Senior Living Experts Answer Your Top Senior Care Questions

Caring for an aging loved one comes with some incredibly difficult challenges. Family caregivers are tasked with providing care for someone whose ailing health may mean big lifestyle changes and in some cases behavior and personality changes, too.

For many caregivers, providing the best possible care means finding the right senior living community for their loved one. The search for that community, however, can be fraught with uncertainty.

Caring.com has received tens of thousands of questions over the years about how best to address some of the biggest elder care challenges family caregivers face. Below, we’ve rounded up some of your most frequently asked questions and enlisted the help of some 2017 Caring Stars -- senior care communities and home care providers that have consistently received top marks from consumers -- to answer them. Take a look to see if any of your biggest senior care questions have been covered.

How can I get Mom to regain her appetite or eat better quality food?

It’s important to understand seniors’ nutritional needs differ from those of a younger adult, and to respect seniors’ wishes to keep eating the foods they enjoy. A healthy balance and level of moderation can be attained when seniors eat healthy options a majority of the time, while occasionally splurging on some of their favorites—such as ice cream or soda pop.

Additionally, seniors who are active and expending their energy will likely be hungrier, eat more at meals and choose more filling options.
-– Jamison Gosselin, Senior VP of Communications and Marketing for Holiday Retirement

Dementia presents its own unique set of challenges, and appetite and weight loss are two of these challenges. This is complicated by the overlay of aging which changes our taste and desire for certain foods. In dementia care, we understand that engagement is the key to the many obstacles of quality care. Activities incorporating food, supplements, and patience during mealtimes will help with intake. The focus of food intake should be nutrients, not calories.
-– David Hoppe, Executive Director of Chelsea Place Memory Care

What transportation options are available for seniors who can’t drive?

In today’s fast-paced world, there are a variety of transportation options for seniors who no longer drive. Public transportation options like taxis, Uber or Lyft offer a personalized approach for seniors to comfortably and safely get to appointments and social engagements. If accessibility is a concern, subsidized public services are available with vehicles that are equipped with wheelchair lifts.

Local agencies can also help seniors who no longer drive. Many have volunteers who drive seniors to their appointments, or home health care organizations can help run errands like grocery shopping and picking up dry cleaning on behalf of a senior.
-– Jamison Gosselin, Holiday Retirement

What are your tips for family members who live far away to stay in touch with their aging loved one?

Using technology is a fantastic way to easily stay in touch. Take some time to help your loved one get set up with an iPad or iPhone so you can have FaceTime conversations that are more personal than a phone call. Also, consider sending photos of kids or other activities to their device in real time. They are truly interested in your everyday life and these photos become a great conversation opportunity for your loved one and his or her friends.

And drop a note or card in the mail from time to time. Receiving mail is a highlight for so many seniors and it will certainly brighten their day.
-- Chris Harper, Head of Communications, Arbor Terrace of Lanham

Technology is a great tool adult children can use to stay in touch with aging parents and loved ones. Skype and FaceTime video calls can help seniors stay involved with the lives of children and grandchildren, offering a closer connection than the telephone.

Furthermore, technology allows for a more connected ongoing conversation between seniors and their loved ones, providing adult children with more insight into seniors’ activities and well-being since they can be both heard and seen with video call technology. If your family member wants to better understand how to use technology to stay in touch, local organizations or even high school or college students can help show them tips and tricks.

Even with technology, seniors still enjoy receiving mail – letters and cards – or other signs of appreciation that show someone is thinking about them. Taking the time to send flowers or another token can make them feel special and it’s a highlight they’ll share with their friends.
-– Jamison Gosselin, Holiday Retirement

How do I deal with a parent’s angry outbursts?

The ability to be successful in behavior management can be represented as a three-legged stool. Environment, medication, and approach are the three legs. We understand that people with dementia are not experiencing their world as we are without dementia. Confusion, hallucinations, and the inability to assess our surroundings contribute to reactions that do not match reality.

How the environment is constructed is very important. Medication should never be the whole approach, but a part of an overall plan. Lastly, proper approach is the foundation to behavior management. Thorough and continuous training in this area will reduce these incidents.
-- David Hoppe, Executive Director of Chelsea Place Memory Care

If your parent or loved one is struggling with angry outbursts, the first thing to do is put yourself in his or her shoes and consider the circumstances. How has life changed over the recent months or years? Understand that your parent may have lost close friends or even a spouse. Or perhaps health issues are affecting his or her activity level, which could contribute to a short temper.

Following an outburst, it’s important to give your parent and yourself a few minutes to collect themselves, then try to understand what may have triggered the outburst. It could stem from a normal aspect of aging, or it could be more medical in nature, such as memory loss or Alzheimer’s disease. If you’re concerned about the frequency or level of a parent’s outbursts, you may want to consult with his or her physician to make sure there aren’t other underlying health concerns.

If your parent is still living at home alone and angry outbursts seem more frequent, it may be time to discuss if another type of retirement living would better suit your parent. Information to help tackle that tough conversation can be found on Holiday Retirement's website.
-– Jamison Gosselin, Holiday Retirement

What is your advice for managing caregiver stress?

Education, training, and support are essential to reduce caregiver stress, whether it’s a family member or professional caregiver. This may be as formal as a support group, or as informal as taking the time to talk with friends or relatives. In a professional setting, it’s critical that management recognizes, understands and has the commitment to address caregiver stress.
-- David Hoppe, Chelsea Place Memory Care

There’s stress and there’s guilt. Many caregivers experience guilt when they move an elderly parent into an assisted living facility. Don't let guilt get the best of you and try to keep in mind that the move was the best option for your parent. You can still be a caregiver even after your parent moves.

For example, you can make sure their apartment has personal touches. You can be a liaison between the assisted living staff and your parent. You can still make sure that your parent's needs are being met. Remember that you’re doing your best to ensure your parent is receiving the best care possible. You can also alleviate some stress by taking care of yourself. Join a gym, attend a support group or see a therapist if needed. All are legitimate ways to channel both guilt and stress.
-– Micha Shalev, Executive Director/Owner of Dodge Park Rest Home

How should I approach my parent about moving to an assisted living community?

If both parents are still alive and together, talk about what may need to happen if one of them dies, in terms of selling the home and moving into a senior community. Yes, it can be a difficult and sad discussion, but it can also help you learn crucial information about your parents' wishes for each other and what they have talked about among themselves. It can be helpful to focus on the positive aspects. Yes, life will change, but with each change comes certain benefits.

Life in an assisted living facility is an undeniable adjustment. In addition to a new living environment, you’re meeting new neighbors and getting used to the staff. This can feel stressful in the beginning, but there are things you can do to make the transition easier. Pack well in advance if possible, know what to expect, stay busy and active and go easy on yourself.
-- Micha Shalev, Dodge Park Rest Home

My mother is hesitant about moving into assisted living. Is there some way for her to test out a place before she commits?

We know that a move to senior living can feel like a huge commitment. That’s why we have some easy ways to “try us.” One of those is a no-commitment 30-day short-term trial stay -- probably the best way to get a full understanding of what life at Arbor Terrace is all about. Secondly, we welcome seniors to join us as “Resident for a Day,” where they can experience a day in the life at our community, complete with dining experiences and engaging social and educational activities.
–- Chris Harper, Arbor Terrace of Lanham

Try to choose a community that will honor a 30-day trial. A trial is very feasible when the loved one is alert but not recommended to someone with short-term memory problems. Too many changes can cause trouble. Make sure to do your homework before placing a loved one in a facility for residents with memory impairment.
-- Micha Shalev, Dodge Park Rest Home

Will my parent lose their independence and privacy by moving to an assisted living community? We recognize that there’s certainly a different between living at home alone and living in an environment with a group of other people. For some, there will be a natural adjustment period to adjust to this change. However, we’ve had many residents at Arbor Terrace Senior Living say that if they knew what they know now, they would’ve moved in a lot sooner.

Sometimes, it’s just the unknown of what life may be like in a new place that is someone’s true worry. But once that decision is made, the benefits of increased social interaction and camaraderie become a welcome lifestyle change. Residents don’t lose their privacy or independence either: each of our residents has his or her own private apartment with keyed access, and can come and go as they please. For many, senior living becomes the perfect balance of maintaining an independent lifestyle with the socialization and support that comes with being surrounded with others.
-– Chris Harper, Arbor Terrace of Lanham

Assisted living facilities offer the safety and security of 24-hour support and access to care. Day or night, help is only a phone call away. However, privacy and independence are encouraged. A good facility will develop a personalized plan that meets your needs and accommodates your disabilities, while giving you the freedom to do what you can for yourself. Assisted living communities are typically in residential-type facilities, ranging from converted homes or apartment complexes to renovated schools.

Some provide apartment-style living with scaled down kitchens, while others offer rooms. In some communities, you may need to share a room unless you're willing to pay higher cost. Most facilities have a group dining area and common areas for social and recreational activities. Everything depends on the level of care needed. Be sure to ask these key questions about services, options and privacy before choosing a community.
-– Micha Shalev, Dodge Park Rest Home

How can I help my parent settle into an assisted living community?

Bring items from home that will make you feel comfortable in your new apartment. Whether it’s your favorite chair or a wall of family photos, if your apartment doesn’t feel like home, you won’t feel settled. Take advantage of getting involved in programs and make new acquaintances with your neighbors. Give yourself time to learn the community and your new schedule. Don't put stress on yourself; this is a process and should be enjoyed every step of the way. At Arbor Terrace, our goal is to help you be as comfortable as possible—we consider our residents to be family!
-- Chris Harper, Arbor Terrace of Lanham

Each individual with dementia is different and thus requires a different approach. Overall, the more history and understanding we have about a resident, the better we can plan to address potential hurdles. Family involvement in the move-in process is critical, and the community’s thorough understanding of dementia is even more critical.
-– David Hoppe, Chelsea Place Memory Care

Adult children of aging parents need to do their homework -- I cannot stress this enough. Squaring a family’s expectations with an assisted living facility’s legal limits requires a thorough, first-hand assessment of the elderly person’s physical and cognitive health before admission to a facility. Yet, that rarely happens.

New residents are admitted based on a report from their current physicians, who may not be qualified to diagnose the early signs of dementia and impending immobility or may sugarcoat the situation in order to help a desperate family. In my community I make sure that we see and evaluate everyone admitted firsthand and obtain all relevant documentation and medical records.
-- Micha Shalev, Dodge Park Rest Home

The above responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.