Here in Traverse City, Kim Bauml and her team of angels find the ideal solution for caring for an aging family member through Options for Senior Care Living, a free referral service providing senior housing information.

Kim Bauml knows firsthand what it’s like caring for a loved one at home when it’s no longer safe to do so. Her late husband’s cancer had gone to his brain. When he put toothpaste on his razor to brush his teeth, Kim knew right then and there it was time for help. She recognized the signs, as she had spent her career working in the senior care industry before leaving to stay home with her husband. Witnessing it herself gave her a “crystal-clear understanding about what this process is like for people.”

Now, it has been 10 years since Kim’s husband has passed, and she has spent her time continuing to support families at this stage in their lives through her Traverse City LLC, Options for Senior Care Living, whether it’s due to illness or aging.

“Seventy percent of the time we’re contacted by a family member rather than the actual resident themselves—adult children who are just starting to search. Sometimes it’s because they’re ready, others because they’re reluctant. Quite a few calls are from folks who never expected to be in the situation they’re in. Maybe they’ve fallen. Or are in rehab and haven’t made the progress they’d hoped to,” Kim explains.

“When there’s a role reversal it’s uncomfortable for the adult children and the parent. What we try to do is support them, because there’s guilt,” she continues. “You used to live with your kids in the past, but our lifestyles don’t support that any longer. What seniors often tell me is they don’t want to be a burden or dependent on their kids. They want to be with people their own age who have had similar experiences. Lost spouses. Physical abilities. They usually do really well in a community.”

So helping them find the right community is exactly what Kim and her team do. They spare the logistical nightmares and emotional expense for families, as their services are free-of-charge and supportive every step of the way.

Senior Care Options

Kim recommends considering your options early. How? Here are her tips:

Have family and friends involved. Don’t feel like you need to do it alone. It’s important to have people around to support you. If not family, look to friends and organizations that support seniors.

Start having the conversation before you need to have the conversation. Use language such as: “What are your wishes? What if? I hope that this never happens, but if it does, how would you like us to handle things? Would you like to know what your options are in advance?” People are intimidated by these conversations. So the earlier you can do it, the better. Then give them space. Maybe it includes having a conversation with the doctor. The less kids have to be involved in telling parents what to do the better. We don’t want them to be the bad guy.

Start early and see what’s out there. When people know what’s out there (the costs, the activities and the amenities they offer) people really get excited about it! Some people have an idea from visiting friends over the years, but what we want to erase from their minds is the image of their parents at an old nursing home. That’s their fear. Adult children say to me often, “I made a promise a long time ago that I wouldn’t put them in a home.” So we recommend not to make that promise, because you don’t know what situation you may be in.

People plan for retirement, and that normally includes living at home. But what if it doesn’t? The sooner they start to think of their heath and designating someone to make decisions for them when they’re not able to, the better. If you haven’t decided on power of attorney (both medical and financial), it puts a tremendous strain on everyone. It makes it more difficult to navigate the healthcare system and senior care. There are elder care attorneys available to guide people. The more planning you can do, the better.

Is there any financial assistance? Find out what’s available to you in the future. Do you have access to long-term care insurance, Medicare waiver or veteran’s assistance? (The Aid in Attendance Program assists veterans with activities of daily living: toileting, dressing, etc; there’s a substantial amount available for veterans in assisted living. Right now up to $1,800 a month is available if they qualify. A surviving spouse is eligible for up to $1,200.)

Think about your things. When you’re sitting in a hospital bed, it’s not the time to think about, “Do I want my pink chair or my green chair?” There are agencies to help move and narrow down your belongings.

Get on a waitlist early. Most places have at least a six-month wait. There’s a small fee to put your name on a waiting list with no obligation. You can get called for three years and just say “yes” when you’re ready. Have that peace of mind that your name is on the list. There are new communities coming to the area that will alleviate the waitlist pressure, too.

Try it out! After your first visit, go and look a little closer. Go back for lunch and dinner. Try the food. Get to know the people who live there, who will be taking care of you. There are short-term options to try: respite winter stays from November to April; short-term stays during rehab. Or there are families with people living at home who want to go on vacation, and make pre-arranged stays to take care of their loved one when they’re gone.