Guide helps baby boomers, aging parents learn about housing options

Jessica Young

Randalynn Kaye’s father, who lived in Tennessee with her mother, had a severe stroke in 2006, leaving him in need of care. She made the trip from her home in St. Charles, Ill., to pack her parents’ suitcases and drive them back to Illinois, where they made the housing transition to a nearby retirement community.

“When a crisis like that occurs, many seniors do get pulled out of their home and get plopped down somewhere,” said Kaye, who is a marketing director at Wyndemere Senior Living Campus in Wheaton. “It’s a period of intense upheaval for them.”

And for many adult children faced with major decisions about health care and habitation for aging parents, dealing with the logistical, emotional and financial unknowns of the senior housing market complicate already heart-rending familial circumstances. Luckily, Kaye’s intimate understanding of the industry helped her navigate the plethora of residential options, money matters and jargon.

“Dealing with the system is daunting for the best of us, let alone when you’re maneuvering in its framework at a time where there are health complications,” she said.

After also helping her in-laws with tough family conversations, housing research and the decision-making process before they moved out of their home of 50 years, it dawned on Kaye that she should put together a guide for other Baby Boomers experiencing similar issues.

“I’ve counseled hundreds of (families at Wyndemere), and they all came to me with the same concern: ‘Where do I start my research?’” Kaye said. “I realized that most of the information available out there was sales-oriented and very scattered. There was no single resource that explained the big picture and discussed senior housing plainly without bias and with the consumers’ interest at heart.”

So she wrote a book titled “Senior Housing 101” to demystify the market and turn readers into savvy consumers. Kaye said she designed the publication like a workbook to function as a companion piece during family pow-wows and facility tours. The 53-page manual — which also has a vocabulary list, resource directory, income/asset calculator, current lifestyle cost breakdown worksheet and space for pro-con lists — covers everything from broaching the moving subject with resistant family members to the differences between assisted living and continued care retirement communities.

A field guide that helps people do some long-term planning and offers decision-making models for their consideration is a useful tool, said Donna Copeland Hill, family caregiver support program coordinator at the West Chicago branch of the Northeastern Illinois Area Agency on Aging.

“Moving mom and dad out of their long-time home on Maple Avenue is one of the hardest and most stressful times for a family, and the choices are just overwhelming. You really do need a glossary to understand the differences in housing and health services and payment plans,” Copeland Hill said. “There’s a huge amount of confusion out there. And there are tons of resources people never find out about and take advantage of, so the concept of ‘Senior Housing 101’ is great.”

With the upcoming holiday season and extended vacations home, Kaye suggests gathered family members take advantage of get-togethers and have a heart-to-heart or scope out senior housing.

“It’s time to get involved and become their advocate. You can lead them to water but you can’t force them to drink, so it’s important the siblings are unified in what they think is best for mom and dad and encourage everyone to have a plan in place even if they’re resistant to giving up their brick and mortar,” she said. “A way to introduce the subject casually and get the lay of the land is ‘My friend Sue said her mom is moving to XYZ. It got me thinking. How do you feel about that?’”

Essentially, the goal is not to have to scramble in the midst of a catastrophe and be playing catch-up.

Eva Montego of Berwyn is juggling waiting lists and plans on consulting “Senior Housing 101” before making a final decision on where to move her 76-year-old father.

“He just can’t be worrying about cleaning the gutters and shoveling snow and climbing the stairs at his age. We’ve been agonizing for like six months over whether to just downsize his house or get into a retirement community,” she said. “I’m so clueless with all of the options that I just need someone to spell it all out for me.”

The biggest tip Kaye said readers will glean from the book is her formula for success, which is some required homework that should be completed before families look at facilities: Risks and values + Health + Finances = Your best option

“The risks/values decision ... people don’t usually talk about it in any structured way and often requires soul-searching with yourself, a spouse or immediate family,” Kaye said. “One of the top four concerns is not being a burden to your children, family or friends. So you need to figure out ‘What do I need to do to ensure I don’t become one?’

“Other factors are the need to stay in control, which is human nature, and stuff. That’s all the possessions that collect in the garage and attic. Depending on how attached you are, that stuff might literally paralyze you, and that is an indicator that you need to move to a user-friendly place with space,” she added. “All of these considerations will help you shape your list of priorities and help you identify a direction.”

The next component is health.

“You have to stand back and take stock of health issues, project three to five years down the road,” Kaye said. “You might say ‘I have Parkinson’s, but it’s under control’ or ‘My husband has early onset Alzheimer’s, but it hasn’t really manifested itself yet.’”

Then obviously comes finances.

“When you need a car, you’re going to crunch numbers to figure out whether you’re going to CarMax or a Cadillac dealer,” she said. “Have your data pulled together like total net worth, total combined capital assets and income, like social security and dividends.”

At the end of the day, “Senior Housing 101” is about lessening the overwhelming feeling of deciding the fate of parents who might start showing signs of forgetfulness or who can no longer drive.

“You’re dealing with enough while watching the change in your parents. So let me help,” Kaye said.

Suburban Life