I couldn’t believe my eyes.
It was mid-August and I was shopping in the supermarket with my daughter, Fiona, when we turned the corner and suddenly found ourselves face-to-face with a HUGEdisplay of Halloween stuff: ghosts, witches, skeletons, candy … the whole thing.
Frankly, I found it a bit unnerving. I hadn’t even really begun thinking about back to school and there I was with Halloween staring me in the face???
So I understand why talking about winter in September may be unsettling for you. I do apologize. But here’s the thing: it’s coming and if you wait until the weather turns bad, you may have a hard time finding a memory care apartment for your loved one when you really need it.
My sister, Alyson, and I have been working in the senior care industry for over 15 years — the last 10+ as owners of 2Sisters Senior Living Advisors. Never before have we seen such high levels of demand. Staffing shortages in the home care industry are making staying at home even more challenging and so apartment availability in memory care neighborhoods is increasingly hard to find, especially on short notice.
So we are raising the alarm! If you have a loved one who has memory impairment, now is the time to prepare for their care. You do not have to move them into a memory care apartment if you have been on a wait list and one becomes available, but it is better if that choice is yours. Needing to move a loved one into a care community but not being able to because there’s no availability is a harder position to be in.
What Is a Memory Care Neighborhood?
Some memory care communities stand alone, but most are “neighborhoods” — separate and secure areas within a traditional assisted living community. “Secure” means that a code or fob is required to enter or exit and residents need to be accompanied by another adult whenever they leave.
Most traditional assisted living communities and home care companies can accommodate people with memory impairment or cognitive decline. But, if the safety of an older adult becomes a risk due to wandering — going out in cold weather without being dressed properly; visiting the dining room in the middle of the night; walking to the store on a busy, unsafe street; etc. — they need the safety of a secure memory care environment.
This level of safety risk is almost always a catalyst for a move. And as we explained last month, that almost always requires putting down a (usually refundable) deposit and getting your name on a wait list. But don’t worry — getting on a wait list simply means you have the option to move should something become available. You will not “lose your place in line” if an opening materializes that you are not yet ready for.
Three important tips regarding wait lists:
Tip #1: Develop an interim plan.
We often recommend in-home care to clients who may be on wait lists in case their needs increase. While waiting for an appropriate space to become available, your loved one may continue to need increasing levels of support. With winter approaching, now is the time to look into home care options, based on the type of services needed.
These services, ranging from transportation/shopping, to meals/laundry/housekeeping, to personal care support and even nursing, require time to put into place and to find a good caregiver match. We recommend getting a relationship started with an agency sooner rather than later, so if your loved one’s needs change while still living at home, you can be ready. This can have the additional benefit of helping your loved one transition when it comes time for their move.
Tip #2. Once on a wait list, stay proactive.
Yes, priority is given to those higher up on the wait list. But it’s more complicated than that. Some people want a particular apartment size or style. Some want — or don’t want — a shared, companion apartment. Still others may not be ready to move in when an apartment becomes available and will wait for the next one.
Whatever the specifics of a particular community, you’ll be well served to stay in regular contact with the marketing director, who has a handle on what may be opening up, even before “official” notice is given. Overall, the more you know about what’s happening or likely to happen, the better equipped you will be to plan for the coming weeks and months.
Tip #3. Be open to compromise.
Recently, we had a client who was considering two assisted living communities, both of which are in very high demand. Against our recommendation, she passed on an apartment in one of these because it looked out onto the parking lot. She is not happy where she currently lives and is eager to make a move. It could be many months before another apartment opens up.
A better strategy might have been to move in now and upgrade to something more appropriate or desirable later, since current residents are almost always given preference as new openings occur.
Winter in Massachusetts can already be a difficult time for older adults; managing during COVID on top of that only adds to the stress. Take steps now to plan ahead of changing weather. If you need to make a move, you’ll be glad you did and your loved ones will thank you.
Oh, and Happy Halloween, too!