Facing the Future: The Importance of Having a Senior Care Plan

Learn why it’s crucial to discuss care with your parent sooner rather than later.

June 25, 2024

5 min read

Magenta quote from an Atria Regional Vice President on pink background that says "Aging is a part of life, so it's better to address it than avoid it."

Jason Shott knows the importance of crafting a care plan for aging family members – and the challenges that accompany the process.

As Regional Vice President of Atria Senior Living, he helps families navigate the tough conversations and difficult decisions that arise when planning for future care. He currently sits on the board of the Alzheimer’s Association® Connecticut Chapter, where he helps raise awareness for families dealing with dementia. And his personal experiences with his own parents have given him firsthand insight into the importance of creating a comprehensive care plan as early as possible.

Here are his thoughts on what to look for in assisted living, how to talk to family members about the future and how making a care plan benefits older adults – and their families.

Why is long-term care planning important?

Shott: Having a long-term care plan can make all the difference in a person’s health and quality of life. At some point, you might have to make some difficult decisions about things like assisted living or memory care, and the more you’ve worked out a game plan beforehand, the better informed your decisions will be. Some people don’t understand how moving to an assisted living community can really benefit them. It can be a great, highly engaging new chapter.

What you really don’t want is to have to make decisions in an emergency situation, where you don’t have the time to talk things through with your family members and figure out your best options. More planning generally leads to better outcomes.

Can you say a little more about how a good plan – or the lack of one – can impact future care?

Shott: My experiences with my own parents taught me what a difference having a plan can make, because we ended up having two very different outcomes.

As a family, we didn’t really communicate about health care or what to do when we age. Then my mom got older and her health deteriorated, but she didn’t want to talk about the possibility of assisted living and fought against the idea tooth and nail. She didn’t really have a clear concept of what assisted living was. Her mindset was that it was a place where people are sick or infirm, and my father and I didn’t really know how to have the conversation with her.

Eventually she mismanaged her medication and suffered a stroke, and suddenly we had to make decisions quickly. We didn’t have time for conversations or to research all our options. And, unfortunately, she picked up an infection in the hospital and passed away.

Did that experience change how you and your father approached planning for his future care?

Shott: It did. After the experience we had with my mom, my dad was more open to talking about future care options. He decided to move to an assisted living community, and it changed his life. My daughter and I would go visit, and he was more engaged than he’d been in years. He went to happy hour every day and socialized. He started going to church services again. It was really special to see him rejuvenated like that after years of not living his life to its fullest. He ended up living in assisted living for seven years, and it was such a beautiful experience for him.

One of the things that he said to me was that if he had known what assisted living could be like, he would have tried to convince my mom to make the move years ago. And it broke my heart because my mom could have had an incredible next stage of her life. If we’d known the importance of long-term care planning, it would have been a game changer for all of us. It was for my dad. I wish it was for my mom.

When should families start having a conversation about making a care plan?

Shott: It’s never too soon to start those conversations. I’m in my late 40s and, with all of the knowledge and expertise I have now, I’m already talking with my wife, my kids and my sibling about what I want my quality of life to look like as I age. As we get older, these conversations can be uncomfortable. A lot of people have a fear of facing their own mortality. But aging is a part of life, so it’s better to address it than avoid it.

For older adults, their quality of life can really be improved if they have a strong game plan regarding what they want to do as they get older. And those conversations should start immediately for everyone because we all have family members who are aging. You want to navigate these discussions carefully and sensitively. You never want someone to feel pressured to make a decision they don’t want to make. But these conversations are essential to making a plan, and the sooner you have a plan, the easier things will be going forward.

What should people look for in a senior living community?

Shott: I would start by looking at the quality of their care offerings. You want to know that if there’s a change in your health or you begin to slow down a little bit, the place has a quality care program that can adjust to your needs. This is also where something like memory care would enter the conversation. What health changes do you anticipate and what kind of community best suits your needs?

You also want an environment where your family member will be happy and comfortable. So look for a place that offers events and activities they’ll enjoy, a welcoming atmosphere, a quality culinary program, trained staff members that genuinely care about the job they’re doing – all those things are important.

Then you can look at the community’s reputation, whether it’s Google reviews or asking senior advisers their opinion of these places. What’s their reputation? Is there brand recognition? Is it a place that people stand behind?

Overall, you want a community that makes their residents the top priority. You want to make sure that you choose a reputable community that emphasizes and focuses on quality in all aspects of life for its residents. This can really make all the difference in your family member’s experience moving to assisted living.

Illustration of three men gardening, one with a wheelbarrel of supplies, one water flowers and one planting flowers

Not sure where to start?

There’s a lot to learn when you become a caregiver, and you may be wondering where to start. Fortunately, many of the experiences you’ll encounter are common, and we've pulled together resources to help you along your journey.

Top Articles