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Expert Tips for Finding Senior Living with a Mental Health Condition
Jan 13, 2021
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When he was in his late 80s, Candy Cohn's father unintentionally stopped taking medication for a long-standing bipolar disorder and experienced a significant mental health crisis requiring hospitalization and intensive treatment. It was following this episode that Candy knew that she needed to help her older parents find a senior living community that would provide more continuity and medication management and offer opportunities for a better quality of life than they were getting at home. But, where to start?
I have witnessed many older adults living with significant mental health conditions, like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, at times struggle to find senior living communities.
There are some mental health conditions that are expected in assisted living environments, like depression and anxiety, which often occur with dementia and medical conditions. In fact, one in three residents takes a medication for a mental health condition. But when it comes to what we call serious mental illness (SMI), which includes bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other psychotic disorders, among other conditions, assisted living communities are less prepared to meet their needs.
With 8.6 million people age 65+ living with SMI and the older adult population on the rise, it's important for families helping their older loved ones and senior living communities consider the unique needs of folks living with SMI, including helping people living with SMI to find senior living communities that can meet their needs.
In today's episode, I interview, Candy Cohn, a Certified Senior Advisor, who help families find senior living and has developed a specialty for helping people living with mental health concerns find senior housing, starting with her own dad.
Here's a peak inside my interview with Candy Cohn:
[04:46] Candy describes different types of senior living communities, from independent living to assisted living to memory care.
[20:48] Learn why it can be helpful to work with a Senor Living Advisor when looking for housing options for your older loved ones.
[25:10] Candy shares her personal experience of looking for senior living communities following her dad's hospitalization in his late 80's due to a mental health crisis.
[32:20] Taking medication consistently helps many people with mental health conditions maintain emotional stability and improve their quality of life. Learn more about medication management in senior living here.
[38:21] There are some barriers for folks with mental health conditions moving into senior living communities. One of them being stigma. Candy and I share personal stories of mental health stigma.
[51:38] After helping many older adults with mental health conditions move into senior living communities, Candy shares recommendations for families who are living with mental health conditions who are looking for senior living community
[55:56] Serving as a liaison between families with mental health conditions and senior living communities, Candy also offers recommendations for senior living communities to including folks with mental health concerns.
Candy Cohn is a Certified Senior Advisor® and owner of Oasis Senior Advisors South Florida. Oasis provides a free service to help people find senior living in Broward and Palm Beach County including independent, assisted and memory care communities. She is very active in the senior care industry and can be a great resource to people needing any services or who have concerns about a senior.
Her background in healthcare marketing includes community relations at Martin Memorial Hospital in Stuart, FL; writing for “Psychotherapy Finances” newsletter; Marketing Director for Flexsite Diagnostics; and community relations at the Visiting Nurse Association of Florida. After helping her own parents move to a senior living community in 2011, Candy realized the complexity and emotional challenges involved in this transition and has since dedicated herself to serving others who needed to make these life changes.
Candy is very active in the community, including being a member of the Rotary Club of Downtown Boca Raton, the Palm Beach County Partnership for Aging (PFA), the Skilled Nursing & Assisted Living Alliance (SNALA) and participating regularly in the Palm Beach County Guardianship Association and Florida Assisted Living Association (FALA). Candy also serves as past president of Broward County Elder Services Resource Network (ESRN) and has served for several years on the planning committee for the Boca Raton Walk to End Alzheimer’s.
Navigating the waters of senior living can be a bit overwhelming and confusing. Since there are a wide variety of senior housing options available, it’s helpful to learn about the differences before you start looking. Here’s a primer to get you started.
Independent Living Community (IL) – A multi-unit apartment community usually available as a rental. Most IL offer social and recreational opportunities, including two meals a day. Some offer services such as housekeeping, transportation and home health care services.
Assisted Living Community (AL) – They provide a special combination of housing, personalized supportive services and health care to meet the needs of those who don’t require full time skilled nursing care but might need help with activities of daily living (ADLs). They offer apartments ranging in size which may include studios, one- or two-bedrooms, social and recreational opportunities, three meals a day, housekeeping, laundry and transportation.
Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) – Rehab or Short Term Care: State licensed facility that provides 24-hour skilled patient care due to hospitalization, complex physical or complex cognitive conditions and assistance with multiple ADLs. Patient must be admitted and followed by a physician. Maximum length of stay is 100 days – first 20 days are paid for by Medicare; days 21-100 require a co-payment.
Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) – Residential Long Term Care/Nursing Home: Medicare generally doesn't cover long-term, custodial care stays in a nursing home. Nursing home care can be expensive, and there are several ways to pay for it. Most people who enter nursing homes begin by paying for their care out-of-pocket. As you use your resources (like bank accounts and stocks) over a period of time, you may eventually become eligible for Medicaid.
Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC)- A community that offers apartments with several levels of assistance, including IL, AL, and SNF home care so residents have the ability to “age in place.” CCRC usually provides a written agreement or long-term contract between the resident and the community and requires a large buy-in fee.
Residential Care Home Assisted Living – A licensed Assisted Living Residence providing a watchful environment and personal services to adults who require varying degrees of supervision and protective care. The homes are smaller with 2-8 residents, usually offering a shared or private bedroom, shared bathrooms, and lower patient to caregiver ratio. The high quality ones provide home cooked meals with residents usually eating around a dining room table in a homey atmosphere. These are especially good for individuals needing a lot of care, and not able to socialize much any more. It’s important to work with a Senior Placement Advisor who is a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA) to find the high quality residential care homes.
Memory Care (MC) – MC offers specialized programs for residents suffering from memory loss. Programs and activities are planned with dementia care in mind. Overall room sizes are smaller because they don’t spend much time in their individual rooms. For resident’s safety, all MC facilities are secured with fences and alarms.
Remember, no family has to go through a senior living transition alone. Senior industry experts can help to guide you in the right direction, take you on tours of communities, answer your questions and be your advocate. Senior Living Advisors provide a free service, so don’t be afraid to ask for help! (Thanks to Candy Cohn, CSA for sharing this helpful resource.)
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I'm a Board Certified Clinical Psychologist and Gerontologist specializing with older adults and families! As founder and CEO of Gero Champions, LLC and the Psychology of Aging Podcast, my mission is to help mental health and senior care providers meet the mental health and sexual health needs of older adults using up to date, evidence-based, and culturally thoughtful care.
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Older adults have mental health needs just like everyone else. But here’s the thing: Older adults are often left out of the conversation when it comes to mental health and wellness. Together we can change this.
I created the Psychology of Aging Podcast to have conversations about mental health and wellness that include older adults. We talk about common mental health concerns as we age, resources to help older adults live their best lives, and we have fun doing it.