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Choosing a Senior Community: Aesthetics vs. Quality of Care

I’m pleased to introduce my monthly newsletter, “Senior Living Moments–Words to the Wise.” My clients, contacts and associates have suggested that I provide tips on how to demystify what can be a daunting task: dealing with the issues of an elderly relative or friend.

“Boomer Bind”

More than 44 million Americans help to care for or support an elderly loved one, and many of these caregivers are employed. Not everyone is easily able to cope with what I call the “Boomer Bind,” juggling a job, personal life, and caring for an elderly person. It’s never easy when the children live far away; there aren’t enough siblings to share in these responsibilities, or there is no firm caregiving plan in place.

Some companies have responded to the caregiving crisis by offering support groups, counseling sessions, flexible hours, or perhaps offering some sort of help through the Employee Assistance Program. But with the over-85 population growing rapidly, the response to the crisis has been slow.

The good news is there are many practical solutions and creative ideas out there, and I look forward to ensuring that you hear about them.


Real-Life Story

“Never underestimate the amount of time it takes to find the right senior living option.”

I recently assisted members of a family with placing their 85 year-old father. He was suffering from complications of pneumonia, and had both a tracheotomy and a feeding tube. He had been receiving care at a community that was costing more than $9,000 a month. The family was traveling 60 miles on a daily basis, which was taking a toll on them. They weren’t satisfied with the care he was receiving. Because of the exorbitant costs, he was running out of funds rather quickly.

I’ve seen this sort of challenging situation many times since founding Andrea Donovan Senior Living Advisors in 2006, and knew the family’s problems were substantial–but not insurmountable.

I’ve toured and evaluated more than 200 senior communities in the Chicago metropolitan area. I was aware of the communities that were able to handle his conditions, and tracheotomy recipients are very difficult to place. Add a feeding tube to the big picture along with the reality of needing public aid in the future and you have a complicated situation. Once I obtained this gentleman’s medical records, I was able to find him a bed in a community within five miles of the family’s home in a matter of five hours. The community was also able to accommodate his pending public aid needs. The combination of my research and long-term care background enabled me to quickly resolve the situation. Other people who don’t have my experience would not know where to turn. The Yellow Pages would have been a fruitless option in this scenario.

It doesn’t matter if you’re searching for a short-term (Medicare) or long-term option (independent, assisted, or nursing home), the search for the right community is time-consuming and emotionally taxing. Availability is key in any circumstance because it changes constantly. A facility that has an opening today might not have the opening tomorrow. You’ll have to consider the quality of services that the community delivers, the ability to handle specific medical conditions, staffing, and location. Most importantly, you’ll have to consider cost, your loved one’s financial realities, and his or her long-term medical needs.

When you begin this arduous task, count on spending at least an hour to thoroughly tour each community. This estimate doesn’t take travel time into consideration. Plan on spending more than an hour analyzing the marketing materials given to you by the Admissions Director. Never count on the Internet as a primary source of information. The prices are almost never listed and at times Web sites will display the most newly decorated portions of the building if the community is old. Last, if your loved one needs to vacate a bed in the hospital quickly (i.e., if his or her Medicare days or private insurance has run out), the social worker won’t normally help you find a bed. They will hand you a list of communities, and it’s up to you to do the legwork.

Life Review Can Be Good for You
by Diane Dassow

Reminiscing–reflecting on the past–is a simple activity that we can do at any time, either on our own or with other people.

The sad thing is that the people with whom we most want to share our stories–our children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews–are still busy with their day-to-day activities. They don’t often have the time, or patience, to hear our stories. Often, too, families are spread out geographically and don’t have much occasion to sit together and pass on the personal stories orally. That is why many people choose to write or record their personal histories and reminiscences. Those who take the time to review their lives in this way, experts say, can increase life satisfaction and overall mental health.

Everyone’s story is unique and compelling in its own way and each one deserves to be told.

Diane Dassow of Binding Legacies provides personal history services and conducts workshops. For the entire text of this and other articles by Diane Dassow, visit