Human beings are, by nature and habit, prone to entropy and pattern. It is hard for us to make changes unless changes are forced upon us. How many times do we wake up, look around, and realize we’ve been drinking the same coffee every day for five years, or been in the same job for a decade, or the same house for as long as we can remember?
It’s easy to fall into patterns and habits, but that doesn’t mean it is always a good thing. When it comes to being in a nursing home, that can be a bad thing. People who intend to go to a home temporarily after an accident or some other external cause can find themselves there for years, even the rest of their lives.
There are times when that is needed, but there are other times when people are there just because it seems easier, and then pattern takes hold, and then getting out seems too big a break. But if you think your aging parent can and should come home (and wants to), it is possible to get him or her out of the nursing home.
There are logistical, bureaucratic, and medical obstacles, but if you understand those, you can overcome them. Aging in place opens the door for adventure, dignity, and independence. It is the opposite of entropy. That’s why we want to offer these tips for getting a parent out of a nursing home.
Why Leaving the Nursing Home Is an Option for Your Parent
The nursing home is not the end of the line. For many people, it is a great place to recuperate after an immediate medical issue, such as an accident, stroke, or heart attack. Trained and compassionate staffs found in nursing homes help your parent readjust, learn to live if there are any lingering conditions, and get healthy. This is especially fortunate if you and your family aren’t equipped to deal with the challenging aftermath.
But things can get better, either for your parent or your ability to care for them. And then it is time to leave. Aging at home is a way to be more independent and have more options in life.
So what do you need to do to make sure this is possible?
Leaving the Nursing Home: A Checklist
There are several considerations you must be sure of before bringing a parent home. Here are a few.
This is the most important one. Is your loved one better off in a nursing home than at home? For many people, especially those with dementia or Alzheimer’s, a facility designed to treat patients with these illnesses can be a blessing.
So being sure that aging in place is the best option for your loved one is important. Questions to ask to decide this include:
- Will my parent be able to take the medications they need?
- Will he or she be able to see the necessary medical professionals on a regular basis?
- Will he or she have the required help and services?
Thanks to home visits, medical care for those aging in place has become more realistic, taking the burden off of family caregivers. The rise of telehealth services makes it even easier and more affordable. Even something as simple as medication management technology can ease worries about a parent taking the right medicine at the right time.
The most important question, of course, is, “Is my parent healthy enough to come home?” We can’t stress enough that this is not just a matter of want. Please consult with your parent’s physician to get an opinion about the best options (not, if possible, the physician at the nursing home). This is an extremely important decision so get the best possible advice.
But even if these questions are answered, you’ll want to look at other practical matters.
Your parent may have lived in the same house for 40 years, but when he or she returns from the nursing home, it may not seem like the same house. Memory loss could make it confusing. Damaged eyesight could make familiar hallways dangerous. Injuries that make it hard to walk can turn ordinary staircases mountainous.
So you’ll want to ensure that the house is safe and navigable for your parent, who may be facing new and different challenges. This can involve easy additions or more complicated retrofits, including:
- Bathroom bars
- Single-handed faucets
- Smart home technology
Many places in the Bay Area offer tax incentives for home improvement for older adults. It’s something to look into when trying to make aging in place work.
We know that it can be expensive to age at home. It can be costly. But it can be costly to be in a nice nursing home, too. In California, a private room can cost as much as $250 a night. Even when it is partly covered by Medicaid, it can add up.
There are a variety of tax breaks to aging in place. A 2005 law, strengthened and expanded by the Affordable Care Act in 2010, helps identify people who can be eased back into the community from a nursing home. Called “Money Follows the Person,” it uses Medicaid funds to pay for aging in place.
Currently in place in 45 states, the law says that say Medicaid funds can be used at home so long as they don’t exceed the cost of nursing homes. That is a huge boost for families (though the fate of this provision is up in the air at the moment). Local senior centers, including Institute on Aging, also have community living programs that help you and your loved ones navigate the bureaucracy.
Also, programs like the Community Living Connection helps individuals with limited incomes living in Santa Clara County to transition out of nursing facilities and into the community to live independently. This program also provides services to those who currently live in the community or in acute care facilities who risk being institutionalized.
This is very important to us. We want to make sure that adults who don’t need or want to become or remain institutionalized don’t have to be. The idea that a nursing home is inevitable is a pernicious one. Nursing homes are staffed with wonderful, caring, and talented people, and are a safe and healthy refuge for many, but that should be a choice.
It’s a choice that comes with financial, medical, and logistical obstacles. It isn’t a choice everyone can or should make. But if living at home and aging in place is possible for your parent, it is something your family can discuss.
You don’t want a parent realizing they’ve spent five years in a nursing home when they could be in their own home. You can avoid that by asking the right questions and being conscientious enough to find the right answers.
At Institute on Aging, we provide resources to empower older adults to age in place, including home care services. Our programs work with seniors, families, and caregivers to overcome the obstacles to living at home. Connect with us today to learn more.