Choosing independent living housing for yourself or your loved ones can be daunting. Cost, level of care and other factors such as included meal plans and activities — all while dealing with downsizing — can make a decision overwhelming.
This is when a person like Melissa Cooper, a Senior Placement Services consultant, comes in to help. She’s able to help find the best fit based on budget, desired location and care needs.
Cooper advises that it’s important to narrow options before this type of housing is needed.
“I’ve had so many residents say, ‘This is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I just wish I had done it sooner.’ Honestly, the younger you are, the easier it is. Change is hard anyway for most of us and the older you are, the harder it is.
“I can’t stress enough — make these decisions while you’re capable and able to make them for yourself if you don’t want someone else making them for you,” Cooper said.
The process often starts with the children of the future resident contacting Cooper, though sometimes it only involves the person who needs to move. A time is set up to talk in person or on the phone.
Cooper then gets to know them better to assess the level of care needed and the resident’s personality, preferred activities, dietary preferences, best location and budget. She chooses three to four communities for the children to visit and fewer if it’s the senior initiating the search.
She will arrange tours of the communities for them to see what living there would be like, including sampling a meal if desired.
The timetable for this process varies and depends on the readiness of the person who needs the care. There are times it is necessary to move quickly, such as following a hospital or rehabilitation stay.
In those cases, Cooper meets with the client quickly and narrows the options down to one or two in order to make a decision easier.
Even when a decision is made before it’s necessary, there is often a big obstacle — the problem of perception.
“There are a lot of seniors who give pushback because they picture senior living like the old nursing homes that their grandmothers lived in. That’s not the case anymore. It’s definitely not your grandma’s nursing home,” said Cooper.
“Getting over misconceptions is half the battle,” she continued.
Advantages of a senior living community are:
- They are open for younger ages than expected, with some taking 55-year-olds.
- Opportunities to socialize are plentiful, which is a priority as one ages.
- Healthy, balanced meals are available and sometimes included in the cost, but there are also kitchens in many of the apartments.
- There are often workout rooms and indoor swimming pools.
- The community might have movie theaters, church services and other types of entertainment provided.
- Many have full-sized or stackable washers and dryers.
- Areas for families to gather are also available at many sites.
- Transportation to stores and appointments is provided.
If more care is needed, then assisted living could be the way to go. Assisted living is for individuals who are mostly mobile, even if using a wheelchair or walker. They can’t be bedridden or require more than one person to help them get out of a chair.
To determine whether someone needs memory care versus assisted living, a nurse will do a 30-minute in-home assessment. Called the Mini-Mental State Examination, this measures physical capabilities and mental and cognitive skills.
Memory care units are locked to keep the residents from wandering and have much more support for medications, meals and other tasks that could be an issue for someone with dementia.
Range of options
One of the biggest questions Cooper gets asked pertains to cost. Current charges in the Birmingham area are $1,300 to $12,000 per month. To help show how this new expense would impact the resident, Cooper has a checklist that compares current housing costs to a community’s fees.
Though Cooper isn’t the only one providing this kind of service, in her case, faith drives all she does. She considers this not just a job, but a ministry.
“Every day I’m praying for my clients, that they have wisdom and find the right fit for them, where they’ll be the most successful and the happiest.”
Though there are several faith-based communities, Cooper tells believers that other communities are “captive mission fields” and “there are people here who don’t know the Lord and time is running out.
“I love working with seniors and trying to help them find that they still have purpose in this life. Your life isn’t over until God calls you home. He has a plan for you no matter where you are — including senior living communities.”
“I love this quote: ‘You can’t give your life more time, so you give the time you have more life.’ I feel that’s a really good summary of the way I try to approach [this journey] with people.”
For more information about Cooper and what she can do for a family in this stage of life or questions about these communities, contact her at email@example.com or at 205-356-2476.