If a loved one is beginning to struggle with activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, feeding, and other self-care, assisted living may be an option to consider. Assisted living is meant for those who have difficulties living alone, but don’t yet need the more intensive supervision and medical care of a nursing home.
Assisted living, also known as residential care, provides the best of both worlds. In most assisted living facilities, residents are able to have their own living space and are encouraged to be as independent as possible. At the same time, help is available 24 hours a day and is only a phone call or a button press away.
Assisted living generally offers:
- Assistance with bathing, dressing, toileting, mobility, and eating
- Housekeeping and laundry services
- Medication management
- 24-hour security
- Social activities
- Access to medical services
- Three meals a day, usually served in a communal dining room
Your loved one may not need all the help offered, but will probably appreciate its availability.
Deciding if Assisted Living is Right For a Loved One
Simply asking a loved one if they need more help might not be the most reliable way of determining if it’s time to give assisted living a try. It may be hard for your family member to admit that they’re having a hard time caring for themselves, and many people are reluctant to leave a home in which they’ve lived for years. Instead of simply asking them if they need more help (or telling them they do) observe them and their environment and use your observations to start a conversation. Things to look out for:
- Poor personal hygiene, which may indicate struggles with bathing and toileting
- Repeatedly wearing the same clothes, which may indicate difficulty doing laundry
- House messier than usual, which may indicate trouble doing housework
- Cupboards and refrigerator near empty or filled with spoiled food, which may indicate difficulty getting out to shop or preparing food
- Weight loss, which may point to difficulty feeding or preparing food
- Bruises, which may indicate balance and mobility problems (or an untreated health issue)
- Depression or uncharacteristic lack of interest in usual activities, which may be a result of isolation
- Missed doctor appointments, which could be a result of memory loss or difficulty with transportation
- Erratic or unusual behavior, which may indicate increasing confusion
It can be anxiety-provoking for adult children to realize their parents, who once seemed so powerful, can no longer care for themselves. In order to get them the help they need, gentle questioning is less likely than scolding to provoke defensiveness. After all, if you’re anxious at the prospect of mom being unable to take care of herself, she’s likely to be even more so.
The wisest course of action is often to note your observations (“I see there’s not a lot of food in the house”) and your concerns about them (“…which makes me worry you’re not eating as well as you should”) with follow-up questions (“Have you been having trouble getting out to buy food?” “Is cooking more difficult than it used to be?”) At this point, you can introduce options to address the problem, including considering assisted living.
Choosing the Best Assisted Living Facility
Once your older loved one has agreed to consider assisted living, how do you help them choose the place that’s right for them? There may be specific things that are important to them, such as proximity to family or onsite amenities, but most people find that what ends up mattering most is the other people in their environment, both staff and residents.
Often multiple visits to a facility are helpful. Observe not just the staff, but other residents.
Often multiple visits to a facility, at different times of day if possible, are helpful. Observe not only how staff speak to your loved one who is, in a sense, “interviewing” them, but how they deal with the people who are already there. Do residents seem pleased to see staff members? Is the staff friendly and sincere, really interacting with residents? Do they appear to like their work?
Consider the residents as well. Do they seem to know and engage with each other, and do they seem like people with whom your loved one would get along well? Don’t be shy about asking residents open-ended questions, such as what they like about the place, what they wish was different, and what they wish they had known before they moved in.
Of course, the facility matters, too. Does it appear clean? Is the food both tasty and nourishing? (Most facilities will invite you and your loved one to dine there as their guest). And think about your loved one’s preferences. Do they prefer a quiet, cozy setting, or a large, bustling place with lots of activities? You may also wish to consider a facility that offers both assisted living and nursing home care. If your loved one eventually needs more help than is available in assisted living, they will be able to transition more seamlessly between levels of care.
The decision to move to assisted living can be a challenging one on many levels. For help with elder transitions planning, we invite you to contact our firm. We assist seniors and their families with a broad range of elder law and elder care issues.
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