What to Do When Only One Parent Needs a Nursing Home

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A special thanks to Annabelle Harris of Elders Center | Your Guide to Old Age for sharing this great article with us for our caregiver readers.  Annabelle is paying it forward helping soon-to-be-seniors and already-seniors move gracefully into their golden years with less fear and more confidence. The site features a plethora of resources to help answer common and not-so-common questions about aging.

The decision to move a parent into a nursing home isn’t an easy one, and it’s only made more difficult when just one parent needs nursing home care. Separation is difficult for elderly couples and living separately adds complexity to financial decisions. From Senior Technology Solutions of Colorado, here’s what to consider as you navigate elderly parents with different care needs.

Paying for LTC with a Community Spouse

Medicaid and proceeds from a home sale are two common ways of paying for long-term care, but both are complicated when one spouse remains in the community. In most states, a couple must spend down 50% of their shared assets before a sick spouse can qualify for Medicaid. Only 14 states allow the community spouse to retain 100% of their assets up to the state’s maximum limit.

Because primary residences are exempt from the Medicaid resource allowance, it’s important not to sell a home before Medicaid eligibility is determined. After Medicaid eligibility has been approved, the community spouse can transfer the home into his or her name and retain the sale proceeds. However, those proceeds won’t be protected if the community spouse later needs nursing home care.

What if your healthy parent wants to move?

If your healthy parent wants to downsize after their spouse moves to a nursing home, consider renting their home instead of selling. Community spouses are allowed to keep their own income which means rental income won’t be subject to Medicaid.

Research rents for comparable homes to assess your rental prospects and estimate rental profits. In many places, rents are high enough to cover the mortgage and generate reliable income for property owners. Be sure to factor in property management fees if you don’t plan to oversee the property yourself. Being a landlord requires a lot of hands-on work and many people find professional property managers well worth the cost.

Choosing an LTC community

There’s a lot to consider when choosing a nursing home. Look for a location that facilitates visits for your healthy parent and pay attention to visitation policies when reviewing nursing home contracts. You’ll feel better about the transition when you visit nursing homes in person to assess the living conditions, the interaction between staff and residents, and the quality of meals and amenities. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the staff-to-resident ratio, turnover rates, and other questions that could reveal a red flag.

What if your parents don’t want to live separately?

Keeping elderly parents together isn’t always feasible, especially when one spouse has complex medical needs. However, couples may be able to stay close by with a continuum of care community. Also known as continuing care retirement communities or life plan communities, these are senior living residences that offer multiple care levels on a shared campus. Spouses can live in the same community while receiving different services and upgrade care as needs change. However, this comes at a cost — in addition to monthly fees, many CCRCs charge entry fees that range from $40,000 to seven figures.

Moving to a nursing home represents a big shift in an elderly couple’s relationship. Loneliness and isolation are common and the community spouse may struggle to transition from their role as the primary caregiver. Visit your nursing home parent frequently and encourage your healthy parent to find new pastimes and rekindle relationships with friends and family that lapsed while caring for a sick spouse.

Adult children can use products from Senior Technology Solutions of Colorado to remotely care for and engage with parents living alone and even get alerts if something seems amiss. Tools like GrandCare and LifeFone give family caregivers and adult children peace of mind with 24/7 remote caregiving tools and a mobile-friendly online portal that’s a direct line to your parent’s home.

Despite the challenges, moving one parent to a nursing home is often the best decision. Caring for an elderly spouse is taxing and many family caregivers sacrifice their own self-care to meet a loved one’s needs. By making the difficult decision to move a parent to a nursing home, adult children ensure sick parents get the care they need while improving the quality of life for their elderly parents at home.

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