Choosing the right type of care for an aging loved one can be a difficult task. Here are some expert tips on how to make these very important decisions easier for everyone.
Written by Lennie Omalza | Illustration by Branden Barker
With 15 percent of Derby City residents older than 60 and the Kentucky chapter of the AARP estimating the state’s senior population to increase 40 percent by 2050, it’s no surprise that Louisville was dubbed “America’s Aging Care Capital” by Forbes magazine. With a plethora of in-home services, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and other types of senior community options available throughout the city, choosing the right type of care for an aging parent, loved one or even yourself can be a daunting task.
“Everyone’s needs and goals are going to be different,” says Lynn Welch, Executive Director of Home Instead Louisville, which offers personalized in-home senior care services. “Each person’s needs are going to be met with a different level of care.”
For example, Lynn adds that an independent living community might be best for someone who is still capable of doing most things on their own. A nursing home, on the other hand, may be best suitable for a person who needs around-the-clock support.
Of course, selecting the right type of senior care option is about more than the types of services needed as the cost for care often weighs heavily into the decision. According to the 2021 Genworth Cost of Care Survey, in-home care and home health care costs an average of $4,767 per month in the Commonwealth. The same survey states that the average monthly cost of assisted living in Kentucky is $3,500.
Though these numbers offer ballpark figures, Lynn stresses that the actual cost of care can vary greatly because each person’s needs vary greatly. She adds, the best time to start figuring out how much can be afforded and other logistics is long before those services are needed.
“Start the conversation early,” Lynn says. “It’s human nature for us to wait for the crisis to occur, but we don’t always make the best decisions when we’re in crisis mode. Look for solutions that maximize [the senior’s] independence and are the least intrusive to their current lifestyle.”
Lynn says having the conversation about senior care options with an aging loved one is another difficult part of the experience. In the case of adult children needing to find care for their parents, Lynn says it’s important that the children keep in mind who they’re talking to. She advises, despite the senior person’s level of need, an aging parent is still a parent.
“You’re not talking with a child,” Lynn says. “Encourage them to share what they want for themselves while they can do that. If what they want for themselves isn’t the safe thing or the best decision, the conversation then becomes a little more pointed and direct.”
Anna Faul, PhD, executive director of University of Louisville Trager Institute formerly The Institute for Sustainable Health & Optimal Aging, suggests to visit each place in person when looking for senior care services so you and the person in need can see for yourselves what is offered.
“Make sure you know what is available at each facility,” Anna says, adding that you should take other family members along for the visit if possible. Anna says it’s also a good idea to get other family members involved in the conversation. Though one person may be the primary caregiver, changes to any living situation can affect the whole family.
Anna advises when checking out a facility, to ask questions about staffing to make sure it’s adequate for the number of residents. The average staff-to-resident ratio varies from place to place, but Anna says an ideal ratio is around 1 to 5 but senior facilities in Kentucky average 1 to 20.
Once the ideal type of care has been secured for your aging loved one, monitoring the type of services they’re receiving to ensure they are being treated humanely is critical.
“Elder abuse is … prominent everywhere,” Anna says. “It’s prominent in homes, in assisted living, in nursing homes — it’s everywhere.”
She adds that it’s important to be alert and look for signs of abuse, especially neglect, which is the most common form of abuse that seniors encounter. Some signs of concern to watch out for are bruises on your loved one’s body, malnourishment or weight loss, poor hygiene, emotional distress, and unauthorized financial withdrawals from or charges to an account. Anna says if there’s suspicious activity or signs of abuse to report it immediately.
“There’s a new law coming in that requires assisted living facilities to adhere to the rules of nursing homes, because they [now consider] assisted living facilities as health facilities,” Anna says. “There’s oversight and training coming in so we hope that’s going to reduce the [number] of issues that you find in these facilities.”
As the state’s largest city with a growing senior population and no shortage of considerable care options for seniors, finding the ideal type of care takes time and considerable planning. Start your search early, be thorough, and continue to monitor the care as long as your loved one is receiving it.
Anna says, “I think we, as the state of Kentucky, need to seriously look at what we value in our senior population and start making sure that we get them the right care.”