“Planning for a crisis”: It almost sounds like an oxymoron. But as we grow older, it becomes a matter of practicality. Yes, we’d all like to think that we will be healthy and able-bodied for the rest of our lives, but unfortunately, that’s not always the case. And that’s where planning for a crisis comes into play.

I was recently talking with a friend whose 84-year-old father had suffered a sudden health emergency, which necessitated life-saving surgery followed by several weeks in the hospital. As the day of his discharge approached, the family was frantically trying to determine a “plan.” They had to make arrangements for their father to be transferred to an inpatient rehabilitation facility in a city that was over an hour from home; they had to make provisions for their elderly mother so that she could be both cared for and close to her husband of 57 years in the rehab facility. Needless to say, it was a stressful time for everyone in the family.

Post-crisis planning

This is an all too familiar story that can be told by millions of people across the country with only slight modifications of the details. While some people are quite proactive about things like saving for retirement or creating a will, most people, unfortunately, do little to prepare for a health emergency in advance. Instead, families are forced to go into crisis mode to deal with the unexpected circumstances that have arisen.

This is referred to as post-crisis planning. It’s the, “Oh no! What do we do now?” situation that so many families find themselves in when an aging parent has a health emergency such as falling and breaking a hip or having a stroke.

While most major hospitals will have social workers on staff to help you navigate the complexities of the process, there is an avalanche of questions and issues that still have to be addressed in these cases. A few examples might include:

  • Who will care for the loved one when they leave the hospital? Will we try to do it ourselves? How do I get the time off of work and care for my own family while also caring for my parent or other loved one?
  • Should we hire someone to help with the care? How do we find a reputable caregiver who will treat our loved one with kindness and compassion while providing them with the assistance they need?
  • What will this care cost? How do we access our loved one’s savings in order to help pay for the care? What do we do if they run out of money?
  • Will our loved one be able to live safely in their current home? The bedroom is on the second floor…how will we get them up the stairs? Will the wheelchair fit through the doorways?

>> Related: The Unexpected Costs of Caring for an Aging Parent

Pre-crisis planning

The goal of pre-crisis planning is for the senior and their family to answer many of these questions in advance and therefore alleviate some of the stressors that accompany a healthcare emergency. Pre-crisis planning empowers seniors to take control and make their own choices before a serious health situation arises. Yes, this planning includes things like ensuring you have adequate retirement savings to cover the cost of your care and creating a will and advance directives so your loved ones and healthcare providers understand your wishes, but pre-crisis planning goes a step further. It is about proactively educating yourself about the options for care and services in your community if and when you need them. Some examples of this may include:

  • Exploring assisted living and/or rehabilitation centers in your area—researching their quality scores online and visiting them in person to see if you are satisfied with their facilities and staff.
  • Making some safety modifications to your existing home such as remodeling a bathroom to include a walk-in shower and installing handrails on all stairs. Or possibly even relocating to a house that is on one level.
  • Researching home healthcare agencies in your area to find providers with outstanding reputations and learn about their cost structure.
  • Potentially establishing a relationship with a geriatric care manager, professionals who are specially trained to assess, plan, coordinate, monitor, and provide other services to elderly patients and their families. (Look for an upcoming blog post with more information on how geriatric care managers can help during periods of change and transition.)
  • Adding an adult child as a signatory on your financial accounts.
  • Working with a knowledgeable financial advisor who understands how to help families navigate these types of decisions, including expertise about asset withdrawal sequencing, long-term care, Medicare/Medicaid, and other important financial considerations. An advisor who can help serve as a facilitator for your family can be a tremendous asset. Here’s a great article in the Journal of Financial Planning on this topic, co-written by my friend Tom West of SEIA.

>> Related: Close-up: The AARP Long-Term Services & Supports Scorecard

The ultimate in pre-crisis planning

These are all valuable steps you and your family can take to prepare in advance of a health emergency. But perhaps one of the most proactive steps you can take when it comes to pre-crisis planning is to consider if you might want to relocate to a senior living community such as a continuing care retirement community (CCRC, also called a life plan community).

Some CCRC residents are attracted to the numerous services and amenities provided by the community, but for many CCRC residents, pre-crisis planning is at the heart of their decision to move. Perhaps they had to deal with difficult crisis situations with their own aging parents and want to avoid putting their adult children in that same position. Or maybe they like the empowerment they feel by taking charge of their own future. Whatever the reason, CCRCs provide both residents and their families with a great sense of security, knowing that their loved one will receive the care they need, if and when they need it.

CCRCs provide their residents with contractual priority access to care services for life. Referred to as a continuum of care, residents receive increasing levels of healthcare services that they need as they age. Most residents begin by moving to the independent living apartments of the CCRC, and then as their needs evolve, they can conveniently transition to the assisted living, memory care, or skilled nursing care facilities, which are typically on the CCRC’s campus. When you think about it, in many ways, a CCRC offers an all-encompassing solution to just about any age-related crisis that may arise.

>> Related: How CCRCs Can Ease Retirement-Related Fears

Easing concerns about life’s “what ifs”

Dealing with a health issue is never easy—for the patient or for those who love him or her. But there are steps you can take in advance to help simplify a difficult situation. The point of this pre-crisis planning is to already know where to turn if things change suddenly with your health or your ability to care for yourself. Armed with this information, you and your family will be able to focus on what really matters during such times: spending time with the people you love.

Begin your pre-crisis planning by exploring CCRCs in your area; visit our free online community search tool.

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