One of my biggest personal challenges during Covid-19 has been caring for my mother. Working in visits around her health care schedule while also doing everything I can to ensure her safety has given me a real appreciation for just how hard it's been for seniors to get the care and compassion they need in the pandemic environment. And while we continue to receive encouraging news regarding Covid-19 vaccines and treatments, the ways that families, hospitals, and assisted living facilities care for seniors are undergoing some significant changes. Specifically, I would recommend that anyone who plays a major role in a senior relative's health care familiarize themselves with these 3 key developments.
1. Bringing health care TO more seniors.
Both homebound seniors and folks living in assisted living facilities are struggling to get to and from their medical appointments. Group transportation options have been strained because of capacity limits in buses and vans. Even seniors who can drive themselves or get a lift from loved ones are putting themselves at extra risk to virus exposure.
To limit those risks for vulnerable seniors, many doctors and nurses are using “telehealth” – secure video conferences to check in with patients and diagnose minor issues. In-home medical service for seniors is also on the rise, particularly for those who are living in assisted care facilities. This not only puts less of a strain on seniors who might have trouble getting around, it also reduces the amount of time seniors need to congregate in waiting rooms or doctors’ offices, again reducing their chances of exposure to Covid-19.
2. New standards for safe senior living.
Deciding when it's time to move your parent or grandparent into an assisted living facility is one of the most difficult choices a person can make. Many folks facing that issue right now feel that Covid-19 has made the choice for them. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities were among the hardest-hit communities during the first wave of the pandemic. In some situations, it could be safer to keep an aging loved one at home and coordinate a care schedule with other family members and in-home professionals.
Families that do choose assisted living could find that they will have more options available to them. The combination of Covid-19 and social justice movements has revealed that there is a strong need for more senior care in communities of all shapes and sizes across the country. To balance that need with safety concerns, providers could introduce a larger number of smaller facilities with fewer beds. New and extant facilities alike will need to invest in upgrades to things like air flow and air purification, as well as develop new best practices for training caregiving staff, cleaning, and allowing for safe visitation.
3. Keeping seniors connected.
While limiting the potential spread of Covid-19 in residential facilities will continue to be the top priority, many long-term care providers are also placing a renewed emphasis on the social benefits of their communities. Obviously, providers are aware that many nervous families are inclined to keep seniors at home during the pandemic, so there's a bit of business calculation at play here.
But the absolute best of the best facilities also understand that isolation and loneliness are dangerous to seniors as well. Their infrastructure upgrades will move beyond safety to include things like better internet access and staff who help seniors learn to use video conferencing to keep in touch with friends and family. Facilities will also use a mix of online content and socially distant instruction to provide a wider variety of educational classes and entertainment to their residents. And although there might have to be capacity limits in dining rooms and other common areas, seniors will still be able to interact with other residents. Those friendly face-to-face interactions are so important, especially to folks who only get to see their loved ones on Zoom.
Need to make a change?
The pandemic and the presidential election have been so all-consuming that some folks might not realize we're heading into Medicare and Medicaid's open enrollment period. It's always a good idea to do an annual review of your health care options at this time. But if you or a loved one you're caring for have new health care needs, you have from November 1 until December 15th to make a change. If long-term care is on the table this year, it's especially important that you understand what Medicare and Medicaid do and don't cover. Call up my team at Keen Wealth and we can help you keep your family's health care needs and financial planning in sync.
Bill Keen is a CHARTERED RETIREMENT PLANNING COUNSELOR℠ and independent financial advisor with more than 25 years of industry experience. As the founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors, a registered investment advisory firm, he specializes in providing personalized retirement planning designed to help people thrive before and during their retirement years. With a passion for educating others, Bill regularly blogs about retirement planning, hosts the podcast Keen on Retirement, and has contributed to U.S. News and World Report, Reuters, Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Yahoo Finance, and other publications. Based in Overland Park, Kansas, Bill and his team work with clients throughout the greater Kansas City area and across the nation. To learn more, connect with him on LinkedIn or visit www.keenwealthadvisors.com.
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