These 4 Tips Will Help You Make the Best Decisions for Your Aging Loved One

Charlie Russell and Betty Russell sit at their kitchen table as they wait for dinner to be ready to eat at their home in Buncombe, Illinois.
Charlie and Betty Russell sit at their kitchen table in their home in Buncombe, Illinois. The couple are able to live at home, but not without help from their children and neighbors who help them with cleaning, getting to their doctor appointments, managing bills, and shopping.Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder
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My grandad has been struggling with his health. To keep him from having to leave his home, my family called in reinforcements: 24/7 home care.

It helps my nana, his wife of 63 years — she’s exhausted. It helps my parents, who are also exhausted. And it keeps my grandad comfortable.

But it’s so expensive.

Luckily, my grandparents can afford this option, but what if they couldn’t? Then what?

Determining the Best Senior Care for a Loved One

First off, let’s acknowledge that this is a ceaseless topic. Whole books are dedicated to elder care, including “Facing the Finish: A Road Map for Aging Parents and Adult Children” by Sheri Samotin.

I reached out to Samotin and also to Amy Goyer, AARP’s family and caregiving expert and author of “Juggling Life, Work, and Caregiving,” for some general guidance.

Both agreed: There are tons of care options available — everything from independent living to assisted living to skilled nursing to memory care to retirement communities to home care…

And there’s no singular perfect, set-in-stone answer for your loved one. (Unfortunately.)

There are, however, steps you can take to help you determine what’s best.

1. Educate Yourself

You aren’t going to know everything about your loved one, especially if you aren’t living with them. In order to better determine their needs, Goyer suggests getting an overall care assessment.

Basic assessments are typically free. You can contact your local Area Agency on Aging or The Aging Life Care Association.

When you call, Goyer says all you have to say is, “I’m not sure what level of care my loved one needs. Can we do an evaluation?” This will help narrow down your initial search.

2. Evaluate Your Resources

Charlie Russell and Betty Russell pose for a portrait in their home.
The Russells met on a double date and have been married for 64 years. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Samotin encourages folks to think about the resources that are most immediately available.

Is there someone in the family who can attend the doctor’s visits? Coordinate the appointments? Spend time with the family member? Perhaps house them?

When you think of resources, you’ll also need to consider your budget as well as insurance.

Samotin encourages people to sit down and draw out a long-term budget. No, you can’t immediately predict how much money it’ll cost to take care of your loved one or even what their health requirements will be in a year, but budgeting will help you figure out what you’re working with.

If you don’t know where to start, AARP has a helpful calculator you can use to get a baseline estimate based on a variety of options.

In terms of insurance, Goyer says Medicare does not cover any type of ongoing, long-term health care, such as assisted living accommodations or home health services. It will, however, cover short-term needs, such as hospital visits, temporary nursing home stays or physical therapy sessions.

On the other hand, Medicaid typically covers nursing home stays. Some states even offer waivers for home care, as that tends to be the cheaper option. Paying For Senior Care offers a state-by-state guide.

Goyer also encourages you to ask your loved one if they’ve invested in long-term care insurance. “A lot of people have bought it,” she says. “Their kids might not even know they’ve bought it.”

Also, if you’re caring for a veteran, be sure to scope out those potential benefits. Many times veterans and their spouses are eligible for some type of assistance. It’s best to check with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

3. Consider Your Options

In terms of housing and care options, many cities and towns have senior housing locators. The service is typically free, Goyer says, but you need to be careful. Many representatives are paid to promote certain facilities, so always do your own research as well.

A great place to start is AARP’s caregiving database. Scroll down to “Find Senior Care Near You” and search via the type of care and your zip code. It links to Caring’s reviews of the facilities or agencies.

4. Remember: It’s OK to Change Plans

Finally, remember it’s OK to change plans.

Your loved one’s needs will inevitably change, so some plans might have to be adjusted. That’s what happened with Goyer and her folks.

“I thought our plan would work, but we changed our plan,” Goyer says. “You have to be OK with that. Every step of the way be willing to reevaluate.”

Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder.