerned about your loved one. That is the single, most powerful sentiment. People say, ‘Well, there are others in the family, too, but I am the one. I have asked, and I am still the one.’”
If you are “the one,” remember that you have needs, limits, and a life of your own. Sometimes, caring for your aging loved one means trusting the right care team to take over when the demands upon you are too great.
This article was developed in conversation with Ardeshir Hashmi, MD, section chief of the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Geriatric Medicine, as part of a series of articles featuring expert advice from Cleveland Clinic geriatricians.
Administration for Community Living. “2020 Profile of Older Americans.”
American Psychological Association. “Psychologists emphasize more self-care for older adults.”
Business Wire. “Is 80 really the new 60?”
Evidence Matters. “Aging in Place: Facilitating Choice and Independence.”
Interview conducted with Hashmi, A., by Eason, Haines. September 13, 2021.
Interview conducted with Hashmi, A. July 26, 2021.
National Institute on Aging. “Aging in Place: Growing Older at Home.”