What's important to know about senior living?

"Most of us don't want to admit that we need help," said Mary Ferguson, community outreach director for The Birches assisted living and memory care in Clarendon Hills.

And the subject of moving into senior living can be a fraught one for adult children to broach with their parents. But better to address it earlier than too late, Ferguson advised.

"You do not want to start looking at senior living when you have a crisis," she said.

Ferguson will present her talk, Senior Living Guide, from 7 to 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 6, at the Hinsdale Public Library (see Page 22 for details).

The industry has diversified since the days of nursing homes, so understanding all the options is important.

"We will talk about what is assisted living, memory care, what is a CCRC (continuing care retirement community) and other questions you should be asking," Ferguson said. "We talk about the services that are offered, what are the amenities."

And the elephant in the room - the cost.

"If you're looking at a life care community, make sure you understand what that really means," she said. "There's a buy-in and you usually get a percentage back. But when is that? Is it when they sell it?"

Memory care typically runs in the $8,000-a-month ballpark, although those numbers can be hard to ascertain without first going through some hoops.

"I would say most communities do not have their pricing on their websites," Ferguson said. "Some places will say they're not going to give you any information on pricing unless you tour."

When gathering intelligence online, discern whether you're giving your information to a community directly or to a referral service that may steer you in a certain direction.

"If you are choosing to use a referral source, they only refer to places that are going pay them," Ferguson said. "You may be missing out on places to go that may be a better fit."

Visit the different facilities to experience the environment, and attend programs where you can talk with residents.

"Not every community is going to be the best fit for you," she said. "If you don't get a good vibe, move on."

Staffing levels and employee longevity are data points that can speak volumes about a community.

"You want your staff to know your residents," Ferguson stressed.

Tread carefully with discount offers, which could be a red flag for service deficiencies.

"You get what you pay for," she said. "Be very wary when you have communities that are giving huge slashes in pricing."

Children may recognize the time has come to transition to senior living before parents, but broaching the subject can be difficult. Assure them that independent living means just that.

"You actually maintain your independence. You have people to help you now so you don't have to cook or do your housekeeping," Ferguson said. "It's just a different address."

And making new friends is one of the biggest benefits.

"They're with their peers so they have a lot of the same history and experiences," she said.

- by Ken Knutson

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean