For Massachusetts attorney Peter Kronberg, that became an immediate issue when his 82-year-old father had a stroke and could no longer care for himself and his wife, who was suffering from Parkinson’s disease. The octogenarian couple needed 24-hour care, but they had not placed their names on waiting lists for any senior living facilities.
At that point, Kronberg was faced with the seemingly impossible task of getting his parents into a nursing home in one week. He and his sister, Miriam, a business professional, wrote When Aging in Place Becomes Impossible based on that experience.
“We made so many mistakes that we decided to write the book so others wouldn’t have to learn how to do this from scratch,” he says.
Here, Kronberg offers practical tips on finding a good senior living arrangement on short notice.
Ideally, people will spend months researching senior housing options, but Kronberg and his siblings didn’t have that luxury. So they started by considering facilities where their parents’ friends lived, as well as the highest-ranked facilities based on state nursing home inspections. Unfortunately, all of those nursing homes were booked solid.
We agonized when we couldn’t get our folks into the same facilities their friends had signed up for five years earlier,” says Kronberg. “We wasted tons of time trying to pull strings to get into facilities that had no room.”
Instead of taking that approach, he recommends quickly dismissing senior living facilities that have no beds available and opening yourself up to other possibilities.
Once you ascertain that there is room in a particular nursing home or assisted living facility, Kronberg says that site visits are essential to making the best decision for your parents.
During these visits, Kronberg found that speaking with nursing home administrators and marketing personnel did not provide a complete picture of the facility. Rather, he discovered that the most reliable information came from nursing aides, who are typically not involved in the sales pitch to potential residents.
“We found that the single most valuable persons to speak with are the aides,” he says. “They provide the core of the care our elders receive, and if they seem relatively happy and committed, it is a great sign. We made our final choice based on these conversations.”
Hiring a Care Advocate
Because Kronberg and his siblings did not live near their parents, they hired a care advocate to monitor their parents’ care.
“I think our care advocate was responsible for our father’s rebound (he had stroke-related dementia); she had the ability to stimulate him and work around his depression,” says Kronberg. “As his kids, we were never able to make him accept our help.”
In addition, the care advocate was able to supplement the enrichment provided by the nursing home, and to help move Kronberg’s parents off the Alzheimer’s floor.
The Cost of Assisted Living
Of course, long-term care doesn’t come cheap. Kronberg reports that, as of 2015, the cost of care for two adults in the Midwest was $7,000 per month.
Keeping cost in mind, he recommends choosing a facility that accepts Medicaid so your parents won’t have to move out once their money runs out.
“We were fortunate to have their house to sell and some insurance they bought to help us make the end of their lives better,” he says. “We, and many others like us, will have no inheritance other than the knowledge of having done right by our parents.”
After the Move
If your parents never planned to leave their home, they may resent a move to long-term care – even if it’s in their best interests. Kronberg and his siblings felt the weight of their parents’ unhappiness for a while, but the anger eventually gave way to gratitude.
“The best praise I received from my mother was her thanks for placing her in the home where she was safe,” he shares. “She had given me hell, called the home a jail, wept, glared, and refused to eat, but in a rare moment of lucidity she gave me that gift about a year before she died.”
“My father continues to thank us for making sure he is safe, fed, and clean,” Kronberg continues. “He is also continually grateful that our mother was kept clean and safe to the end.”
The Benefit of Hindsight
Obviously, advance planning for long-term care is preferable, but life doesn’t always work out the way we intend.
Looking back, Kronberg says he would do things differently – before the situation became a crisis.
“I would have insisted that my parents book space at a place they had chosen,” he says. “I would also have urged in-home assistance to keep them in their home longer.”
CHIME IN: What steps are you taking to prepare for, or prevent, a senior care crisis?