Understanding the Assisted Living Experience
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Honest Insights for Seniors and Caregivers
As seniors navigate the nuances of older adulthood, there may come a time when certain challenges of physical, mental and emotional health become increasingly difficult to manage. And while the prospect of making the transition to an assisted living community can feel scary or overwhelming—for both seniors and their caregivers—the truth is that this option may actually support a greater quality of life for you or your aging loved one.
Of course, feeling confident that this lifestyle is the right one for you or the senior in your life depends on having accurate information about the realities of assisted living. The more honest insights you have at your disposal, the more equipped you’ll be to decide if and when assisted living is the best path forward.
The following guide is designed to provide you with a wealth of information, answering some of the most common questions posed by seniors and their loved ones. Here, we’re shedding light on what you can realistically expect as you broach the idea of life in an assisted living community. This journey is a personal one, and the choice is different for everyone. Use these facts and insights to help guide your efforts and make an informed decision.
Beginning with the Basics
Depending on where you are in the knowledge-gathering process, it may be helpful to start at square one: understanding exactly what assisted living is, whom it is suited for, what types of care and support it provides, and how it differs from a nursing home.
What Is Assisted Living?
Truthfully, there is no single definition for assisted living with regard to the services and care a community will provide. There is, however, a common understanding of assisted living as a residential offering for seniors or other individuals that require a certain level of nursing care and other daily support services. An assisted living community generally provides residents with a blend of housing, care and daily assistance, and applies a particular emphasis on activities that help seniors become stronger, healthier and more social or active.
Whom Is Assisted Living Suited For?
Assisted living communities are ideal for seniors who require assistance managing the tasks of daily living. A senior who struggles with ongoing tasks such as getting in and out of bed, bathing and/or managing their medication may be an ideal fit for life in an assisted living community, as these environments are staffed with care professionals around the clock.
There is also a very important medical component, with trained health professionals available to handle these types of concerns. If you or the senior in your life lives alone and is at risk for experiencing injuries from falls or medical issues, assisted living can be a much safer option. Assisted living communities check in regularly on residents to ensure their safety and health, and there are usually emergency buttons to alert staff members of the need for help.
For those willing to embrace the kind of assistance and support found in an assisted living community, they find that opening themselves up to outside help gives them greater energy and enthusiasm for living an enriched and purposeful life—the very essence of independence. With a customized care plan that’s uniquely designed to promote independence, you or the senior in your life can not only maintain dignity and usefulness, but also thrive in a way you might never have imagined.
Human connection and socialization play a vital role in the lives of healthy, happy seniors, and assisted living communities offer the chance for building and nurturing relationships every day—with staff, fellow residents and even volunteers. There are plenty of opportunities for conversation and camaraderie, activities and events, group classes and clubs, and various other ways to engage the mind, body and spirit.
What Services Does Assisted Living Provide?
Assisted living communities provide just that: assistance, at whatever level a resident may require to navigate daily life—while still managing most activities on their own. Residents in these communities do not require constant care, but rather still maintain a level of independence. You may, for example, be able to get around on your own, but you might have some difficulty getting dressed or doing laundry. Staff members working at the community are available to help with those tasks.
The level of support and care seniors can expect to receive at an assisted living community does vary depending on the options in your location. Therefore, it’s important to consider which communities provide the services you or your aging loved one need. Some of the specific offerings you may seek include:
- 24-Hour Emergency Response – Even with a healthy amount of independence, accidents or illness can occur, so it’s essential to choose a community that provides 24/7 emergency response to address any issues that arise.
- Options for Nursing and Care – A senior’s needs today might not be the same as those a few months or years down the road. Therefore, think about choosing an assisted living community with the option to increase care as needed.
- Full Dining Services – Especially for seniors with medical conditions that impact diet restrictions (like diabetes or heart disease), having access to full dining services is extremely valuable. Assisted living communities can shoulder the often difficult responsibility of managing a healthy, nutritious diet.
- Residence and Yard Maintenance – For lots of seniors, maintaining their homes and yards is a real challenge, including anything from changing a lightbulb to mowing the lawn. At an assisted living community that provides these types of services, the extra burden is eliminated.
- Personal Laundry – If you or your loved one struggles with laundry, look for an assisted living community that offers this service.
- Exercise and Wellness Programs – One of the greatest benefits of moving into an assisted living community is access to exercise and wellness programs. From swimming and aerobics to yoga and more, consider the options for keeping seniors healthy and active.
- Memory Care – Some assisted living communities offer memory care for residents diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, which involves specialized services to help maintain their health and safety. These residents may live among the regular assisted living population in the early stages of memory loss and then, as their condition progresses, move into the memory care section of the assisted living community. There, they have access to staff members who are specifically trained in dementia and Alzheimer's care.
How Does Assisted Living Differ from a Nursing Home?
In comparing assisted living communities with nursing homes, the most significant difference is likely to be the level of care provided. In a nursing home, residents typically require constant nursing care and may do very little on their own. This environment is best for seniors who don’t need hospital care but are unable to live on their own or in an assisted living community.
Nursing homes have skilled nurses on staff around the clock to care for patients, and the design of the facility is more similar to a hospital than an assisted living community. For example, necessary assistance with lifting oneself in and out of bed is a strong indicator that someone is better suited for a nursing home than an assisted living community.
Evaluating Quality of Care
With a greater understanding of what assisted living is, as well as the offerings it entails, you are in a better position to address another relevant factor: quality of care comparisons between communities. Because long before you can effectively choose an assisted living community that fully meets your needs and preferences (or those of your aging loved one), you need to evaluate each option carefully, weighing the various care-related differences.
To help you make these comparisons thoughtfully, be sure to consider the following elements:
- Structure – Is the assisted living community you’re evaluating a nonprofit or for-profit community? Ask about their mission to ensure it’s one that lends itself to seniors receiving the best care possible.
- Features – Be sure that the community you choose is one in which you or the senior in your life will be very comfortable, cared for and at home. Remember that care goes beyond one’s basic medical needs; it also includes the mental and social benefits of a community. Ask about the opportunities and offerings for activities, social groups and other outlets for engagement.
- Care Outcomes – You’ll want to know that the care each resident receives makes this new season of their life both enjoyable and healthy. Explore the medical care options afforded to you or your loved one, like physical therapy and healthy activities. If you require specific care accommodations, such as memory care services, ask what the community has in place to support those needs.
Determining the True Financial Costs
Of course, before you can make any final decision about an assisted living community, you have to do your due diligence with regard to financial responsibility and capability. If you’ve never experienced this process before, you may make some assumptions about how much assisted living costs and how it compares to living at home. But this is not cut and dry. And the seemingly less expensive option may not be the most affordable—all factors considered—over the long term.
First, as with any cost of living, assisted living prices vary based on where you live. Those in an urban area like New York City, for instance, are apt to far exceed those in a more affordable suburban location. Looking at some national averages could give you a better idea of what to expect.
Next, it’s necessary to give weight to the level of care you or the senior in your life realistically needs and prefers. As a general rule of thumb, the less hands-on care required, the less expensive the living arrangement will be.
Furthermore, you’ll want to look at the breadth and quality of service provided. To accurately evaluate an assisted living community, you should be willing to assess the full range of services and costs as they relate to your unique needs and financial capability. Working from a cost-benefit angle will help steer you in the right direction.
Unfortunately, many seniors and caregivers often report feeling frustrated as they try to determine the true cost of assisted living. Even with a list detailing the various costs of, let’s say, a studio, one-bedroom or two-bedroom apartment, you may not be seeing the whole financial picture. What about meals? What about cleaning services? Will these added expenses combine to price you out of something you thought was affordable? Some people are taken aback when they discover unexpected costs that exceed their budget, leaving them feeling stressed and deceived.
You deserve to know exactly how much it will cost to transition into an assisted living community. This requires some research into the hidden costs so you can factor them into your bottom line. To help you gain some much-needed perspective, here are four categories that are often overlooked but can add significant expenses:
- Downpayment: It's not unusual for any type of housing to require some money up front, but it is important for seniors and family members to ask important questions about the purpose of this down payment and how it will be used. Sometimes, communities ask for a certain amount of money to reserve a space. You will want to find out how far in advance this down payment is owed, and exactly what it is guaranteeing. Is any portion of it being used toward your loved one’s living costs, or is this a one-time fee that doesn't offset any monthly expenses?
- Moving Costs: Any time you move from one place to another, you incur extra expenses. Chances are good that you or your loved one will not be packing and moving themselves, so you have a few decisions to make. Will you need to rent a truck? Will you need to hire a moving company? What about packing supplies? Decide which services are needed for your specific situation, and begin comparing prices.
- Medical Needs: One of the most comforting aspects of assisted living is the peace of mind that comes from knowing highly skilled medical staff are always close at hand. But how does the community determine the cost of these medical services? There are many different levels of assisted living available, ranging from active senior communities to long-term rehabilitation centers and hospice care centers. Because each type presents its own unique medical services and options, they typically feature different price ranges. Some good questions to ask include:
- Will insurance cover any part of this?
- What if my loved one's medical needs increase or decrease during their stay?
- Is medical attention handled by a flat fee, or is there a case-by-case charge?
- Added Luxuries: In an assisted living community, there is valuable access to services and activities that you or the senior in your life might not otherwise be able to enjoy. For instance, some communities offer salons and barbershops right on premises. The amenities available in each community will vary. Some may offer simple accommodations, like rides to the grocery store or assistance with house cleaning, while others might feature state-of-the-art fitness centers, spas and dry-cleaning services. Find out if residents have unlimited access to these luxuries as part of their monthly payments, or if each service must be paid for individually.
Understanding these hidden costs will help you compare prices and value more accurately, empowering you to make more informed decisions. As you perform your calculations and make comparisons to decide if assisted living fits your financial reality, don’t forget to factor in the indirect expenses associated with living at home. After all, it’s not just the rent or mortgage and taxes to consider; you’ll need to think about the possibility of paying for products and services such as health aides or visiting nurses, meal delivery and/or preparation, equipment to accommodate physical demands (e.g., stair climbers, shower aides, specialized beds, etc.), transportation and more.
Consider, too, what financial resources might open up once a house, car and other personal property associated with living at home is sold. This could significantly support your ability to afford the assisted living community of your choice.
There’s no single formula for defining each person’s financial comparisons and capabilities. It’s important to research options for offerings like loans, financial assistance, social security, etc. And you should always talk to the advisors at the community you’re considering to help evaluate your unique circumstances as well as shed light on the expenses and financial opportunities involved. They have helped numerous families navigate this process and are well suited to assist you and yours.
Defining the Experience for Yourself
Even armed with all of the valuable information provided in this guide, you may still have questions and curiosities about what life at an assisted living community is really like. Therefore, the best thing you can do is take a tour and see for yourself. Arranging this tour is simply a matter of making a call, sending an email, filling out an online form or just stopping in.
If you or your loved one have begun considering assisted living options in the Connecticut area, consider taking a tour at one of our UMH communities, and find out why a mission-based, not-for-profit organization makes all the difference when it comes to assisted living and care.
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