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VOL. 11 | NO. 12 | Saturday, March 24, 2018

Experts: Start Conversation Early About Move to Retirement Community

By Andy Meek

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Jim Shoemaker, president and CEO of Germantown-based financial planning firm Shoemaker Financial, had a sit-down in recent days with three sisters and their husbands, for a talk about what to do about their mother.

The mother still wants to live at home but has started to need a level of care the daughters don’t know if they’ll be able to provide – and provide with any regularity, Shoemaker said – so they have begun to consider nursing home care.

“But to go from living at home, being independent, to a nursing home – it’s a dramatic step for a lot of people.”

It’s not just a dramatic step for those moving into assisted living care. Even moving into an independent living community, where a lighter touch is involved with residents, requires adjusting to a new lifestyle in a new location – with the biggest consideration, of course, involving dollars and cents.

Trezevant residents participate in a yoga class in one of the retirement community’s multipurpose rooms. (Memphis News/Houston Cofield)

Talk to anyone involved in helping the elderly plan for where and how they’ll live in their retirement years, and the suggestions, to say the least, vary widely. There’s no real way to make hard-and-fast recommendations for everyone or offer one-size-fits-all solutions – it depends on the person’s health and current needs, which then leads to an analysis of what they can afford and what makes the best sense to put money into.

At least one area of consensus, though, involves timing. This is a conversation to have not just early – it really needs to be looked at years in advance, long before any decisions need to be actually made.

One reason why? Take the Trezevant retirement community at 177 N. Highland St., which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2017.

Trezevant sales and marketing director Libby King said it currently has a wait list with 107 names on it.

“Our average age when I started six years ago was around 83,” she said. “Right now, it’s about 74. People are looking at this a lot earlier. Really, it’s something you need to start looking at and planning for in your 60s.”

Proponents like King point out that residents save in the long run, since they’re not paying property taxes or for things like yard work. Depending on the community, they may also have amenities like on-site meal plans, gyms and activities to keep residents busy and active.

Kim O'Donnell, director of resident services at Trezevant, talks to resident Dottie Grayson, over coffee and breakfast cake. (Memphis News/Houston Cofield)

Starting the conversation early about what option to pursue can also help with potential sticker shock, and with the weighing of options.

In general – no surprise – the cost of care is going up. That’s according to the 2017 Genworth Cost of Care Survey, a product of the insurance holding company Genworth Financial. The 2017 survey covered 440 regions across the U.S. and was based on data collected from more than 15,000 surveys.

The survey shows that costs in the Memphis area can range, in general, from around $3,400 a month for a home health aide to upwards of $6,500 a month for a private room in a nursing home. Monthly costs for care in an assisted living facility can top $4,000, according to the survey.

As part of its methodology, the Genworth survey completed more than 4,000 interviews with licensed home health care providers. Across 440 regions, surveyors polled more than 15 percent of licensed assisted living facilities and nearly 18 percent of certified and licensed nursing homes.

In terms of the rising cost, the Genworth data shows the biggest rate of five-year annual growth attributable to the cost of nursing home care. Those facilities, of course, provide a higher level of supervision and things like medication, therapy and on-site nursing care – but the five-year annual growth rate in the cost of a semi-private room is 3.28 percent, according to the survey. For a private room, it’s 3.76 percent.

“We encourage people to call other places, call other people,” said Frank Gattuso, executive director of Ave Maria, which offers long-term residential care to seniors. “You don’t have to take what we’re saying as gospel. Our job – we’re mission-focused. It’s great if they come here and we can help them. If they choose somewhere else, that’s fine, too.

“We try to guide them from the perspective of what they’re going to need assistance with. For example, if someone needs help with bathing and dressing, if that’s all it is, they could have someone come to their home and help them for two hours or three hours versus coming to an assisted living facility. Someone comes to an assisted living facility, and they usually need more than assistance with probably more than one activity of daily living.”

And there are other benefits.

“If someone starts to decline and isn’t able to do a lot for themselves, then being at home isn’t as suitable,” King said. “It’s not as handicap accessible. And being in a place like this – just the interaction and the wellness and the spiritual side of independent living is really going to keep people engaged more. More fit. Their diet’s going to be better. And they’re likelier to live a little longer versus staying at home.”

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