Assisted Living

What You Need to Know About Assisted Living

September 20th, 2022

Group of seniors enjoy conversation

When to know it’s time, finding the right place, and helping your loved one adjust to an Assisted Living Facility
After decades of working with seniors, Julie Raymond Chalk, MSSA, LMSW knows that most people want to stay in the home they’ve lived in for years and to which they attach many memories.

“Ninety-nine percent of older adults want to stay in their home forever,” Chalk says. “The problem is, there are quite a few dangers in this, with isolation and safety being the primary ones.”

There are the usual indicators an older adult needs assistance with daily living, including forgetting to take their medication, losing weight because they aren’t eating well, neglecting bills and important correspondence, and lack of daily hygiene such as bathing and brushing their teeth. When a caregiver notices these things, it’s important to watch closely for further decline and to keep in mind these may be a result of isolation and safety issues.

Isolation can be deadly

“We are wired for community,” Chalk says. “Not having enough social contact in daily life takes a toll mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. It’s as much a risk factor for the elderly as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and hypertension, and it can even lead to dementia.”

Avoiding isolation doesn’t mean a senior can’t live independently any longer, it simply means they need social interaction each day. This can come in the form of someone delivering a meal to them, a daily phone call from a family member, having lunch with friends, attending church activities, and spending time with children and pets.

“When they are alone at home people sit and watch TV all day long!” Chalk says. “They need to get out and interact with others, and there are many options today.”

One of those options is a local senior center. Or, if a person needs more assistance, an Adult Day Program can often be the answer and a good step toward living in community. According to Chalk, a good program provides social interaction and activities that are beneficial for the brain, renews interest in life, and helps adults continue to learn new things.

“Adult Day Programs are divided into two kinds: those specifically for people with dementia and those for seniors without cognitive decline,” Chalk says. “Programs include exercise, meals, activities, card games, field trips to live plays and art galleries, arts & crafts, programs provided by school kids, and even transportation to stores and other places. Seniors can go every day or just now and then. It’s a great way for a senior to have a social life without moving out of their home.”

The issue of safety

As aging progresses, eyesight, balance, strength, hearing, and general health may decline, leading to accidents at home or outside. When living alone, these risks underline the importance of community. If and when a senior experiences injury, it is important for them to be surrounded by a caring community that immediately assists them.

“The number one thing that changes life for a senior is falling and hitting their head or breaking something,” Chalk says. “They may lay there without anyone knowing for hours or days.”

Medical Alert Systems can be worn around the neck to alert a responder by pushing a button or detecting when a fall has occurred. There are many forms of alert systems now, giving peace of mind to seniors and their children. They have a monthly subscription cost that is well worth the price.

Other safety issues for seniors include forgetting something cooking on the stovetop, not hearing a warning signal, injury from lifting something too heavy, and lack of hygiene that can cause infections.

Decline leads to a lack of independence, the most difficult of which is losing the ability to drive safely. When a senior must give up their driver’s license, the difficulties of living alone multiply.

When moving into a community makes sense

Downsizing to a smaller house is one way for seniors to continue to live independently but moving into a retirement community is often a choice seniors wish they had made earlier. Of these, the best option is a Life Plan Community that enables seniors to transition from one level of care to another as their needs change.

“It’s a natural progression and follows the course of a lifetime because as we get older our worlds become smaller—we don’t go as far, we travel closer to home—and it’s helpful to not view this as failing or losing, but as a natural part of aging,” Chalk says. “It can be beneficial to meet with a social worker to talk through options and come up with a care plan. You want to make sure the wishes and preferences of your loved one are considered and followed as much as possible.”

One of the biggest benefits to moving into a retirement community sooner than later is that seniors have more options and control when time is on their side.

“If you wait for a medical emergency and you can’t go home from the hospital, you will be stuck wherever there is room,” Chalk says. “But if you work with your family to visit places ahead of time, you can choose where to live. A Life Plan Community is best, especially for couples because they can stay together while their individual needs are met.”

Chalk emphasizes that very few people die in their sleep, which is what we all hope for. Instead, they have a medical emergency and are faced with very few choices for ongoing care. It’s important to look ahead so you have the time to move up to the top of a waiting list before you need care.

“When people refuse to look at the possibilities, it leads to sadness and depression,” Chalk says. “You need the courage to look at your own aging and plan for it. It’s a great gift to your children also because when you plan for your future, they know what you want and can give it to you if possible. That prevents kids from arguing with each other about how to care for you.”

How to help your loved one adjust to assisted living One of the most important things a caregiver can do to help a loved one adjust to assisted living is to understand that the person needs time to adjust and not to expect immediate acceptance of the situation.

“There are many challenges when a person moves into a retirement facility or assisted living,” Chalk says. “They are in a smaller place, so they lose a lot of furniture and personal items. There are a lot of people coming in and out of their rooms and supervising them, so they can’t always make their own schedules. Sometimes they can only shower on certain days because of their caregiver’s schedule. They may live close to new people who can’t converse or provide mental satisfaction in interactions. They may know more about their medications than the person helping them. It comes down to the fact that none of us like to be controlled.”

Emphasizing where your loved one still has control helps them adjust to assisted living. Help them maintain this with plenty of choices for what to wear each day, providing meal choices by taking them to their favorite restaurant or bringing in carry-out, going on walks together, taking them back to where they lived before to visit friends, and taking them to their church and Bible studies.

“Anything that gives the senior control helps them psychologically. Focus on the positive by showing them what they can still do on their own. And make things happen for them! Whatever includes socializing will help with the adjustment,” Chalk says. “But when left alone day after day with no one coming in and showing interest, the person becomes depressed, and that’s what causes harm over a long period.”

Other ways to help are by tapping into hobbies and providing alternatives to more active involvement: if they love golf, pay extra to get the golf channel for them; if they love swimming, make sure they go to water aerobics provided at their retirement facility; if they love children, give them opportunities to volunteer or take their grandchildren to visit them.

“Ask and listen to what your loved one wants,” Chalk says. “Then help them solve problems and figure out how to make it happen. Their quality of life comes down to having as much control as possible to do what they want to do.”

What to look for in an Assisted Living Facility

When researching—hopefully ahead of time—where your loved one would like to live as they age and need more assistance, Chalk suggests considering the following:

  • Tour the facility with your loved one. Make sure you see what every part of it looks like, the condition of the rooms, dining room, common areas, and nurses’ station. Is it similar to your loved one’s taste and décor? Is it updated and well-lit? Is it a pleasant atmosphere? Does it smell good?
  • Take a good look at the people who live there. Are they sitting in wheelchairs or walking around and engaged in life? Do they look cared for or neglected? Are they in street clothes or pajamas or gowns? Are they clean?
  • Make sure it’s a home and not a hospital.
  • Watch how the staff interacts with residents. Are they kind and patient, do they give them choices?
  • Ask residents how they like living there. What would they like to change about the place?
  • Eat a meal in the dining room. Do you like the food that is served? Is it nutritious and well cooked? Are there options for meals? Will they accommodate the dietary needs of your loved one?
  • Go back by yourself when you are not expected—at dinner time or first thing in the morning—and take a non-official tour so you see the way things really are in the facility.
  • Decide if the location is convenient enough for your loved one to see friends and family easily. Will you be able to visit regularly or is their community nearby?
  • Remember that nonprofits are often better than for-profit facilities because the staff may have a sense of mission rather than just be working for a paycheck.
  • Realize that just because a place is new, doesn’t mean it’s good. Sometimes people get the best care in older, established facilities because the administration puts their money into the care and programming for the residents.

CRISTA Senior Living is a Life Plan Community that has more than 70 years of experience in providing multi-level care from Independent to Assisted Living. Our beautiful 55-acre campus is located in a quiet neighborhood but close to amenities in Shoreline. It offers a dynamic intergenerational environment that empowers seniors to live out their best days amongst caring staff, a Christ-centered community, CRISTA Ministries headquarters, and King’s students.

We would love to talk with you today. Find out more about Assisted Living at CRISTA today.

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