Navigating the map of elder care providers often requires assistance

Want to make your head explode? Try to figure out all the different kinds of senior housing and elder care services that are available and which one has the best fit with your needs and your pocketbook – or, in the case of adult children, those you are caring for.

Enter Cindy Jahr Evans and CarePatrol, who says, “Actually, figuring out the housing and daily-living needs of a senior is a major problem because, in later life, needs for assistance will change frequently, often significantly and many times unpredictably.”

She continued, “Just think about it. You are living alone. You break a hip as you fall off a chair while changing a lightbulb. You were totally self-sufficient one minute before. Now you are incapacitated with a broken hip. You can’t walk to the bathroom. You are then scheduled for a hip replacement and facing months of rehab.”

“In other words,” she said, “when you think about it, you know that your situation can change suddenly, dramatically and without warning – and that usually means without preparation. That’s why you and those who care about you – a spouse or adult children – will need some answers fast. That’s where we come in.”

“Or think about the wife who, after years of walking a mile every day and doing resistance exercises two days a week at the local fitness center, has a stroke. She’s unable to walk unassisted. Is her elderly husband able to care for her? If not, to whom can he turn for help? Will his adult children be close enough and have the time to step in – and if they do, will they have the knowledge to navigate the system? If not, to whom do they turn?”

“Or think about a dementia diagnosis. It happens after you notice that your husband or aging father can’t remember where he parked the car after an evening at the movies, or is increasingly confused while paying the bills, or often irritable when his routine is disrupted. Where do you go for memory care? What kinds of programs do they provide? How do they compare with others?”

The search for elder care facilities and programs is not always prompted by a health emergency. In fact, according to Evans, “The move to senior living is increasingly a lifestyle choice. Some seniors, especially those who are ‘social’ and in good physical condition, like the idea of living in a place where they can build friendships and camaraderie, participate in organized activities from shopping to museum tours, and engage in sports such tennis, pickleball or swimming. Age-restricted communities – usually age 55 or more, such as Heritage Harbour – or continuing care retirement communities, such as Ginger Cove or Baywoods, are typically very lively, livable and engaging places.”

She continued, “Seniors move to elder care facilities because the often like the opportunity to replace time-consuming obligations for lawn care and home maintenance with recreational and mind-stimulating activities ranging from bridge clubs to woodworking, weaving or other crafts – and sometimes just to get the freedom from home responsibilities so they can travel.”

“And there’s a lot of variety just in the lifestyle options, as higher-end senior communities include amenities such as theaters, fitness centers, fine dining and 24-hour bistros. In short, we cover the range – from day care for elders to home care such as Visiting Angels or Home Instead and from independent living and assisted living to nursing homes.”

According to Evans, “The old saw that retirement communities are ‘God’s waiting room’ doesn’t really apply today. People are living longer, healthier lives. Most – as many as 90 percent by most estimates – will choose to age in place (i.e., at home). But many of the rest will choose to live out their lives in an age-homogeneous community – and some will have to because of infirmity or other special needs.”

“Also housing needs eventually intersect with your pocketbook and what you can afford,” she said.

Evans explained that money is a major consideration because, as you pass certain age milestones, your financial resources are likely to change. In addition to Social Security, you have to consider private pensions and/or personal savings – plus insurance (if you have it), government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid (if you are eligible) and financial assistance from other sources (such as adult children) that will be available to some.

According to Evans, “There are almost as many price points for elder care as there are for hotels – from Super 8 to the Ritz Carleton. That’s why, when you put them all together, it can be very confusing. Then, you add onto that location preferences, the need for medical assistance or other special needs and you have a complex set of choices that are almost impossible for the layperson to navigate.”

Evans is passionate about her work in the elder care field, though it took a while for her to find her groove. In her case, however, the solution to her needs as a mother and career woman ended up as a win for people in their bonus years.

Following an internship in a Capitol Hill Senate office and early employment in a group home for the mentally and physically challenged, Evans changed careers, spending more than 20 years in recruitment and talent management for major Washington, D.C. law firms.

Armed with staff development and management experience plus a degree in public administration, Evans rebooted again in 2014 – this time as a certified senior care advisor. The motivation to reboot was the unexpected death of her stepfather at age 65. His untimely passing focused her mind on the importance of family – and especially that she was spending three hours a day in a car, commuting to Washington and only an hour or so a day with her young son.

Seeking a more flexible work environment that would give her more time with her family, she and her husband, Bill, a software engineer who works in cyber security, purchased a CarePatrol franchise that covers Anne Arundel County and surrounding areas.

CarePatrol was founded in 1994 and is now the nation’s largest senior placement service, “…helping families find safer care options, including assisted living, independent living, memory care, in-home care and nursing homes.”

CarePatrol services are paid for by the senior care provider – as many as 40,000 by some estimates. Accordingly, CarePatrol advisory and placement services are free to its clients.

Evans says, “I love what I’m now doing. I love helping people. I love that I have more time for my family and more flexibility. Now I can go to school functions. I can even take a vacation and keep on top of my business.”

Evans reaches out to her senior market via space advertising plus presentations to churches, senior centers and service clubs such as Rotary. However, she says, “Personal relationships are the best source of referrals. Clients or their parents or guardians give us referrals. Physicians or staff we work within hospitals or clinics give us referrals. People who know us know we will present good choices tailored to the needs and financial wherewithal of the client.”

When I asked her about her biggest challenge, she said, “This is not a one-size-fits-all business. It is a relationship business built on trust and integrity – and a lot of listening. For example, we recently had a client who needed a caregiver who could speak Farsi and another who needed rehab more than home care. But whatever the need, in the end, you are helping vulnerable people solve a problem and that is very satisfying to me.”

So, stories about life in the bonus years are not only about individuals who continue to flourish in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. The bonus years are also about the way families, government and civil society invent new solutions. These include:

• new cultural patterns, as elderly parents move in with children (or vice versa) to address both housing and home-care challenges;
• new public policies, such as free rides on public transit, increasing mobility;
• new enterprises, such as the explosive growth of private sector home-care franchising, responding to the needs of America’s over-65 population, which will double in the lifetime of most readers;
• new workplace practices, such as flexible-work arrangements to provide later-life Americans the opportunity to continue working at jobs that are both productive and satisfying; and
• new infrastructure, such as ramps for the wheelchair-bound, required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, increasing access to public places;

The idea that America is an opportunity society was traditionally aimed at the prospects for young people and immigrants. Today, it is also a description of the prospects for later-life Americans.

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