The holiday season is a busy and even chaotic time for families, and the unfortunate reality is that many seniors are lost in the shuffle. In November, A Place for Mom published an article with staggering facts about senior isolation, one of the many issues that face older adults and a concern that worsens as the holidays approach.
As families come together this month, they’re more likely to become aware of the signs and symptoms of isolation and loneliness, and notice an increased need for care of their loved one. As early as Thanksgiving many families recognize a physical, behavioral, or cognitive decline in their loved ones for the first time; and it can often be an alarming wake up call.
Sheri Simpson, a Senior Living Advisor in Arizona, says that over the holidays families notice “physical changes, behavioral changes, and cognitive changes” in their senior loved ones as well as “isolation and changes in the way they used to live.”
At A Place for Mom our Health Care Account Executives (HCAEs) and Senior Living Advisors (SLAs) are at the frontlines to assist families with their first steps when these changes have been identified. The HCAEs in particular are in hospitals, meeting with families and connecting those who are urgent and cannot return home to Senior Living Advisors who then connect the family with local communities. Our entire team is ready throughout the season to guide families through selecting the right community that will provide the care, engagement and sense of community that their loved one needs to thrive.
What Families are Telling Us
For families living nearby, the holidays are an important opportunity for family caregivers to discuss concerns with their extended family. For family members who live further away or who aren’t able to visit, the holidays become an important check-in to see with their own eyes how their loved one is doing. Often, families recognize symptoms that weren’t easily identifiable over the phone or through a video chat.
According to Simpson, these changes include families discovering cases of hoarding, expired food, seeing unused medications pile up, and general uncleanliness with clothes and hygiene. Falls around the home are also common, as well as instances of confusion where family members looking for the bathroom may lock themselves in other rooms accidentally. Simpson says that changes in activities of daily living are another huge sign to families that more support is needed.
The holidays may be the only time families have to tour communities with their loved one, or help them with this important transition; this is especially true for those family members who live far away.
The Time is Now
The majority of calls that A Place for Mom receives are from families in crisis mode; they have a family member being discharged and aren’t aware of their options, or they’ve noticed a lot of changes with their loved one, but their loved one is hesitant to move. These families are looking for guidance to identify the next steps of their journey and education about their options.
In all of these cases, time is of the essence. “Families are seeing the warning signs and we want to get their senior loved one in a community safely before an accident happens,” Simpson explains. “I always create the urgency with the families so that they want to see the communities and then I create the urgency with the communities so that they see that this is a great fit and a wonderful resident who will thrive at the community, and how wonderful is that for the family?”
At A Place for Mom, we’re committed to working alongside communities to help families address concerns with senior loved ones as soon as possible, and ideally before a crisis happens. “It takes a village; we have to do it together. It’s not just a referral and then it’s done,” Simpson notes. “It’s a partnership. We want to be as effective with everybody’s time as possible.”
Tips to Work Efficiently with A Place for Mom Over the Holidays
Here’s how communities can work together with A Place for Mom to engage families and provide the support they need over the holidays:
- Time is of the essence! Communities that respond to families within the first 30 minutes increase conversion rates by 10%.
- Lean on your team. Collaborate with our SLAs and HCAEs regarding the family’s background, needs and concerns prior to reaching out.
- Change perceptions. Help shift the stigma of the traditional nursing home by showing families how engaging your community is. Invite families to join you for a meal or event at your community – this is especially helpful when a senior loved one is feeling resistance or hesitant to the idea of a move.
- Be creative. Invite families to fun events, especially over the holidays so that you can showcase the purposeful programming that your Activities Director has put together. Communities that host live entertainment, events, gatherings, specialized programs and wonderful meals create a no-pressure environment for families. These events are a great way to introduce families to your community before a crisis takes place.
- Spread the news. Share your holiday events with families in your monthly newsletter or welcome letter.
- Keep the momentum going. Continue the sense of urgency that A Place for Mom has created with the family and encourage families to join a wait list, even if they’re not ready to move-in immediately. This strategy will help families keep their options open so that they’re able to choose the community that’s right for their loved one, rather than the only community with a spot during their time of crisis.
- Go above and beyond. Long distance families need more support! According to a MetLife/National Alliance for Caregiving report, 15% of family caregivers live one or more hours away from their senior loved one and one-fourth of these long-distance caregivers are the primary or only caregiver.
- Help them make arrangements ahead of their visit, including recommending nearby hotels or providing an available room at your community so they can experience your quality of care for themselves.
- Families who are not able to see the community for themselves need reassurance of the quality of care their loved one will receive. Take the time to tell and show them what the living situation will be like, help them to make arrangements to move their senior loved one, and then show them how their senior loved one is adjusting to the transition.
- Reinforce quality care for everyone. Remember to accommodate the family as a whole. From picking a family member up from the airport to offering multiple tours with different family members, each family has unique needs. Think outside of the box and go out of your way to anticipate the family’s needs.
- Demonstrate your unique benefits. Above all, show families what makes your community different and how their family member will thrive there.
- Continue the dialogue. Remember to follow up with your SLA and HCAE after each touch-point with the family, including when you’ve communicated with family members, after a tour, and when the senior loved one is scheduled to move in.
Creating a Holistic Support System
Throughout the holidays our HCAEs are working within hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and rehabilitation centers to connect with families that are in crisis mode. Our SLAs are available and answering phone calls to gather information, understand each family’s unique situation, and then share this information with communities.
We’re working with communities and families to help seniors find the best option – not just the first available. Together, A Place for Mom and senior living communities can show families that their loved ones will be safe, involved and happy throughout the holidays and beyond.