Finding Your Parents a Home Away from Home

Lay the groundwork for a successful transition when seniors can no longer live at home.

Many boomers will eventually have aging parents who are no longer able to continue living on their own. Facing decisions about when and where to move your parents can be overwhelming. Each step of the process has its own emotional and practical challenges, but thoughtful planning can minimize the stress required to facilitate a smooth relocation.

Assessing care needs

Sit down and create a list of all of the reasons for the move. Include global, long-range problems (e.g., a diagnosis of pulmonary disease) as well as more immediate areas of concern (e.g., garbage piling up because Mom is no longer able to get her trash out to the curb). This will not only provide clarity for your discussions with your parents, but can be a useful tool for identifying the level of care that your parents require. Take a look at the list, and identify which categories of need are represented.

Socialization: Do your parents lack sufficient social stimulation, including interaction with other people their own age, participation in hobbies or interests, outings, or mental stimulation?

Instrumental activities of daily living: Do your parents require assistance with activities essential to independent living, such as transportation, food or clothing shopping, meal preparation, housework, medication administration, using a telephone, or money management?

Basic activities of daily living: Do your parents require assistance with eating, bathing, dressing, toileting, transferring, or continence care?

Take into account not only current care needs, but predictable future needs, as well. Consider not only your parents' age, diagnoses, and lifestyle, but also sources of social support and finances. Where are family and friends located who may be able to provide assistance? Are there sufficient finances for private-pay living arrangement long term, or do you need to consider Medicaid-funded sources? Remember that Medicare is health insurance, and does not cover residential care.

Choose the right community

To begin selecting an appropriate community for your parents, match their needs to the services that are available in each level of what is known as "the continuum of care."

  • Group homes: Multi-bedroom homes (also known as "board and care homes") that are staffed 24 hours a day, providing daily living assistance to perhaps 6 to 12 residents, in private or semi-private bedrooms.
  • Assisted living communities: Provide care and services similar to a group home, but on a larger scale. Structured social activities and restaurant-style dining are often included.
  • Skilled nursing facilities: Provide skilled nursing, or rehabilitation services supervised by licensed nurses.
  • Dementia care facilities: Provide specialized residential care for individuals with dementia, which may also be provided in a specialty unit of an assisted living community or skilled nursing facility.
  • Continuing Care Retirement Communities: Offer multiple levels of care, so if needs change over time, residents are able to remain in the same community.

    After identifying the appropriate type of community, you'll face the difficult task of selecting the right one. Basic considerations include geographic location, cost, size, and layout of bedrooms, activities, transportation services, and whether pets are allowed. Identify the criteria most important to you and your parents, and determine through site visits (when possible) which communities are the most desirable, affordable, and available.

    Maintain an open dialogue with your parents throughout this process, whether or not they are able to participate in the research with you. Communicate with them often, and seek their opinions.

    Finally, don't underestimate the value of support from friends, family members, and caregiver support groups. No community is a perfect fit, and no parent will experience a perfectly smooth transition during this significant life change, so don't expect perfection -- from yourself or others.