Don’t wait for a crisis to decide on late life housing


By Marianne Delorey

Lou and Bob lived in their home for 60 years. They had aged, but they compensated. Where Lou was forgetful, Bob could remember. Where Bob couldn’t walk well, Lou could get whatever he needed. Then, Bob needed surgery and Lou was not safe at home alone. Finding a new home became a crisis.

In this situation, options for housing are often limited. It is hard to know what you need until you need it, but it never hurts to know what to look for. Here are some lessons about winding through the different elder housing options.

1. You don’t have to get it right the first time. Yes, moving is a pain in the neck but in reality it is better to move again than be miserable. If you don’t like where you are living, check out other places and service models.

2. Consider what is most important. Maybe you want to keep your dog. Maybe the family needs to have dad nearby so they can help fill prescriptions. Maybe mom has to keep her bedroom set. Make a list of “must haves” for a new home.

3. Tour some settings. Don’t worry about the level of care needed. Just get a sense of what kinds of places may be available. Watch staff interact with residents. Look at how lunch is served. Watch an activity. Based on what you see, reevaluate the list you created.

4. Don’t get bogged down by jargon. It doesn’t matter what assisted living or continuing care retirement community mean, what matters is if the setting and the services match your needs.

5. Do your research. For each setting, there are different levels of services built in. Look around and see where you think you or your family member is best suited. Ask questions about the care provided. Ask what is included and what costs extra.

6. Consider the money. Based on the family longevity and the elder’s savings, calculate how much money is there to spend on housing and services. Are there resources the family can offer? Based on what you saw, was there a setting that seemed best? Talk to the administrators about how other people pay for the services and what kinds of help might be available. Don’t forget to consider the value of peace of mind.

7. Know area resources. There are professionals in every area who can help people organize apartments, pack and move and set up services. There are new products every week that help people stay independent. Read senior resource guides to learn about the products and services you can tap into.

Although it often takes a crisis to consider a move, planning ahead has significant advantages. First, many of the nicest places have long waiting lists. It never hurts to have your name on a few waiting lists, just in case. Second, knowledge is power. Knowing your options will make it easier come crisis time to determine what setting is best. Finally, planning ahead also means that decisions can be shared with elderly family members. As Lou and Bob learned, trying to navigate the elder housing network from a rehabilitation bed is near impossible.

Marianne Delorey, Ph.D., is the executive director of Colony Retirement Homes in Worcester and Holden. She can be reached at 508-755-0444 or and