By Angela Franz, Valley VNA Senior Care Administrator of Independent & Assisted Living

I recently read an article about how the role of physical therapy has changed in recent years and physical therapists are on a mission to help referring providers understand the “wait-and-see” approach is old-school thinking. They report that a patient who falls or pulls a muscle or tendon should be seen by a therapist within days, not weeks. There is so much that can be accomplished by getting help early, avoiding a crisis, and teaching people valuable skills for healthy movement.

I was struck by the similarities in my work as an administrator in long-term care for older adults. The old-school “wait-and-see” approach to aging often morphs into watching a person’s decline without a plan to help, and that’s a sad situation for everyone. If you aren’t sure how to get started planning for life in older age for yourself or a loved one, consider these ideas:

Research. If you are an older adult, or you love someone who is, get familiar with the senior living communities in your area or the older person’s community, if that is where they want to stay. Visit web sites, talk with friends and community members, and subscribe to social media channels. Arrange for a tour, attend a public event at the places that interest you, or become a volunteer so you can experience their organizational culture.

Plan like it’s a big deal. After all, we save for college, plan elaborate weddings, and decorate our babies’ nurseries before they are even born. You or your loved one deserves an equally attentive plan for choosing a new home when he or she is older.

Do the hard things. Older adults who have decades of memories in their homes and neighborhoods will rightfully go through a grieving process when they move. But just because it’s hard does not mean it’s wrong. Through your communication and planning, you will have arrived at the right time to move, before a rush or a crisis happens. High-quality senior living communities also employ compassionate people who understand this grief process and help older adults navigate their feelings.

Let the sun shine in. Although grief is natural, so are happy surprises. I often hear a new resident greet an old acquaintance at Valley VNA with, “I haven’t seen you in years! How are things?” and then they settle in for a good talk. Isolation is real. Quality long-term care for older adults is an antidote to loneliness and lack of engagement and can even slow the decline of aging. A whole new world opens up for people who need people—and we all do.

I encourage you to have good talks and make calm and thoughtful plans about long-term care. When the day comes to move, you can say something like, “We talked about this. Remember the gardens in the courtyard? And our friend from church really likes it there. I’m so proud of you— and I’m so proud of us.”