The words “nursing home” often paint a sad, lonely picture, but with so many options available for senior living, that doesn’t have to be an inevitable fate for your golden years. Experts agree that a successful transition into long-term care is possible and often enhances seniors’ social activities and quality of life.

The discussion of long-term care commonly takes place in times of emergency leading to a rushed decision and difficult transition, agree Esther Houser, state long-term care ombudsman with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, and Mary Brinkley, executive director of LeadingAge Oklahoma, formerly Oklahoma Association of Homes and Services for the Aging. The variety of options and levels of care available can be overwhelming.

“Every community has a personality of its own,” explains Brinkley. “So it is important find a community with a lifestyle that you are accustomed to and has the things that are the most important to you.”

If you find yourself or your family member is not happy with their current community, there are plenty of options available. But, the first step before moving should be to determine the true issue behind the discontent, caution Houser and Brinkley.

“Sometimes people move out before they really give the place a chance,” cautions Houser. “Homesickness and the circumstances of why you are there can affect how you view your current residence and make the adjustment difficult. You might want to talk your situation through with an ombudsman.”

“It is important to determine if there really is a problem,” explains Brinkley. “People often think that if they move they might be happier but sometimes you just need help adjusting.”

If after a heart to heart you decide a move is the best choice for you or your loved one, Brinkley suggests talking to the management of your facility.

“Meet with management to let them know why it’s not the right fit,” encourages Brinkley. “A good community will help make the transition an easy one.”

“They may have someplace in their network that might be a better fit,” adds Houser.

Houser and Brinkley encourage everyone to plan ahead for their retirement years. Advanced planning allows you to have a better understanding of what you are looking for and what you can afford.

“I think that people often hope to not need long term care as they age,” explains Houser, “And families sometimes make unsustainable promises to elder relatives that they will never be placed in a nursing home.”

 “Many people say their only regret was that they waited too long and wished they had made the decision sooner,” adds Brinkley.

Long-term care options are typically divided into three categories: independent living, assisted living and nursing homes. The options differ mainly based on the level of care provided.

Independent living is just that, explains Houser. Some of the simplest things can make someone need to move from their home. Ask yourself these questions. Can you move easily in and out of your home? Can you get into the tub and move through the house freely?

“Most people don’t live in a handicap accessible home,” says Houser. “But many independent living facilities are handicap accessible.”

It can be very dangerous for a person to stay too long in a home or facility that provides little or no support, especially if the resident is no longer capable of self-preservation in case of an emergency.

“Think about how long you can safely stay in a particular place,” cautions Houser. “It is important to plan for those extremes like storms and fires.”

It is important to know that independent living communities have no state licensure or oversight, cautions Houser.

For seniors not requiring 24-hour care, assisted living communities offer additional care options and programs designed to enhance the health and wellness of their residents.

“For some people (moving into assisted living) is when they get a life again,” says Brinkley. “They get socialization when before they were so isolated in their homes.

“The biggest problem is people wait too long, miss the window and have to go directly to a nursing home,” Brinkley adds. “They don’t get to transition through the levels.”

Nursing homes provide a protective, therapeutic environment for those who need rehabilitative care or require round-the-clock care.
“Of course, nursing homes vary from very homelike, caring communities to those that are not supportive of a good quality of life,” says Houser.

“Always visit (a facility) more than once. Trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t right for you.”

“Nothing takes the place of multiple visits,” assures Brinkley.

It is important to fully understand the cost of the various levels of care and to plan for the additional cost of care as your needs increase.

“Check out consumer guides to know what to ask,” offers Brinkley. “The cost of the care will rise as you need additional levels of care.”

Call the state helpline at 211 to get connected with your area Agency on Aging. Or, visit the LeadingAge Oklahoma website for a variety of information on choosing the right community.

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