Usually some type of event happens that brings a family and a senior community together.  A broken hip, heart attack, dementia diagnosis.  Life is moving really fast, you need to get your loved one taken care of.  Home is no longer safe. 

Your first instinct will probably be to go to Google.  I would caution you to go to your local Area Agency on Aging instead.  You’ll get better, more-trusted information, not paid for by an advertiser.  Your private information will not be pushed out by a national search engine that offers its service for free, to all kinds of possibilities that may or may not pertain to your particular situation.  This will save you getting calls, emails, invitations to visit, in short, sensory overload.

The greater Austin area has about 200 senior communities, when you include Hays and Williamson counties that number is greater than 300.  They range from Independent Living, Assisted Living, Memory Care and Residential Care Communities. Where do you begin?  How do you know which option the best place for your mom or dad? 

Here is an idea – work with a local locator.  Local locators, also called placement agencies, offer a very personal experience.  They sit down with you, discuss your loved one’s current and future needs.  They look at finances and resources.  They find out your desired geographic location.  Based on that information, they present options and personally take you to visit communities that fit your criteria.  Once you’ve made a selection, they help with the paperwork and the move if need be.  Local locators offer a resource far greater than someone sending you a list to check out.  Like the national search engine, this service is free to you too. 

Locators have intimate knowledge of communities.  They’ve visited the sites themselves, they know the staff, the staff’s ratio to resident, its average tenure and turnover.  In short, they know when a community is working as it should.  Locators also understand this can be a stressful time for families.  You may need to visit a community more than once, maybe more than several times.  That’s ok.  This is a big decision.  Working with a locator will help you get it right.

As many of you know, my family was blindsided by my dad’s needs, specifically their scope and cost.  His decline had been slow, over ten years.  It was so gradual that we got used to it as if that’s how life were and would be, never imagining it would worsen, or how much so.  Once we moved, his failing condition accelerated to the point it demanded significant attention.  I was a deer in the headlights.

Daddy ended up needing help with everything.  He needed assistance getting in and out of bed, getting in and out of a chair, his personal grooming.  As my dad’s decline progressed, he could not go from lying to sitting without support.  This man, who used to jog around Rice University, ride horses, perform puppet shows, magic acts and walk on stilts, could no longer walk, even with help.  He required aid for the most intimate of activities.

I share this because I believe we need a shift in our cultural conversation about aging, its needs and its costs. I want us to talk about getting older and plan for it.  My dad’s care was $5,000 per month.  We can never plan for everything; life will make sure of that. But we can and must do better.

Like it or not, life requires financial resources.  We need to plan and save.  Starting early is better than starting late.  Starting any time is better than never starting.   Saving and planning require discipline and courage.  There are so many distractions.  Some are unavoidable (accidents and illness).  Some we should just say no to (that really cute dress, the awesome seats for the game, the extra $22 a month for the leather seats).  I’m not saying don’t enjoy yourself or ever indulge.  I’m saying think long term as well.  Then start preparing with long term care insurance or other insurance products and saving, saving, saving.

For most of my dad’s life, he lived for and genuinely delighted in the pleasure the moment brought.  We remodeled our home, added a swimming pool, always had dogs, eventually horses.  My father enjoyed every bit of it.  We all did. We wanted for nothing and had a gorgeous growing up.   What my dad didn’t do and what we didn’t do as a family was plan.  Hence, the deer in the headlights where this chapter begins.

How we save, prepare and spend now can have profound impact on how we live later.  And later always comes. So please, please plan now.

Part of what makes my husband, Jon, so suited for our work is his uncanny ability to see what is so and size up what is needed.  He misses neither the forest nor the trees.  He hears what is being said plainly and not so plainly.  His instincts and observations are spot on.  His recommendations are thoughtful and thorough, measured and considered.

Life sometimes pulls the rug out from under us.  It can be a clean, swift jerk or a slowly encroaching wrench.  Either way, we are hit with an unthinkable event that shakes us to our core.  We need hope.  We need reassurance.  We need that calm, collected voice to assess the situation, formulate a plan and put it into action.  Jon is the embodiment of those qualities.

Time and again, Jon has seen solutions others have missed.  Some of his solutions resolved issues that were big and some issues not so big.  All resolved issues that needed tending to.

My dad had little dexterity in his fingers, an ever growing midsection and balance issues.  Fastening his pants, buckling his belt and tying shoes presented a real challenge for him. My mother and I would get him new (read larger) clothes, but he couldn’t work them.

With a few clicks of the keyboard, Jon found pants for Daddy with an elastic waist and non-skid shoes that Velcroed closed.  Jon saw what my dad needed and found it for him.  My dad was tickled to have clothes he could work.  He was absolutely buoyed.

Jon never lost sight of my dad.  He knew Daddy was not his circumstances.

When assessing a situation, Jon sees clearly, without bias or agenda.  Some solutions require heroic efforts like remodeling a home or moving to a new one or moving closer to family.  Some solutions are more simple like elastic and Velcro.  All are life changing.  Either way, Jon sees what is needed because he sees you.  He sees the whole, complete, grand human being you are.  And he serves who he sees.

We started Essential Next Steps after working with our parents.

My mother-in-law passed away unexpectedly after complications from surgery.  She had done a beautiful job and given the great gift to her children of having her affairs in order.  She provided a clear roadmap of how her estate was to be settled.  My husband and sister-in-law were co-trustees of her estate and executed her wishes beautifully.  My mother-in-law represents one end of the spectrum.

My father went to the hospital suddenly and was discharged in to skilled nursing for rehab.  While at the skilled nursing facility, his decline became strikingly evident as well as the cost it was exacting on my mom.  He became a full-time resident.  It happened so fast and my family was not prepared.  We had talked about it only lightly in that someday-far-off-in-the-future kind of way.  We certainly had not planned for it.  And now we were in full blown transition going full throttle and we were overwhelmed.  There were countless details to manage, finding the right facility for my dad, paying for it and not bankrupting my mom, taking care of my mom, what to do with my parent’s stuff.  My parents represented the opposite end of the spectrum.

We got lucky.  We chose a nursing home for my dad that has a wonderful and dedicated staff and loads of support from the community.  We met a highly skilled and incredibly kind elder law attorney who helped my parents get their affairs in order.  We got my dad taken care of.

For my mom, we converted a 750 square foot workshop into a mother-in-law cottage.  We used Universal Design Principles which include zero step entry ways, wide doorways, smooth floors and a roll in shower to offer a few examples.  We gifted, donated and consigned her furnishings so that her smaller home would be pleasing and feel spacious as her larger home had been for her.

We learned a lot working with our parents.  There was benefit to working both sides of the spectrum.  Jon and his sister honored their mother’s wishes.  We found the right place for my dad and created a safe and lovely home for my mom.  We met so many good people along the way, I am proud they are part of our network and life.

We appreciate and recognize the heightened emotion in dealing with the challenges that life can throw our way. Life comes at us quickly. It can be hard to catch our breath. With planning and preparation, please know there are untold resources available to help make life’s transitions a little easier.

Senior Transitions Austin

When is the best time to make major change?

The answer is simple though not necessarily easy.  When you are in control is the best time to make change.  To maintain our best self, it is essential that we author our own narrative.  We say when we will do what.

Life will challenge that no doubt.  There are things we can control and things we can’t.  I don’t minimize that at all.  This piece is about what we can control.  This is about moving proactively.  This is about responding to life’s challenges so we maintain our authority. 

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