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Doctor: Don't wait until it's too late to find a retirement home

Posted September 27, 2017 3:33 p.m. EDT

Health care workers and retirement experts who work with seniors advise clients and their families not to put off the search for assisted living and independent living facilities.

This story was written for our sponsor, Cambridge Village of Apex.

Health care workers and retirement experts who work with seniors advise clients and their families not to put off the search for assisted living and independent living facilities.

One reason not to delay is the increased demand at assisted living and retirement communities as the Baby Boomer generation is hitting retirement age. This demand, according to Victoria Sosa, a manager at Cambridge Village retirement community in Apex, is causing wait lists to swell.

It takes several months, if not years, for space to open up for applicants.

"There is a wide variation in quality at assisted living communities now," Sosa said. "The higher quality communities with the modern amenities and socially-engaged residents are not easy to simply move in once a decision is made. For this reason, if you or a loved one is reaching an age where long-term care could soon be a necessity, it is smart to start touring places and even getting on waiting lists just in case."

When to Start Looking

Dr. Peter Rabins, a resident physician at the Johns Hopkins Memory and Alzheimer's Treatment Center, encourages patients and their families to not put off the decision to begin looking for a long-term care or nursing facility.

"Family members often ask, 'What's the trigger for placing someone in a nursing home?' In fact, there is not one," Rabins said. "It varies a great deal from person to person and family to family. My experience is that families usually wait too long to put someone in a nursing home; that it would have been better for the person to have gone in sooner."

While Rabins said the triggers vary for beginning the search for assisted living, there are some common signs to watch for.

A worsening health condition, the inability to keep up with basic tasks like paying bills or hygiene, accidents and falls, especially if they lead to injury, dementia, memory failure and large behavioral or mood changes are all identified by care workers as cause to take notice.

An evaluation of mental and physical health periodically by a geriatrician is recommended for finding when the time is nearing to search for long-term care options. Geriatricians are doctors whose specialty is around aging.

Health Often Improves

"One of the surprises that many families find is that the ill person may do a little bit better when they go into a nursing home or other long-term care facility," Rabins pointed out. "I think one of the reasons that happens is because the person is able to get the physical care that they need from the staff."

In modern retirement communities, Sosa said there is no need to feel like you are being sent off to a room to sit alone.

"We take trips -- there is boating, exercise classes, yoga, community gardening," Sosa said. "There is so much in these communities that can enhance life socially and personally while getting long-term health needs met."

Sosa has had community members tell her horror stories of having to go to assisted living communities they would have never wanted to move to, all because they waited too long to begin their search. Eventually, they were able to get to a place they liked better, but the process was much harder as health problems progressed.

This story was written for our sponsor, Cambridge Village of Apex.