Q. What are the biggest misconceptions regarding Assisted Living?
A. Most of our aging population remembers their parents and grandparents generations when the only option for senior care was institutional nursing homes. Assisted Living as we know it today started in the 1990's so it's still a relatively new concept.
We often hear from adult children how their parents are afraid to leave home because they literally think they will be locked up in a horrible place and the key thrown away. There are so many senior living options available now from modest to luxurious Independent Living and Assisted Living communities where seniors can remain independent in a private apartment, enjoy good food with real chefs in restaurant-style dining rooms, and have daily activities and social opportunities galore to mingle with other residents. Seniors needing a much higher level of care also have better options than past generations such as Residential Care Homes where residents can get skilled nursing and memory care in a smaller setting with high staffing ratios while keeping a high level of dignity even for end of life care.
Some of the newer Assisted Living facilities now offer Care Suites or enhanced Assisted Living with skilled nursing available, another alternative to traditional nursing homes. Nursing homes are a last resort, and in most cases can be avoided regardless of financial situation and care needs.
Q. When to move from home to Assisted Living?
A. The most important factors to consider when contemplating a move from home to an Assisted Living are safety, costs, and environment. It's common for seniors to be living in older homes with stairs and narrow hallways and entrances, which can increase the likelihood of falls and make it more difficult to navigate a walker. Retrofitting a home is an option but it can be costly to do it properly and it likely won't prevent falls if they have mobility issues and are living alone.
If your parent suffers from dementia staying at home can be very risky, for example they could leave the stove on or water running. Hiring an In-Home Care provider is the best way to safely stay at home, bringing us to the cost factor.
Once it's no longer safe to be alone, 24/7 care is necessary and typically the cost of In-Home Care becomes significantly more expensive than moving to a care facility.
It's also important to look at environment, especially for widowed spouses. One advantage of moving to a senior community is the ability to live closer to your children, grandchildren, and other relatives so they can visit more regularly. If your parent is living alone (even with Home Care), are they getting enough exercise, socializing with friends, or bathing regularly? Is their house getting cleaned?
Of course there are many other factors and every family situation is unique but these are some things to take into account.
Not surprisingly, environment and costs are also major factors to consider once you start searching for the best senior community for your loved one. Some seniors prefer a larger high rise or multi-level community where there are dozens or even hundreds of other residents to socialize with, while others feel more comfortable in a smaller, quieter setting.
Another thing to look for and weigh heavily in your decision is friendliness of the staff from management down to the caregivers and maintenance staff. I've noticed in my travels how significantly the attitude and friendliness of overall staff plays a significant role in how their residents are treated and cared for. When you tour a senior community it should feel more like a home than a business, regardless of its size. Look for compassionate caregivers and staff that want to interact with their residents and seem happy to be there. It's a good sign when the sales & marketing staff know the residents in their building personally. Think about assessing a senior home the same way you would a daycare for your children!
Q. What is the most overwhelming aspect of navigating housing options?
A. For starters, it's crucial to understand how your financial situation and short-term decisions can impact your long-term options. For instance if you are private pay but your assets will run out in a year or two, you want to find a place that will accept Elderly Waiver and keep you there once your assets draw down to avoid ending up in a nursing home.
It's important to understand the different levels of care available and how to assess your current and future needs. Your goal is to live in a safe, non-institutional environment while maintaining the highest level of independence possible. Always ask questions about staffing including caregiver to resident ratios day vs. night, types of caregivers and their hours, staff training, and turnover.
Some communities will ask you to move to another apartment or building if your care needs progress (or even ask you to leave) while others will bring any services needed to you. Many of the newer communities offer a continuum of care with Independent Living, Assisted Living, and Memory Care under the same roof due to demand and to keep their residents as they age and need more care.
Be very careful when looking for the best Memory Care option for your parent as many places are not staffed properly and lack daily programming that will benefit residents who need this specialized care.