9-Step Guide for Long-Term Care Planning

This resource will walk you through the planning process and provide helpful info.

January 11, 2024

4 min read

adult daughter assists senior parent with long-term care planning

You may not have picked up on it right away, but your parent has shown signs of getting older. Everyday tasks are becoming a challenge. Their memory isn’t as sharp as it used to be, and keeping up with the house is too difficult. You realize something needs to change – and that you can’t do it all on your own.

Planning for long-term care for your parent can feel overwhelming. But creating a plan gives everyone an opportunity to express their concerns and preferences before an incident forces an outcome, giving you – and your parent – a greater sense of control.

In this long-term care planning guide, we’ll walk you through the process and provide helpful info and resources.

View the Long-Term Care Planning Checklist

1. Determine what level of care your parent needs

Once you recognize it’s time for a change, the next step is to assess what living option and level of care your parent needs. Talk to their doctor about their current health, including medical conditions, medications and any assistance they need with daily living.

In addition to physical needs, consider your parent’s emotional and cognitive health and contributing factors. Are new limitations causing frustration? Are mobility issues keeping them from participating in favorite activities or getting out to see friends? Take your time and be thorough – this evaluation will serve as the foundation for your long-term care plan.

2. Know your role

You may feel guilt or a sense of obligation to provide assistance for your aging parent – and you wouldn’t be alone. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, a majority of Americans believe adult children have a responsibility for managing the long-term care of their older parents.

Caregiving is a significant responsibility, and it’s normal to feel stressed. Being honest with yourself about your capabilities, time and support network will help identify where you – and your parent – could use assistance.

3. Talk with your parent

Have an open, honest conversation with your parent about their preferences. Get their thoughts on aging in their current home, assisted living and other care options. Respect their autonomy and involve them in the decision-making process as much as possible.

Planning care can be uncomfortable to talk about, but the sooner you discuss what the future could look like, the better it will be. If you wait until decisions are imminent, stress and urgency can make the situation more difficult. You need enough time to research all of your options, and waiting too long to speak with your parent can limit your options.

4. Determine what you need from your parent’s care plan

You have your own life and responsibilities, whether it’s a full-time career, taking care of children of your own – or both. Knowing your tolerance levels for your parent’s situation can be a critical factor when creating a plan.

The mental load of caregiving can be as overwhelming as the physical load. Many times, it can even affect your physical health over time. AARP found that with the complexities of caring for senior parents, caregivers’ health may suffer as a result.

Recognize the importance of taking care of yourself as a caregiver. Make time to relax with friends or seek the empathy of a support group or professional advice of a therapist to help manage stress and burnout. And when you need a break, consider a short-term stay at a senior living community for your parent.

5. Explore all the options for long-term care

From hiring or arranging in-home care to a memory care community offering around-the-clock support, there are a lot of options to choose from.

Your parent’s physical abilities will have a lot to do with finding the best fit, so ask yourself these care-related questions about your parent’s needs:

  • Can they complete personal hygiene tasks such as bathing, brushing their teeth and shaving?
  • Can they safely get in and out of bed, chairs, the shower/bathtub and vehicles?
  • Are they able to take the proper dosage of medications at the correct time?
  • Can they get dressed without assistance?
  • Are they able to use the bathroom on their own and without any issues?

If you answer no to any of these questions, your parent likely needs services offered by senior assisted living communities. Even if they don’t need the support of community living today, thinking about how their care needs may change over time is another important factor in the decision.

No matter what level of care your parent needs, each option is going to require its own research. If you’re considering senior living, for instance, visit multiple communities to find one that offers the support your parent needs and an environment where they can thrive.

6. Know the difference between independent and assisted living

Independent living

Generally speaking, independent living residents don’t need help with daily tasks like eating, getting dressed or taking a shower. Independent senior living communities provide an active lifestyle without the responsibilities of cooking, cleaning and maintaining the home. Minimal third-party care services may be available if needed.

Assisted living

Assisted living residents enjoy the same active lifestyle offered by independent living communities, with care services available as needed. Assisted living residents may have care needs – such as assistance with grooming or medication – cognitive issues or mobility problems, but they do not need round-the-clock medical care.

If you’re considering senior living, plan visits to different communities. Talk to staff and residents to gain a better understanding of what each community offers.

7. Research costs

No matter which option is best for your parent, it’s important to assess their financial situation before making a decision. Explore potential funding sources, including savings, insurance and government programs like Medicare. The National Council on Aging has a helpful BenefitsCheckUp® tool, and consulting with a financial advisor can help you understand the available options.

Many people sell their homes to help pay for long-term care. Using the money from a home sale can cover the cost of moving to a smaller house or senior living community.

Consider working with a real estate agent or Seniors Real Estate Specialist® (SRES). An SRES has all the same qualifications as a real estate agent, but they specialize in helping older adults sell their homes. They can even put you in touch with the best senior relocation services or moving companies in your area. Find an SRES near you here.

8. Help your parent with the transition

Moving to a senior living community is a big decision. You likely won’t determine if it’s the best choice for your parent after one or even two conversations.

If you decide a senior living community is the best fit for your family, there are many ways to help ease the transition.

Here are some things to keep in mind before making the move.

Your parent’s emotional needs

The transition can be challenging for your parent’s emotions. Offer support and reassurance throughout the process. Encourage them to bring cherished belongings to make their new apartment feel like home.

Downsizing and packing

Organize items to be sold, donated or given to family members. This process can be emotionally taxing, so be patient and compassionate.

Stay connected and informed

Regular visits and phone calls not only help, but they also show your continued love and support. Stay informed about the care and services your parent is receiving. Attend any meetings or discussions that involve care, and speak with staff to stay updated on your parent’s health and well-being.

Be flexible

Be open to adjustments in the care plan should your parent’s needs change. Flexibility is key to ensuring the best possible outcome.

9. Understand your parent’s legal affairs and estate plan

Ensure your parent’s legal affairs are in order. This includes having a will, power of attorney and healthcare proxy. Consult with an attorney who specializes in elder law to answer any questions and help with any legal documents.

You’re ready to create a long-term care plan

Now that you’re prepared, it’s time to create a plan that works for your family.

Your love and dedication as a caregiver make a world of difference in your parent’s life. By taking the time to plan and adjust, you can make the process as rewarding as it is challenging.

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