Choosing housing and care services for an older person can be tough – it’s complicated, emotional and expensive, and every person’s circumstances are unique. Few of us have the experience to know how to do it right.
Most elder care directories start by asking you which services you want – without helping you understand how to make that decision.
We’re different. We ask you to go through a simple but essential process that helps you identify an older person’s needs and payment resources, then leads you to the correct choices, depending on your answers. It’s more accurate this way.
There are three steps to getting started with elder care:
- First, figure out the older person’s needs for care — this helps you choose what’s appropriate.
- Second, know how the services will be paid for, then
- Third, learn what specific services are needed and available in the community to meet those needs
To determine an older person’s needs, look at their functional abilities: what he/she can and cannot do. What someone can’t do defines the care gaps that need to be filled — by friends, family members, volunteers, hired care, or a residential community.
Choosing the appropriate level of elder care means finding services that allow an older person to live as independently as possible while staying as healthy, safe and active as possible. The goal is to not have too much or too little care, but just enough — ideally, with the flexibility to change as the person’s needs change.
A few preliminary guidelines:
- When more than one person who needs assistance is involved, assess each person separately.
- Have a discussion face to face with the older person (rather than by telephone) if you can. Talking directly allows you to probe a bit farther to make sure you understand what gaps exist. It’s also a friendlier way to ask some very personal questions.
- If one person (of a couple) is losing his/her memory, the healthy spouse will likely try to cover up and the un-healthy spouse won’t remember accurately how they’re doing. So re-ask questions if necessary to get the correct picture, or investigate/guesstimate on your own. Be aware that both persons in a couple may have similar memory issues and not be able to answer correctly.
- If the person you’re assessing lives alone, you must make educated guesses about how they’re really doing — their ability to pay bills, get groceries and get to the bathroom at night, for example. Do this by using your eyes and nose: are there unpaid bills lying around; is there food in the refrigerator or is the food spoiled; are the bed sheets soiled?
- If an older person has complex needs — let’s say taking many medications a day or having urinary accidents — but can handle the problem him/herself, these are not functional gaps that you need to worry about (yet). This is referred to as “self-care.”
- You may also want to get help from a geriatric care manager or other professional who’s familiar with older adults to help you make an accurate assessment.
Written by eldercare expert Liz Taylor