People are living longer — which should be a good thing. Ideally, it gives us more time to enjoy life on our terms. So what is the ideal scenario for today’s typical senior? The answer continues to evolve along with our longevity, and it largely depends on the individual.
While some desire to and can remain in their homes, others may require a higher level of care or wish to have fewer demands placed on them than home ownership requires. For seniors living with chronic health conditions, it can also be challenging for family members to take on the role of a full-time caregiver.
For those needing the extra help or seeking maintenance-free living, one solution is to transition to the formal care provided by assisted living. As the name implies, it refers to communities that serve seniors who usually need assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) like dressing, bathing, or grooming and those who may need medication management.
Signs assistance is needed
Moving is a complex decision, and one not to be taken lightly. So how can you know if living independently is no longer sustainable? While each situation is different, knowing the answers to the following questions 4 can help provide some clues.
- Have there been recent accidents like a fall or fender bender?
- Are there noticeable physical changes in weight, frailty, or personal hygiene?
- Is there a healthy level of social interaction and is someone checking in on a regular basis?
- Has managing mail or finances become a challenge?
- Does driving seem more difficult or even dangerous?
- How are housekeeping and home maintenance going?
A geriatric care manager can help with this assessment process. While many referral agencies have a marketing agreement with the communities they serve, geriatric care managers are advocates hired by individual families. One of their areas of expertise is identifying what type of community would be the best fit.
Another option is to do some personal online and phone research to help narrow the search for a new community. It can also be beneficial to get recommendations from friends and family who may have first-hand experience.
Assisted living overview
Assisted living encourages seniors to maintain their independence, but offers built-in support when help is needed with basic tasks. Tenants enjoy freedom from responsibilities like laundry, cooking, and cleaning, and the engaging lifestyle of a community setting.
Residents can choose from a wide range of social, cultural, and wellness activities, which can include shopping, games, performances, exercise classes, creative outlets, spiritual opportunities, and other events that invite residents to stay challenged and connected.
While services and amenities will vary by location, assisted living residences generally provide trained staff who are available 24 hours a day and a personal emergency call system to alert staff members when help is needed. This not only ensures the safety of the senior, but can also help provide peace of mind for their family.
Assisted living communities offer senior-friendly spaces designed for comfort and safety, and many even allow pets.
The grounds are often similar to apartment complexes, with community areas such as a garden, dog walk, courtyard, conversation nooks, and an exercise room. Many also have an onsite beauty salon/barber shop for additional convenience.
Another benefit of assisted living is that many floor plans allow seniors to keep their own living space. Studio, one and two bedroom units are common, and most include a kitchenette. Layouts and square footage can vary substantially from one location to the next.
While the cost will depend on the locale, amenities, and floor plan, the median annual cost in the U.S. for a private room in an assisted living facility is $48,612.5 Depending on the care your loved one needs, assisted living can be much more affordable than nursing home care or long-term in-home care.6 As the average lifespan has increased over time, so has the average age of assisted living residents, and these days, a higher level of care may be offered at many locations.
Costs are generally broken down into two categories: a flat monthly rate and the cost of personalized care. The monthly rate typically covers rent, meals, housekeeping, and laundry.7 Utilities like electric, gas, basic cable, and Wi-Fi are usually included, while phone service is typically up to the individual.
The cost of care will vary depending upon the level of assistance required, and may increase as the resident’s needs change over time. These are detailed in the individual’s care plan, which is personalized to the resident’s needs and outlines the level of services being provided. Needs are often assigned a point value, which has an associated cost.
A one-time move-in fee is standard. Some communities require private pay, while some accept long-term care insurance.7 Other ways to cover costs can include veterans benefits, an annuity, and Medicaid if you qualify for government assistance.6
Selecting a community
After you’ve chosen the assisted living communities you’re interested in, it’s time to take a tour. It can be helpful for the resident and a family member to tour together and take notes. The main criteria, aside from price and location, are 1) deciding if you like it, and 2) determining if it’s providing residents with proper care.
It can help to bring a checklist for evaluating an assisted living community. Many detailed versions also exist online. Tour each community more than once, and at different times, so you can get a better idea of what it’s like throughout the day. Many facilities even let prospective residents spend the night to really get a feel for it.
Often communities will have residents who serve as ambassadors. These volunteers can help answer questions from a resident’s perspective, assist with tour visits, and help facilitate a successful transition should you decide it’s the right fit.
Prior to move in
Once you’ve chosen an assisted living community, the next step is the assessment process. The community’s clinician will review the potential resident’s medical history and conduct an in-person interview to create a personalized care plan to ensure their needs will be fully met.
Before you sign any paperwork, be sure to read everything. You may wish to have your personal attorney review the contract, or have the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys refer you to a lawyer who can go over it with you.8
If you have long term care insurance, check with your provider to ensure the facility meets the criteria for approved coverage based on your policy.
After the move
All of the benefits that assisted living provides can make it a freeing move in many ways. However, keep in mind that moving is stressful at any age, and this will likely be physical and emotionally taxing for all involved.
While a quality assisted living community will offer plenty of support throughout the process, having family and friends spend extra time at the new apartment during the transition can provide reassurance that the most important things aren’t going to change. 8
Things to Consider:
- Assisted living can provide seniors and caregivers alike with much-needed help.
- Be sure to assess the level of care required to determine what type of community to consider.
- When assessing a community, conducting in-depth research can help ensure a good fit.
1 “How Much Care Will You Need?” LongTermCare.gov, accessed April 2020
2 “Residents,” National Center for Assisted Living, accessed April 2020
3 “Help for Family Caregivers of Seniors,” seniorliving.org, accessed April 2020
4 "What Are Some Key Signs That It May Be Time for Assisted Living?," Caring.com, accessed April 2020
5 "Cost of Care Survey 2019," Genworth Financial, Inc, November 2019
6 “Assisted Living Costs and Ways to Pay,” Caring.com, accessed April 2020
7 “What is Assisted Living?” SeniorHomes.com, accessed April 2020
8 ”Moving to Assisted Living,” Caring.com, accessed April 2020
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