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What You Need To Know

What is assisted living?

Assisted living is a residential option for seniors who want or need help with some of the activities of daily living—things like cooking meals, getting to the bathroom in the middle of the night, keeping house, and traveling to appointments.

An assisted living facility may be a good choice if you need more personal care services than you can get at home or an independent living retirement community, but you don’t need the round-the-clock medical care and supervision of a nursing home.

Assisted living facilities offer the safety and security of 24-hour support and access to care. Day or night, help is only a phone call away. However, privacy and independence are encouraged. A good facility will develop a personalized plan that meets your needs and accommodates your disabilities, while giving you the freedom to do what you can for yourself. In general, assisted living is in a residential type facility, ranging from converted homes or apartment complexes to renovated schools. Some provide apartment-style living with scaled down kitchens, while others provide rooms. In some, you may need to share a room unless willing to pay higher cost. Most facilities have a group dining area and common areas for social and recreational activities.

In the U.S., each state has its own specific licensing requirements for assisted living, so you’ll want to check to see what services can be provided.

Services at a typical assisted living facility:

  • Three meals a day served in a common dining area
  • Assistance with eating, bathing, dressing, going to the bathroom, and walking
  • Housekeeping services
  • Transportation
  • Access to health and medical services
  • Round the clock security
  • Emergency call systems in each resident’s living space
  • Exercise and wellness programs
  • Medication management
  • Laundry services
  • Social and recreational activities
  • Staff available to help with scheduled needs, as well as unexpected issues

Is an assisted living facility right for you?

If you’re trying to decide whether assisted living is right for you, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you need more help than family and friends are able to provide? Are the activities of daily living becoming stressful or overwhelming? If family or in-home help is not able to bridge the gap, assisted living is an option.
  • Do you feel lonely or isolated at home? Having an active social life is vital to your health and happiness. Being alone much of the time is a recipe for depression. The social aspect of assisted living is a huge benefit. Good facilities offer a range of social and recreational activities. And the community environment also gives the opportunity to make new friends.
  • Do you worry for your safety? Perhaps your mobility is limited, making it difficult to get out of bed by yourself, for example. Maybe you’re afraid of what might happen if you fell and couldn’t get up, or experience another problem and couldn’t get help.
  • Are you tired of maintaining a home? There are a lot of responsibilities that come with living in your own home. Assisted living facilities can provide a home-like atmosphere, without the work of cooking, cleaning, shopping for groceries, and doing laundry.
  • Is transportation an issue? Perhaps you’re having trouble driving or can no longer drive. If public transportation or another alternative isn’t easy and convenient, you may be increasingly housebound. Assisted living facilities offer transportation, so you can get where you need to go without having to rely on friends and family.

Signs that a parent or loved one might need assisted living:

It’s not always easy to tell when your parent or another family member or loved one needs more help. The following warning signs may indicate that it’s time for a talk about assisted living.
  • The refrigerator is empty or filled with spoiled food or your parent is losing weight. These may be signs that he or she isn’t eating well because shopping or cooking is difficult.
  • You notice frequent bruises, although your parent may try to cover them up. This may be a sign of falling, or mobility and balance problems.
  • Your parent wears the same clothes over and over again or neglects personal hygiene. This can indicate that doing laundry and bathing is physically challenging.
  • The house and yard isn’t as clean and tidy as it used to be.
  • Your parent forgets things, including doctor’s appointments and when to take medication. This may be due to memory loss.
  • Your parent seems depressed. Depression is common in seniors who are isolated and alone.
  • You notice strange or inappropriate behavior. For example, your parent may dress inappropriately for the weather. This can be a sign that he or she is experiencing confusion.

Making the decision to leave home: What you may be feeling

No matter your situation, moving is always stressful. But when you’re contemplating leaving your home for an assisted living facility, stress is just the tip of the emotional iceberg. You may associate grief with the death of a loved one, but grief is a natural response to any loss. And the loss of your home, neighborhood, and community is a big one.

The thought of leaving everything you know can make you feel very vulnerable. You may feel like you’re losing your independence or a big part of your identity. It’s important to realize that all of these feelings are normal. Take some time to acknowledge these feelings of loss. Sometimes talking to someone who is sympathetic can help. Counseling and therapy can be an option too. Give yourself time to grieve and get used to the change.

Tips for making the transition to assisted living easier:

Life in an assisted living facility is an undeniable adjustment. In addition to a new living environment, you are meeting new residents and getting used to the staff. This can feel stressful in the beginning. But there are things you can do to make the transition easier.

  • Pack well in advance of the move. Don’t add to the stress of the actual move by putting yourself in a position where you’ll need to make hasty decisions about what to take and what to discard.
  • Know what to expect. Do your homework on the facility. It will be less stressful if you know what to expect. Read all the materials before you move in and make sure all of your questions are answered ahead of time.
  • Stay busy. You may be tempted to stay in your apartment or living space, but you’ll feel comfortable much quicker if you get out there to meet the residents, participate in activities, and explore the facility.
  • Go easy on yourself. Everyone adjusts to change differently, so give yourself a break, no matter what you’re feeling. However, if you feel like you’re taking longer than you think you should to adjust; it may help to talk to your family members, the director of the facility, or a trusted friend.