If you’re thinking about assisted living, chances are you feel guilty about it. You probably have a lot of questions, but just thinking about assisted living leaves you feeling like you’re not doing enough for Mom or that you’ve failed in your duty to care for Dad.
There can be tremendous guilt involved when a family caregiver has to place their loved one in assisted living. It’s normal — but it’s also undeserved.
Although it isn’t easy to separate your emotions from the situation, if your mom or dad is not safe — or happy — living at home, and if you can’t safely provide care for them at home anymore, the best and most loving thing you can do is get your parents the level of care they need.
So, take a deep breath. Yes, this is hard, but you’re doing the right thing by educating yourself about assisted living and checking to see if you and your parent’s assisted living fears are myths or realities.
Here’s a look at seven things you’ve always wanted to know about assisted living, but were too afraid to ask.
Wait, so what is assisted living?
There are many different types of senior care, with adult day care facilities on one end of the spectrum and nursing homes on the other. Assisted living communities fall right in the middle of the senior living spectrum, both in terms of cost and the level of care and support provided.
Assisted living is designed to help seniors maintain their independence while also receiving care if and when they need it. Residents live in private or shared apartments, complete with a private bathroom and kitchen, and have access to socialization opportunities and a stimulating environment that benefits their mind, body, and soul.
Assisted living communities don’t provide 24/7 nursing care, but if your loved one needs help with activities of daily living — bathing, cleaning, taking their medications — they’ll receive personal care customized to their wants and needs.
If your parent is worried that assisted living will strip them of their independence, you can put that assisted living fear to rest: Many residents find that assisted living actually helps them maintain their independence — not take it away — while enhancing their quality of life.
Is it really that different from a nursing home?
If when you think of assisted living communities you picture the cold, institutional-looking nursing homes of the 1960s and ’70s with a bunch of Nurse Ratcheds patrolling the hallways, then no wonder you feel guilty.
Fortunately, assisted living is very different from skilled nursing or nursing home care. Most assisted living residents don’t need constant supervision. In fact, many people actually move to assisted living communities so they can keep living life the way they want to — just without the hassle of homeownership.
Nursing homes, on the other hand, are mainly for adults with serious medical needs that require constant care and supervision from nursing professionals, so it’s true that the atmosphere might seem more like a hospital than a home.
Assisted living was specifically designed to provide an alternative to people who need minimal care but do not need skilled nursing. Increasing regulations and a focus on creating a more home-like setting for residents have had a beneficial impact on the look and feel of assisted living communities.
Another change across the assisted living landscape is the movement toward person-centered care. High-quality assisted living communities provide hands-on human touch, lots of activities, and care directed toward the individual — which is a long way from the nursing homes of yesteryear.
So it’s not just full of people who are old and dying?
One of the biggest assisted living fears parents and their adult children have is that assisted living is where people go to die.
The reality is that many people choose to live in assisted living because it offers opportunities for new learning, activities, and a new chapter in life. Between group discussions on current events, exercise classes, shopping, art workshops, special outings, book clubs, lectures by guest speakers, and continuous interaction and engagement with other positive, vibrant residents, living at an assisted living community can offer far more mental stimulation and social engagement than living at home.
Does the dining room feel like a high school cafeteria then?
It’s normal for seniors to worry about making friends in an assisted living community. Fortunately, many assisted living communities have a resident ambassador program for new residents. These ambassadors call and meet new residents and are the new residents’ connection for the first few weeks. They answer questions or concerns, sit with new residents at meals, invite them to classes, act as tour guides around the community, and just make new residents feel totally welcomed and embraced.
Adjusting to the new surroundings may take days, weeks, or months, but it’s not long before new residents are gathering for conversation and programs in lively community areas. Walk into the dining room and you’ll hear residents calling out to one another and stopping to check in with a friend before sitting down.
And because social events are encouraged, community life usually means that seniors are more active than they were living alone.
But can they really care for my parent better than I can?
No one knows your mom or dad as well as you do — which is why you’ll still be a critical part of your loved one’s caregiving team even after they move to assisted living. The care team at the assisted living community will call on you when they’re working on your loved one’s individualized care plan. You will talk frequently with the staff, manage your loved one’s overall care, and spend as much time with them as you can.
Although you may feel that nothing can compare with the level of care you gave your loved one at home, the care at a community is still good, compassionate, high-quality care — and it’s available 24 hours a day.
It may be true that things would be different if you’d kept caring for your loved one at home. But different could mean worse if their health and safety are in danger.
In fact, some people find that their loved one actually improves in assisted living because they’re getting the care consistently that family members wanted to provide but just couldn't maintain effectively at home. And once you’re no longer the primary caregiver, you can go back to being your parent’s son or daughter again.
What happens if we run out of money?
Assisted living is often much more affordable than you think. At communities that offer all-inclusive pricing, many of the expenses your parents are incurring now — not to mention 24-hour security services, three meals a day, housekeeping services, personal care, landscaping, and home maintenance — are included in their monthly fee.
Plus, there are many resources you may be able to use to help pay for assisted living.
When you consider the costs associated with living at home — rent or mortgage, property taxes, insurance, utilities, groceries, transportation, home and yard maintenance, and more — assisted living just might cost less than staying at home.
So when is the right time to make the move?
As an advocate for your parents, you want to ensure the best life possible for them as they age, which requires starting the search sooner rather than later.
Unfortunately, many families don’t start exploring their options until they are overwhelmed by care responsibilities or there is a crisis. Then, they’re stuck with wherever a bed is available — whether it’s the right fit for their loved one or not.
Research shows that assisted living communities can improve resident quality of life by creating a cohesive social environment and encouraging social participation and family involvement. So whether or not your parents feel “ready,” there is value in moving to an assisted living community before they need to. Moving in when they are still active and independent allows them time to be able to be involved in the choice and well enough to make friends with other residents when they arrive.
If your loved one is showing signs that living alone is a strain, it may be time for a talk about their housing options.
There are a lot of misconceptions about what assisted living is and what it is not, and no assisted living community is the same. For more answers to frequently asked questions about what assisted living is really like, download our comprehensive Guide to Assisted Living.