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New Study Shows Dangers of Not Planning Ahead for Senior Care

The majority of seniors only start looking for senior care in a crisis. Seniorly data shows the longer you wait, the more likely someone else will be calling the shots.

By Seniorly Editor Updated on Jul 10, 2023

We all aspire to grow to a ripe old age, but we don’t always plan for it. 

Most Americans under-save for retirement and many Americans don’t have insurance policies that protect them financially against old age or death. And although 69% of Americans will need long-term care at some point, we’ve discovered that 78% of our users need to find care within six months. 38% need it as soon as possible.

The likelihood that you will need help with mundane tasks like bathing, dressing, and other activities of daily living at some point as you age, is high. Yet most people fail to plan for this major life change, waiting instead until an emergency prompts their move into a senior community. For these seniors (who are usually also facing a health crisis of some kind) the ability to tour communities, ask questions, and make the final decision is often out of reach. As the data in this analysis shows, if you want to plan for where you’re going to live in the future, you need to do it for yourself and before an emergency arises. Otherwise, the choice of community and other logistics may fall to your children or other caretakers.

“Most people procrastinate until a situation progresses to the point where they can no longer handle it on their own,” says Grace Matelich, a Seniorly Gerontologist. “If you don't make a decision for yourself, someone else will make it for you. Deep down, all people desire autonomy, but not all are willing or able to act in ways that keep them in the driver's seat of their own life.”

We plan for other major life events: college, buying a home, marriage, and children. But our numbers show that we aren’t planning for senior living, even though we’ll almost certainly need it. Senior care and where you’ll receive it is a choice that you should make (or at least narrow down to some strong contenders) while you are still able to do so.

Who’s searching for senior care and what’s their timeline?

We looked at more than 15,000 users that signed up for Seniorly in the first half of 2021. These users were shopping for all ranges of senior care from independent living to skilled nursing to memory care facilities. However, we know that most of our seniors/families are searching for assisted living, the most commonly needed type of senior living. Users were typically the potential resident in need of senior living, a spouse or child of the senior, or some other person (a hospital administrator, for example).

The chart below shows the breakdown of searchers, segmented by the desired move-in timeline of the senior.

Only 21.3% of Seniorly users are in the planning and researching phase of finding a senior residential community while the balance, 78.7%, are searching for a move-in timeline of less than six months. The most common timeline was “ASAP.” It is alarming that so many searchers need to make a big decision in a very short and likely harried amount of time.

Who is usually searching for a senior living community? Is it the senior themself, or someone searching on their behalf? The chart below shows the breakdown of Seniorly searchers by identity:

Only 28.5% of people shopping for senior living on Seniorly are researching on their own behalf. The vast majority of users (71.5%) are shopping for someone else. For those thinking about a well-planned retirement, it may be alarming to learn that someone else is likely going to be planning where you live. Most likely, this burden will fall on your children.

Are others more likely to be carefully planning your senior living arrangements, or are they making these decisions under an expedited timeline? The chart below shows the percentage of shoppers looking to move “ASAP.”

If someone else is doing the shopping for your senior living community, there’s a good chance they’ll be looking to move you ASAP. Often, seniors who need an immediate placement in, for example, an assisted living community, have recently experienced a life-changing event. They might be recovering from a heart attack, and need more care than they can easily receive at home, or perhaps their mobility has suddenly taken a downturn and a home with stairs is no longer viable. There are many physical and even cognitive issues that might necessitate a sudden move to senior living, and these issues are often also the reason why seniors may not be able to handle that transition themselves.

If a child, spouse, or caretaker is the one searching for senior living, there’s almost a 50% chance that the moving timeline is immediate. On the other hand, if you’re searching for your own care, there’s less than a 25% chance you’ll find yourself in the position of having to rush to move-in ASAP. This may seem obvious: of course those who need immediate care will also need help finding it. However, we've found over the years that seniors are often happiest when they make these choices themselves, or alongside family members, before life-changing events take the decision out of their hands. As Grace puts it,

“Autonomy is actually a crucial piece of the longevity/aging process, and most older adults age better both mentally and physically when they can retain self-determination in as many areas of life as possible. Many of the adults starting to enter the Age Wave are more individualistic than previous generations and care even more about their autonomy.”

If you want to maintain your autonomy even as you think about moving into long-term care (something most people will need at some point in their life) you need to plan ahead for yourself — and your spouse. The chart below shows which segment of shoppers are in the more deliberate planning phase of choosing senior care:

If you want to plan your senior residential living arrangements, you actually have to start planning it before you need to move. When adult children or others are in charge of the search for senior living they are much more likely to be looking on behalf of seniors who need to move as soon as possible, versus researching care before it is needed. 

So at what age should you start looking for senior living arrangements? The following chart shows the age range of our searchers or the seniors they’re looking for:

Most commonly, people begin looking for senior living communities when the potential resident is in their 80s. When taken together, 65.6% of potential residents on Seniorly are in their 80s, 90s or older. By the time a resident is older than 80 years old, it’s not hard to understand why so many of these moving decisions need to be made with haste, and by someone else. 

The final chart hits this point home — the older the resident, the more likely they will need to find a facility ASAP.

Around 25% of potential residents at or below 80 years old need to move ASAP. The percentage of residents that need to move ASAP jumps up to 31.7% when they’re in their 80s and then to 34.1% in their 90s. If you don't want to be rushing to choose a senior residential facility in response to a medical event or some unexpected life change, you need to start planning for yourself when you’re younger and have time to decide. 

Plan ahead, before a crisis forces your hand

It’s true that you might never need the kind of care assisted living or skilled nursing facilities provide, but statistics show that you probably will. Think of how much more comfortable you’ll be knowing that, if you ever do need it, you did the research yourself (or with a family member) while you were still able to tour communities yourself and talk to both staff and residents.

As this analysis makes clear, most people end up having to find senior living accommodations under extreme time constraints, likely during an already stressful health crisis. The older you are, the more likely you are to have to move quickly, and the more likely someone else will be scrambling to find accommodations for you, probably during what is already an emotionally stressful time. Lighten the load on yourself and loved ones by having a choice in mind (and written down somewhere they’ll know to look for it).

Think about senior care in your 60s: What assisted living and skilled nursing facilities are near you? Or near the area you’d like to retire in? What are their reputations? Plan for a move to senior care at some point in your 70s. There are many types of senior living, some that will allow you to age in place and others that will provide specific types of daily care. Tour locations, ask questions, and consider working with an advisor if you’re finding the process of evaluating communities difficult. Know your top three picks, whether you can afford them, and if they’ll have availability when you’re ready to make the move. Then make sure your loved ones know this information, too.

The best way to plan ahead for one’s senior residence — a place where you’ll feel at home and well-cared for, in a community you care about — is to plan and research for yourself, well in advance of when you need to move. 

Start your search for senior care in your area today
written by:

Seniorly Editor

Content Contributor at Seniorly

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