Unless you’ve had prior experience with a family member or friend living in an assisted living community, there is a good chance you have questions about why people move to these communities. Here are the top 3 questions seniors and their families ask me about assisted living, and my top 3 answers.
#1. When is it time for assisted living?
The level of assistance your loved one needs every day is the first step to determining whether it’s time for assisted living.
Here are the top 3 things to look for:
- Can they manage home and car maintenance, as well as their finances?
- Do they eat nutritious meals, and follow their medication regimen?
- Are they getting dressed every day, and leaving the house on a regular basis to socialize and pursue hobbies?
One of the misconceptions about assisted living is that people who live there have complex medical needs. But, that’s not the case at all.
[Who is right for Assisted Living?]
#2. What are the main benefits of assisted living?
Some people will say they love the privacy of their own apartment. Others are thrilled that most assisted living communities allow pets. Many seniors who were living alone prior to moving to assisted living like the freedom from cooking and eating alone, cleaning, and taking care of home maintenance.
My top 3 answers are based on why seniors thrive in assisted living:
- Social & Active Lifestyle: Assisted living encourages social relationships and promotes an active lifestyle. Research shows that older adults who are active and engaged and spend time with friends and family are generally happier and healthier. The cognitive stimulation of social interaction is also extremely beneficial for brain health. A structured program of activities helps seniors with Mild Cognitive Impairment and can also potentially slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Wellness Care: Assisted living communities provide personal care and medication management services. They also arrange for skilled healthcare to be brought in when needed, including after a hospitalization or rehabilitation stay. An array of these services include PT, OT, speech therapy, pain management and wound management. Additionally, regular health screenings and monitoring by an onsite nurse can more quickly identify health-related issues. This helps seniors maintain their health.
- Healthy Diets: Assisted living communities promote good nutrition. Healthful eating helps seniors recover from illness, spend less time in the hospital, maintain brain health and have more energy. Many seniors living alone find it hard to feel motivated to cook nutritious meals every day. Assisted living communities offer seniors healthful delicious menu choices every day for every meal. Enjoying meals with others in a communal dining setting also enhances overall body and brain health.
#3. How do people pay for assisted living?
The majority of assisted living residents throughout the US pay their monthly assisted living fee through private funds. Some assisted living communities accept Medicaid for lower income seniors. Some communities will accept Medicaid only after their private-paying residents have spent down their assets. And other communities will not accept Medicaid at all. In this case seniors often move to nursing homes which do accept Medicaid. Therefore, it is important for anyone looking at assisted living to understand ALL of the available options to help pay for it.
These are the top 3 most common financing options for assisted living:
- The sale of a home
- Income from social security, pension payments and investment retirement accounts, or the proceeds from converting a life insurance policy to a loan
- Other financial resources can help offset the monthly cost, but usually doesn’t cover the full amount. One of the most useful is long term care insurance. Seniors who qualify can take advantage of government programs, such as the Veterans’ Aid and Attendance Benefit and available tax breaks. Sometimes family members help pay a share of the monthly fee. Choosing to live in a shared apartment with a roommate can save money.
I encourage you to call communities directly to learn more about the payment options they accept. For example, nonprofit communities often have their own financial programs or scholarships that help defray monthly costs for qualifying residents.
Another resource is the American Seniors Housing Association article: An assisted living community’s monthly fee depends on the size of your apartment, the number of services you need and what part of the country you live in.
For many families the search for assisted living for their older relative begins with an urgent need to move, most often because of a medical event or safety concerns. This causes enormous stress for everyone involved. I recommend that you do some initial research and visit a few communities. You can talk to your loved one in advance about the potential need to move to a more supportive living arrangement. Broaching the subject without an imminent need to move might make your loved one more receptive. Planning ahead will help ease your stress, and make the search less chaotic and overwhelming.