SuperMoney Interviews: Amie Clark About Affordable Senior Care

Amie Clark, co-founder and frequent contributor to TheSeniorList.com, has had the privilege of working with seniors throughout her social work career in the areas of senior housing and care coordination. We recently checked in with Amie to hear her thoughts on the costs of elder care and how to find the ideal senior care facility without paying too much money.

What is The Senior List, and how does it help senior citizens?

The Senior List is an informational website covering topics that relate to seniors and boomers. The topics we cover range from caregiving and Alzheimer’s/dementia to senior housing, financial and legal issues, and much more. In addition, we provide in-depth hands-on reviews of products like medical alert and home security systems. Last, but certainly not least, we publish a yearly list of senior discounts.

Tell us about some senior discounts that are available but aren’t widely known about.

For travel, one of the best discounts out there is the Senior Pass for National Parks. The Senior Pass is a $10 lifetime pass for seniors aged 62 and over that provides access to more than 2,000 recreation sites managed by five Federal agencies. Also, Amtrak offers a 15 percent discount on the lowest rail fare nationally and a 10 percent discount on cross-border services into Canada for those 60+. For restaurants, most senior discounts aren’t advertised and can vary from location to location, but the key here is to ask!

Are there any hidden costs that seniors should be aware of when it comes to health care and senior housing arrangements?

One hidden cost that may be a surprise to families is the move-in fee in senior housing. Many senior housing communities have a move-in or administrative fee (not a deposit) that is charged on top of the first month’s rent. I have seen plenty of situations where this fee has been negotiated down.

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If you have the luxury of time, shop around and compare room and board and move-in costs. Keep in mind that the best deals or monthly specials on rent may be found towards the end of the month if salespeople are trying to meet a monthly quota.

People may assume that the costs for a senior who stays in his or her private home are less than if that person were to live in an elder care facility. But it that always the case?

Unfortunately, staying at home is not always the least expensive option. Depending on the amount of care required by the senior at home, the cost of private care can quickly exceed the monthly cost of an elder care facility. If home care or private caregivers are needed for more than a few hours a day, it may be more financially advantageous to live in a senior care community like assisted living when you factor in all the other costs of living at home (utilities, insurance, maintenance, meals, etc.).

What factors influence the price of a residence at a senior living facility?

Using assisted living as an example, the price can vary greatly based on the size of the apartment. A studio apartment will cost less than a one- or two-bedroom. On top of the cost of room and board, fees (usually a points or levels system) will be added for the care provided by staff.

In the area I live in, a studio apartment goes for about $3000 including meals, utilities, activities, and transportation. The amount of hands-on care provided by staff for activities of daily living (dressing, bathing, grooming, etc.) and medication management is in addition to the room and board, and can easily add another $1000-$3000 to the monthly bill.

How can you tell if the cost of a senior living facility is too high?

Comparing costs can be a challenge since it is difficult to assess the cost of care without a full nursing assessment, which most senior care communities will require before full costs (i.e., room and board + care) will be quoted. If you suspect you are paying too much, call a few nearby facilities to compare current room and board costs.

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Be sure to attend the care conferences that are held for your loved one and that you fully understand how the costs are adding up. Are there services that are no longer needed or that friends and family would be able to provide instead of care staff? Medication management is an area that family may be able to take on if a family member lives close by and is savvy enough to stay on top of refills and dosage changes.

Do you have any suggestions on how seniors can save money when moving into or living in a senior care facility?

As I mentioned above, explore any wiggle room in the move-in costs and shop around. In areas with lots of competition and empty apartments, there are going to be short-term specials, and rents can change monthly. Don’t wait until a crisis happens to begin your search; be proactive.

Make sure you thoroughly read the contract before move-in. This contract should outline additional costs and how/when those can change. Lastly, stay on top of what services are being provided once a move happens to make sure you aren’t being charged for unnecessary items.

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