You may not yet be familiar with what assisted living is, or how it differs from other forms of senior communities. Read on to learn.
Assisted living communities are the result of senior care designers and professionals seeking to liven up the institutional feeling common to traditional nursing homes. Their brainchild, the "assisted living community" was born about 30 years ago.
The Assisted Living Federation of America defines assisted living as a long-term care option that combines housing, support services and health care, as needed. Assisted living is designed for individuals who require assistance with everyday activities such as meals, medication management or assistance, bathing, dressing and transportation. Some residents may have memory disorders including Alzheimer's, or they may need help with mobility, incontinence or other challenges. Residents are assessed upon move in, or any time there is a change in condition. The assessment is used to develop an Individualized Service Plan.
Here are some facts about the assisted living experience that may be new to you:
1. Each community provides varying levels of care - because there is no nationwide definition of assisted living (though it is regulated in all 50 states), senior living communities that call themselves assisted living can offer different levels of caregiving. One factor that affects the level of care given to residents is facility licensing; a higher degree of licensing indicates the ability to provide more care. Find out about specific facilities and their accommodations here.
2. Each community has its own distinct personality - just as no two people are alike, the same can be said of assisted living facilities. There are large complexes in the suburbs, high-rise apartment buildings in the city, and even small cottages surrounded by nature. Browse the array of senior living designs on display in the ALFA 2012 Senior Living by Design Awards. Most assisted living is licensed to provide care for at least 20 people, though many communities are larger in scale with closer to 100 residents.
3. Pets are seen as therapeutic, not bothersome - though specific policies on pets differs from community to community, almost all assisted living facilities recognize the benefits of your loved one having a furry friend to love and look after. Do your research: are there weight/size requirements; is there a pet deposit; are there breed restrictions; what types of animals are unwelcome? And if your loved one happens be allergic to certain animals, be sure to inform the potential assisted living facility.
4. Assisted living costs are high, but there are ways to reduce overall costs - according to a 2012 senior care survey, the national average rate for a one-bedroom apartment is about $3,300/month. This is not cheap, but 41 states do offer home and community-based waivers that allow low-income residents to live in assisted living communities. Also, seniors can purchase long-term care insurance to help plan for financing their long-term care needs. (Read about the pros and cons of long term care insurance.) Veterans and their spouses may be eligible for VA benefits that can offset the cost of senior care. Seniors with low income and few assets might need to use Medicaid to pay for care - more information can be obtained at www.eldercare.gov.
5. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities do not offer the same care - when deciding what type of care is best for your loved one, trust the guidance and knowledge of a medical professional. Here are some basic guidelines to help inform your decision:
- Assisted living residents are mainly independent but need help with daily living personal care tasks like bathing or dressing. Nursing home residents require 24-hour assistance with all aspects of daily living.
- Nursing homes generally offer single or semi-private rooms, while assisted living communities generally offer studios or one-bedroom apartments.
- Assisted living residents are mobile. Nursing home residents are bed-ridden.
- Nursing home residents require skilled nursing attention on a daily basis, while assisted living residents do not require ongoing medical attention.
6. There are diverse options now available - a growing number of assisted living communities are specially designed to meet cultural, religious, dietary, and language needs of its residents. Because America is a land of diversity, we can expect to see an ever-increasing demand for niche senior living communities. Read about the benefits of these specialized facilities.
7. Assisted living facilities offer Alzheimer's and dementia care - many assisted living communities offer dedicated memory care programs for residents that are designed to decrease symptoms like wandering and agitation, and generally improve quality of life. Seniors with early stage Alzheimer's or dementia should be able to live amongst the general population of the facility; however, when the condition becomes advanced residents are transferred to what is commonly known as a "memory care area". Memory care is a secured area that is designed to protect residents, where the staff are specially trained to care for those with dementia and Alzheimer's. General information about memory care can be found here.