Caring for an aging loved one can be a daunting task. And when that task becomes too difficult for family members, they often turn to a health-care provider. But how can a family determine the best type of long-term care for their relative?

Families in need of long-term health care assistance are not alone. More than 70 percent of Americans ages 65 and older will require long-term care at some point in their lives, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. To answer this growing need, Constance Moore, a client care advocate at Commerce Trust Company, serves as a gerontologist and counselor to formulate long-term care plans for clients. “We aim to relieve each family’s stress and allow them to be the family members—not the caregivers.”

The common forms of long-term care choices families have today are in-home care, assisted living and skilled nursing. And Moore says the first step is to identify the appropriate level of care among these options. “Go to your medical professional, so he or she can guide you; and see your financial adviser, who can help you with a plan years in advance.”

Angie Keeven, director of resident well-being and social services at Parc Provence, says the proper level of care can be found by identifying how much assistance the person needs. “Do they need help with bathing, dressing and grooming? What are their physical needs—do they need assistance walking or transferring in and out of a chair? Can they manage their own medications, taking the right dosage at the right time? Are they able to shop for food, prepare it and store it safely? Do they also need help with laundry, transportation and their finances?” She adds that it is important to know whether they have been diagnosed with a progressive disease, such as Alzheimer’s, which will require an increasing level of assistance. Moore agrees that families need to look at their loved one’s needs now and in the future. “Choose a place that can accommodate your relative as much as possible to avoid a move later.”

To determine the best fit for your loved one, local health care experts also recommend extensive interviews with in-home caregivers and staff at assisted living and skilled nursing facilities. For home health care, Moore advises finding out who owns the company, its number of employees and their training, if it is bonded and insured, and the cost charged per hour. She also recommends requesting three references, and consulting friends who have worked with the company. Michael Gianino, VP of operations at Homewatch Caregivers, says in-home caregivers should have at least two years of experience, a clean background check, as well as patience and a passion for the work. “If the medical needs of an elderly person are not extreme, in-home care is certainly a smart choice. Our clients have shown that individual attention improves quality of life and even lengthens lifespan,” he explains. “And in-home caregivers can be more affordable and provide more individual attention than assisted and skilled living facilities.” Assisted living may be more expensive because of staffing, while skilled nursing can cost even more due to a nursing staff that is present around the clock, Keeven says.

In further evaluating assisted living and skilled nursing facilities, local health care experts say visiting the campus is a must. “Take a tour of the community,” Keeven says. “Does the food look healthy and appetizing? How do staff members interact with the residents? Do the residents look happy and engaged in meaningful activities?” She also notes the importance of determining how the community will honor the unique personality and interests of your relative to ensure he or she will have a quality experience at the facility. And be sure to inquire about the community’s staff-to-resident ratios, training and turnover rates, she adds.

Whatever your loved one’s needs, it’s paramount to plan ahead—before the need is there, Keeven notes. “Trying to make these decisions in a last-minute crisis doesn’t allow you to shop around for the best care.” Moore says a good time to begin preparing for long-term care is when you start planning for retirement. “By doing your homework, you will be empowered by your plan. Remember: You and your family are the boss.”

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