Assisted Living: What Does That Mean?
We receive many calls from family members trying to decide if or when Mom or Dad should go to a residential assisted living community. That can be a tough decision, so here is some general information that might help explain what residential assisted living is all about.
The first thing to know is that if it takes two or more people to help Mom or Dad get in and out of bed or transfer themselves from a wheelchair to a toilet or to a recliner, they are not appropriate for residential assisted living. In that case, long-term nursing care is the better option, unless they have the financial means to pay a caregiver to stay with them around the clock. Most people don’t have that option.
Assisted living is generally for seniors who may need some assistance with things like bathing, incontinence management, getting dressed, socialization, or if they are showing early signs of dementia. The first thing LivWell CARES advises is to get Mom or Dad to their primary care physician when you notice that they’re becoming forgetful, not bathing regularly due to fear of falling, unable to manage their home, or if you’re concerned about their safety living alone.
How forgetful are they? Is it little things like where Mom left her purse or her cell phone? Or are they forgetting things that might jeopardize their safety, such as forgetting to turn off the stove, inviting strangers into their home, giving out personal financial information, leaving the house in their pajamas, or getting lost in their own neighborhood? Are they able to take their medications properly and at the right time? All of these are clues that Mom or Dad could use a little extra help and supervision.
Assisted living communities offer private apartments for their residents. These can be anything from a studio apartment to a 1-bedroom or a 2-bedroom apartment for couples. Most utilities are included, with some exceptions for expanded cable TV, Wi-Fi, and landline phone service. Assisted living communities offer three meals a day, as well as snacks in a central dining room. For this reason, the apartments don’t have full kitchens. Instead, they have kitchenettes with a fridge, microwave, and sink. Menus usually consist of one or more main choices each day, plus a few regularly available items if the special of the day is not to one’s liking. Residents are served restaurant style, meaning someone comes to take their order and then delivers their food to them. Residents are encouraged to eat in the dining room for at least one meal each day so they can get out of their apartments and socialize with others. This socialization helps to keep their minds active, keep their cognitive skills sharp, and allows the staff to observe them for any changes to their health or behavior and get them medical attention if needed.
Assisted living communities also offer help with some of the activities of daily living (ADL’s), such as help with bathing, using the bathroom, or getting dressed in the morning. They also usually offer light housekeeping services, linen and towel services (changing sheets and providing towels), laundry services, and organized activities such as Bingo, Game Night, or Movie Night. They will provide transportation to grocery stores and outings such as plays, looking at holiday lights, or going to the zoo in the summertime.
They will also assist with medication management. This is done by helping residents order medications, keeping the meds in locked cabinets so others can’t access them, helping a resident organize their meds, and dispensing and giving them reminders when it’s time to take their meds. Staff are available 24/7 for these services. Administrative staffing includes a Medical Director, Activities Director, Marketing Director and support staff, and CNAs (Certified Nursing Assistants) for things like medication dispensing, checking blood pressure or blood glucose levels for diabetic patients.
Does Mom or Dad have a pet that they can’t bear to part with? Most assisted living communities will allow one small pet if the resident can care for that pet and it’s not disruptive to other residents.
The cost of residential assisted living varies for the different communities but can range from $3,800 a month to $5,000 or more. The cost can vary depending on the level of care a resident requires. In the Quad Cities, most assisted living communities are private pay only, meaning they do not accept Medicaid. Unfortunately, there are only two assisted living communities in the Quad Cities that accept Medicaid. Both of those communities are in the Illinois Quad Cities and require that residents be 65 years of age or older. Sadly, this limits choices for low-income seniors in our community. The good news is that both communities will assist prospective residents in applying for Medicaid programs that will help them pay for their assisted living. It’s important to note that Medicare does not pay for residential assisted living.