“Senior Residences: Who do you call?”

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Anyone who has worked with the elderly is well aware of their strong desire to remain in their home for as long as possible. Some do not want to even contemplate the alternative – that is, moving into a congregate, senior residential facility.

As a result, if the time comes when they must make that rite of passage, many seniors and their families are unaware of the many options available to them and also unprepared for the cost.

It’s not a simple choice nowadays. The last decade has witnessed dramatic growth and diversity in the size and types of independent, assisted living and skilled nursing facilities. Factoring in location, cost and quality of service, finding the right residence is challenging.

To this complexity, you often must add one more critical factor: time. Commonly, the transition from home to a senior residence is precipitated by an accident or medical incident. Then the adult children are told by hospital staff that Mom or Dad can’t be left alone anymore and they have to find a suitable residence right away. Given such urgency, who do you turn to for help and advice? Who can you call?

One option is Senior Living Consultants, which serves Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, San Luis Obispo and eastward to Bakersfield. “We help frail seniors and their families find the right living arrangements from more than 200 retirement facilities,” explains placement consultant Peggy Renker, “and our service is free.”

For a dozen years, Senior Living Consultants has been guiding families through the complex maze of retirement home options in Central California. There are homey six-bed facilities (called RCFEs, Residential Care Facilities for the Elderly); there are large residential complexes, with hundreds of residents and offering an array of amenities; and there are skilled nursing facilities that provide around-the-clock medical care. These facilities vary in size, location and the services and luxuries offered – which means they also vary dramatically in how much they charge (ranging from $2,000 a month at the low end to $5,000 a month and upward).

“We guide families in this decision-making,” says Renker. “The family wants to make the best possible choice so that their loved one is happy, gets the best possible care, and is safe and secure. But cost is also a very real factor that families have to deal with. So it can be a difficult choice for a family and traumatic for the senior. We explain all the options and also hold their hand through the process.” Because cost is such a critical factor, the recent financial downturn has had a dramatic impact on the senior residential industry, according to Renker. Instead of paying for a residential community, many families have tried to care for Mom or Dad in their own home. As a result, some residential prices have dropped; staff and services have been cut back; and facilities that once had long waiting lists now have vacancies.

Nevertheless, the need for senior residences continues – and the demand is growing as the elderly population increases. What’s more, families have learned that providing in-home care services can be costly. And if the senior’s health seriously deteriorates, the family finds it doesn’t have the medical expertise to care for the relative properly. “The industry took a hit and was at a standstill for a couple of years,” Renker explains, “but things are starting to thaw out. People don’t seem as hesitant as before to pay for care.”

But considering the cost and also the well-being of their loved one, Renker urges families not to wait until Mom or Dad have a medical emergency. “Families should begin now to understand what’s out there and what it will cost,” she says. “They need to be proactive.”

A service like Senior Living Consultants can explain the options to a family and even take them on tours of various senior communities. Certainly, a bit of preparation now can minimize big headaches down the road.

Senior Living Consultants is based at 18. West Micheltorena Street, Suite C. For more information, call 805-963-6045.