If you’re caring for an aging loved one, you might be wondering whether it’s time to move your loved one into an assisted living facility. You might also be feeling guilty for even considering the idea. In fact, you’re probably telling yourself, “I can’t do this to my loved one.”
However, you shouldn’t think of moving your loved one into assisted living as something you’re doing to your loved one but rather something you're doing for your loved one, says Carlene Motto, chief marketing officer of Belmont Village Senior Living, which operates independent living, assisted living and memory care communities across the U.S. Once family members realize this and make the move, Motto says that most say, “Why didn’t I do this sooner?”
Assisted living can be a good solution when care at home is no longer the best option. Here’s how to determine when that time has come.
What is assisted living?
More than 810,000 Americans—about 2% of adults 65 and older—live in assisted living facilities, according to senior living resource A Place for Mom. These residential facilities provide round-the-clock help with the activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing and going to the bathroom. Most have the option of private or shared rooms.
Assisted living facilities typically offer social activities, fitness programs and prepared meals. They might also provide physical, speech and occupational therapy. However, they do not provide skilled nursing care or medical care but might have a nurse on staff. Some have specialized units for memory care.
The median monthly cost of an assisted living facility is $4,500, according to Genworth’s 2021 Cost of Care Survey. Medicare does not cover the cost of this sort of care. So most people pay out of pocket or rely on long-term care insurance to help cover the cost of assisted living. In some states, Medicaid will pay for assisted living for low-income seniors who meet the eligibility requirements.
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Questions to ask to decide if your loved one needs assisted living
It’s best to recognize the warning signs that your loved one needs assisted living so you can be proactive rather than reactive. “It shouldn’t be a crisis that causes you to make a decision,” Motto says.
If you can answer “Yes” to any of these questions, it’s probably time for assisted living.
Does your loved one need help with activities of daily living? Activities of daily living include bathing, dressing, eating, mobility, going to the bathroom and continence. Your loved one shouldn’t be living independently if he or she has trouble with some or all of these tasks. Assisted living facilities have staff who assist residents with activities of daily living.
Is your loved one having trouble getting medication and taking it regularly? Your loved one’s health could decline rapidly if he or she is forgetting to take medications or can’t drive to pick them up. Assisted living facilities help with medication management to ensure residents take their prescription drugs consistently.
Is your loved one experiencing frequent falls? Your loved one’s home might have stairs, trip hazards or other issues that are contributing to falls and making it dangerous for your loved one to remain there. Your loved one also might be experiencing falls if he or she is waking up at night and is walking around without supervision. Assisted living facilities are staffed 24/7, so there always are aides there to look after residents.
Does your loved one have memory loss? Motto says that almost 60% of residents in Belmont Village facilities have some form of memory loss. Those in the early stage of Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia often can live independently, but they will need constant supervision in the later stages—especially to prevent wandering. Memory care facilities provide a specialized type of assisted living care in a secure setting, so residents can’t leave on their own.
Is your loved one isolated? If your loved one doesn’t have the opportunity to socialize regularly with others (not just you or another caregiver), his or her health will decline faster, Motto says. Assisted living facilities provide enrichment activities and opportunities to socialize. Plus, with several staff members on site at any given time, there’s more oversight to prevent elder abuse—which could be more likely to happen if your loved one is isolated at home with just one caregiver.
Is your loved one at risk of being exploited? Your loved one is at greater risk of financial exploitation if he or she is experiencing cognitive decline. Unless you or another caregiver is present at all times, your loved one could fall victim to scammers who call or come by. Even household help or a paid caregiver could take advantage of your loved one if he or she is alone at home. There’s more supervision to prevent this in assisted living facilities, Motto says.
Are you struggling to provide the care your loved one needs? Although it’s admirable that you want to care for your loved one, you also have to take care of yourself. Sometimes caregivers become so overwhelmed that they get sick and pass away sooner than those they’re caring for, Motto says. So if your physical or mental health is starting to suffer, it’s time to consider assisted living for your loved one.
Are you having trouble coordinating at-home care? It can be difficult to find qualified home health aides. Once you do find someone, you need a back-up plan if that aide calls in sick and can’t care for your loved one. “In a senior living community, there are a lot of backup plans,” Motto says. Assisted living facilities hire and train numerous aides to ensure there are enough staff to care for residents.
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Signs it’s time to pay for assisted living
Being able to afford an assisted living facility also plays a role in the decision to move a loved one to a facility. When considering the cost, keep the following in mind:
- Your loved one will likely need assisted living only for a couple of years. The average length of stay in assisted living is two years, Motto says.
- Costs vary greatly from facility to facility. Even within a facility, the cost of units will vary depending on whether they are private or shared. Shopping around can help you identify more-affordable options.
- You or your loved one might already be spending as much as an assisted living facility costs each month if your loved one is making frequent trips to the ER for falls at home or if you’re paying for at-home caregivers in addition to housing expenses. In fact, Motto says you might even be able to save money by moving your loved one into an assisted living facility by eliminating all of the costs associated with owning a home and living independently.
If you’re still not sure, Belmont Village Senior Living has a survey you can take to see if it’s time to consider assisted living.
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