Back to main page

Back to Practical Caregiving Columns


Practical Caregiving

The Helping Hand of Assisted Living

By Jean Donahue

When I was in college, we were "spoiled." Someone cooked our meals and did the dishes - all we had to do was sit down and eat. Someone cleaned our room and gave us clean sheets. Life was good as I enjoyed the social life and the freedom it afforded me. This is the kind of situation many of our elderly need when they reach the point they can’t do things adequately for themselves. They aren’t yet ready for a nursing home, but they need help so they can enjoy life longer and safer.

Some of our elderly have been able to afford help around the house on a daily, weekly or monthly basis for years. Others have done it all themselves, or with the help of heir caregiving children or spouse. Either way, they were not feeding an actual physical need. Now they face the need for help rather than it being a choice. They want to maintain their independence and social interaction, but they need help. They simply are not able to live alone and take care of themselves adequately. That’s where assisted living comes in – but just exactly what is assisted living and what should you know about these facilities?

Assisted living facilities bridge the gap between the independent living your loved one has enjoyed for years and a nursing home which is really the opposite extreme of independence. Assisted living can provide a greater quality of life than often comes from living alone at home. They provide meals in a group dining room, transportation and activities within the facility. Residents become friends and get together in their rooms or apartments to play cards, knit, watch football together or other social activities.

In a nutshell, assisted living facilities make it possible for your loved one to have an active social life while taking over some of the things that become so difficult for the elderly. I know of a couple people that didn’t want to leave their homes, but once they moved into an assisted facility and were settled, they were much happier than they were at home. They enjoyed the interaction with other people that they didn’t get at home and they felt safer.

When you decide your loved one needs living assistance, go to their doctor with them and discuss their situation. The doctor knows their health and what the future looks like for them. He might have some excellent suggestions. The decision isn’t his, though. It is yours and your loved one, and you need as much information as possible.

Check into assisted living facilities in the area your loved one lives in. It’s important for them to continue visiting with the friends they have had for years, so try to avoid moving them to another city. Locating to a different area can be very traumatic and cause more problems.

Once you have located several assisted living facilities, start evaluating them. There are some you might be able to eliminate because of reputation, cost or other reasons. (Assisted living facilities are generally paid for by the individual rather than Medicare, but some long-term insurance plans will help.) Visit the facilities you are considering with your loved one. It’s important to make sure your loved one is involved in the selection. After all, it is their future life and happiness you are dealing with.

When you have a few facilities selected it’s time to gather more specific information:

• What are the charges for living there?
• Do they pay for the utilities?
• Is there a waiting list? How long?
• When would it be necessary for your loved one to move out?
• Can you enter the building 24 hours a day?
• What security do they have?
• Where is their state certification posted? Is it current?
• What’s the cost of the meals?
• Would your loved one have a choice of food and is it varied?
• What’s the cost for laundry?
• Do they sponsor recreational field trips and what’s the cost?
• What’s the cost for transportation?
• Is there a cost for the activities?
• What other services do they provide and what’s the cost?
• Who do they call if your loved one needs to go to the hospital?
• Who decides if they need to go to the hospital?
• When do they call you?
• How do they handle it if your loved one falls?
• How long do they hold the room or apartment if your loved one is in the hospital then a recovery center?
• What’s the plan in an emergency?
• How do they evacuate the building in an emergency?
• How do they evacuate someone in a wheel chair?
• Ask any other questions you have that are specific to your loved one?
• How do they handle things if something is stolen or damaged (either personal items or to the apartment)?
• What’s the procedure if there is a complaint?

After you have these answers, visit the facility at various times of the day and week. Eat there with your loved one. Is the food good? Do the residents appear happy and interact with each other? Talk to some of them and ask if they like it there. Is the help happy and do they interact with the residents?

Getting older and needing help is very frustrating, but it doesn’t have to be the end of a good life. Assisted living facilities have proven to be one way to extend the happiness your loved one can experience.