What is Assisted Living?

What in the world is it?

Assisted Living provides a noninstitutional, choice-driven residential setting in which senior residents are supported by services, such as nutritious meals, healthy snacks, laundry, housekeeping, medication assistance, and 24/7 watchful oversight by trained personal care professionals. A good Assisted Living home is also an excellent outlet for a variety of activities and socialization that engage the mind, body, and spirit. According to AARP, Assisted Living homes are best suited for seniors that do not require skilled nursing services on an ongoing basis.

How Do I Find The Best Option?

Look around. Do your homework and determine the community characteristics that would be most beneficial for your unique situation. Is a smaller, more intimate setting or a larger community more appropriate? Ask yourself: what are the issues at hand – are mobility, cognition, social, spiritual, or special heath issues involved? Do you want to be close to a hospital, doctor, shopping, church, or other services?

Some communities include special programs and services to support residents with impaired cognitive ability such as dementia or Alzheimer’s. If a facility does not offer these programs, will your loved one be able to age in place?

Once you have determined your needs and desires, compile a list of communities to visit. Ask your physician, professional contacts, pastor, or peers to make a referral and then visit several communities on site. Drop in unexpectedly and make careful observations. How does the community assess and meet their resident’s needs? Are there programs that allow for aging in place as one’s health and functioning become compromised? Are there options for length of stay: short term, day care, or respite? Is the staff attentive and polite? What do the residents say about their care? Are they engaged, happy, and satisfied? Do they have spiritual and devotional programs on site?

Ideally, families should take steps to understand their options and make proactive choices so that the best possible care and decision can be made well in advance of having to react in a crisis situation.

Consider the cost

Costs vary with communities based on length of stay, services offered, location, etc. Most communities will require a non-refundable deposit, and some have administrative or other up front fees. Expect to find both month-to-month options as well as longer term contractual obligations.

Watch out for “levels of care”. A community may offer a base rate for occupancy and then proceed to charge extra based on personal care requirements, aka “levels of care”. Request AND KNOW all charges up front. Many times an assessment must be conducted in order to determine “levels of care”. Make sure you know these charges BEFORE you move in.

Veterans may take advantage of the "Aid and Benefits Program" which is solely designed for Personal Care and Assisted Living homes. Through this program, veterans and surviving spouses of veterans are able to receive financial assistance to help pay for Assisted Living. Ask your chosen AL community to assist you with information on applying to and obtaining this benefit.

Additional resources to cover costs include long-term care insurance and life insurance conversions along with Social Security, pension, and retirement funds. Medical Insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid are for skilled nursing facilities and do not apply to a residential Assisted Living community.

Ease the Transition

As a concerned adult child, you may recognize the time has come when your loved one would benefit from 24-hour personal care, consistent social interaction, cognitive programs, and 24-hour watchful oversight. Here comes the hard part. If you have identified a community you know would benefit and enhance their quality of life, it may be time to take the role of primary decision maker on behalf of your loved one. Again, this step can be the most difficult to take. However, when you think about your loved one's current situation, are they really experiencing a good quality of life? Do you fear they may be lonely or isolated? What happens if they fall? Are they safe? What about medications: are they being taken properly? Are they connected with peers and the community? Do they receive excellent access to spiritual, physical, and emotional activities?

If you know your loved one is not experiencing life to the fullest, what are you going to do about that? Recognize that they need YOU to take the lead in determining the best life choice and work with the community to help prepare your loved one for the transition. Many times they have resources to aid in estate planning, moving, and other complimentary services.

After the Move

When your loved one transitions to Assisted Living, make sure to visit often and attend physician visits and other appointments together. Get to know the staff that provide daily hands-on care and report any concerns or kudos to leadership as soon as they occur. It may take a while to settle in and become comfortable with daily activities, but in a great setting, you will see your loved one bloom and thrive!