If you haven’t been to an assisted living community before, it’s hard to know what to expect: Are residents told where to be and when? Are the staff just a bunch of Nurse Ratcheds? The mind can run wild with all sorts of assumptions. So we asked three families to tell us about their fears about assisted living and how life at The Arbors turned out to be quite different from what they expected.
Shirley & Ed
After 64 years of marriage, Shirley wasn’t about to be separated from her husband, Ed. But his memory loss was getting more and more difficult to manage at home. She knew they had to make a change. “I was dreading the move, though” Shirley admits.
Many seniors considering assisted living worry about the competence and trustworthiness of the staff. “I’d seen some of the other places,” says Shirley, who navigated the search for assisted living with the help of her and Ed’s six children. “And my sisters were in nursing homes. I know what they went through.”
When they toured The Ivy at Ellington, they knew they’d found the right fit. Not a single staff member was cold, heartless, or passive aggressive. “I don’t care who it is — it could be someone cooking in the kitchen — everybody is helpful,” Shirley says. “Everybody makes you feel like you’re important.”
Do Not Disturb
Many seniors, especially couples, who move to assisted living are also concerned about losing their privacy: Is someone always going to be up in my business about what I’m doing or where I’m going? If I want some alone time in my apartment, will it be big enough? Or will it feel like a closet? And do I have to worry about staff walking into my room without knocking?
Shirley was surprised to discover that, although she and Ed couldn’t fit everything they had accumulated over the past six decades in their apartment, it fit the most important things. “It’s like having your own house,” Shirley says. “We brought all our furniture with us. We brought the living room and bedroom furniture. We have a chest with a TV. I have my Polish pottery around. It’s like walking into a first-class hotel.”
And help is only there when they need it. Shirley and Ed live undisturbed in their own apartment, with their own private telephone and television. Although staff have access to the apartment for safety reasons, they must ask and receive permission before entering. Otherwise, the door to the apartment locks and is controlled by Shirley and Ed.
As Shirley and Ed have found, the goal of the staff at The Ivy at Ellington is to help them maintain their independence — not take it away — while enhancing their quality of life.
“I never thought we’d find a place like this,” Shirley says.
John, Christine & Aunt Margaret
Due to an unexpected death in the family, John and Christine became caregivers for John’s Aunt Margaret, and they quickly realized that Margaret wasn’t safe to live at home. Like many families, they hadn’t done any research into assisted living communities and assumed they would be just like the nursing homes or retirement homes of the 1960s. Says Christine: “I mean, the idea you have in the back of your mind of putting your parent in a home … ”
A Community, Not a Facility
Assisted living is very different from skilled nursing or nursing home care. Nursing homes are mainly for adults with serious medical needs that require attention from nursing professionals. And it’s true that the atmosphere might seem more like a hospital than a home.
When John and Christine toured The Arbors at Westfield, they were happy to discover assisted living is nothing like what they expected. “It wasn’t what I had envisioned at all,” Christine says. “The Arbors is like a home. I said jokingly to John, ‘If Margaret doesn’t like it here, I’ll stay.’”
Fortunately, Margaret does like it there. “I just took her to a doctor’s appointment, and she was singing in the waiting room!” John says. “She was talking about how nice her room was. It was beautiful.”
As U.S. Air Force veteran, Ray spent 40 years as a traveling electronics technician. Although he retired in 1987, he never really stopped working. He visited with people who were terminally ill at the hospital. He wrote three books, including one about dealing with the grief of losing his wife. And he spends lots of time with his grandkids.
A few years ago, he moved into a guest bedroom in his daughter's house to be even closer to family. “But finally, I said, ‘I gotta get outta here. You have a life to live here. You don’t need me,’” Ray recalls.
He was worried about moving to assisted living, though: Was he still going to have a life to live? Or would he be giving his freedom away on a silver platter? And would there be anyone to talk to?
More Independent, Not Less
Many seniors worry about losing their independence once they move to an assisted living community. What Ray found was that The Arbors at Dracut staff work tirelessly to help Ray do whatever he wants.
“If I want to see a doctor, if I want to see the boss, I ask any of the attendants close to me, and they immediately stop what they’re doing and say, ‘Oh, I can show you that, or ‘Here, let me bring you to where you need to be,’” Ray says. “Never in all the time I’ve been here has anyone told me I can’t do something. They always say, ‘OK, I know someone who can help’.”
A Fountain of Friends
Because the staff takes care of the things Ray doesn’t like to do — cooking, dishes, laundry — he actually has more time to spend doing the things he loves. One of his favorite activities to participate in is the men’s lunch.
“A majority of the men are ex-service people,” Ray says. “When you get service people together, our mouths are always moving. We all have stories and tales. It’s great fodder for our conversations.”
When Ray isn’t busy with the activity programs, he’s thinking of the next book he’s going to write — and he has 50 people to brainstorm topics with.
“I enjoy the time with the people,” he says. “If you have a conversation with anyone here and you get bored, you’re the one with the problem. Everybody here to me is a fountain of information. I’m fortunate. I’ve made good friends here.”
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 answers to frequently asked questions about what assisted living is really like, download our comprehensive Guide to Assisted Living today.