So you’ve heard a little bit about assisted living. Maybe your friend’s dad lives happily in an assisted living community or your sister’s co-worker’s mom just decided to move into one.
But your mom keeps insisting that she never wants to leave her house, especially not for what she’s been calling a “nursing home.” So even Googling “what is assisted living” and clicking on this article is enough to leave you feeling guilty for weeks.
But, when you’re 85 and widowed, what does living at home really look like? And what is assisted living really like?
How Life at Home Might Have Changed
Whether gradually, or rapidly, as your parent ages life at home changes. Your parent may be adjusting from years of living with a spouse to suddenly living alone. Or, maybe your parent is adjusting to changes in the neighborhood around her. As others move on, new families may have moved in. Less familiarity with neighbors, or an increase in crime can all create feelings of anxiety or even fear in a place that once felt so safe.
Maybe you’ve noticed subtle changes like your mom’s ability to know exactly where everything is in her house.
Maybe you’re noticing that her beautiful kitchen is used much less often than ever before (even though for you it brings back fond memories of cooking and enjoying many meals with family). Now that it’s just her, you might be noticing she doesn’t really spend much time cooking anymore, at all, eating mostly convenience foods or quick snacks (though she doesn’t willingly tell you this).
You may have noticed that the keepsakes of her well-lived life that are hung, displayed, and arranged throughout each room haven’t been cleaned in quite some time. Or that she’s dreading the day snow covers the driveway when the first snow used to be her favorite time of year.
And while she loves sitting in the living room and reading a book, she misses having someone to talk with about it. Most of her friends at this point in her life may have moved or passed, and sometimes she might not feel like driving to the church’s book club meetings.
It’s not uncommon for widowed women to struggle getting a good night’s sleep, also. When she turns off the lights and heads upstairs for the night, for many fear follow. Unexpected noises can cause you to wonder Is it an intruder? Should the furnace be making that noise?
Where Your Parent Lives Matters
It’s not unusual to want to stay in the place you’ve called home for so many years as long as they can. It’s familiar, and change can be scary. But living at home alone can also cause feelings of loneliness, sadness, or even anxiety.
What are the least enjoyable aspects of living at home alone for women? Research shows lack of companionship, no one to help with housework, and fear of falling or getting hurt are the top three. Although professional home care or emergency alert systems might provide some peace of mind, they don’t address social isolation, monotonous mealtimes, and daily chores and housekeeping.
Where your parent lives matters. Although they may be able to live safely at home now, have they — or you — considered the realities of staying at home as they age?
It’s possible that your parent isn’t aware of what the assisted living of today offers. Assisted living communities aren’t anything like the outdated image of an “old folks” home. In fact, a move to an assisted living community is actually a step closer to independence and living a longer life.
The best assisted living communities are designed to provide a positive, compassionate, purposeful atmosphere where older adults are empowered to live a life filled with meaning and joy.
Life in an Assisted Living Community
Your mom might insist that what she has is what she wants, but she also might not be aware of what assisted living can offer. Many seniors actually decide to move to assisted living sooner rather than later so they are able to live their life to the fullest — and on their own terms.
Here’s a look at what life in assisted living could look like for your loved one.
They can make new friends with similar interests
The need for companionship doesn’t go away as you grow older, and one of the biggest benefits of assisted living is the social opportunities it offers. Surrounded by people their own age, residents become part of a loving, supportive community.
They gather for teatime, play bridge in the pub, and sit around the fireplace discussing politics and grandkids. And an ongoing schedule of activities — from classes to movie nights and trips to local museums — makes it easy to get connected, develop a new hobby or interest, and stay active.
Yet, living in an assisted living community doesn’t mean you relinquish your personal space. Residents live in their own private spaces and have the freedom to come and go as they please. And if your mom wants a break from the community, she can go to her home, close the door behind her, and have some time to herself.
They can enjoy many amenities close to home
Need a haircut? What about a physical therapist? Want to practice yoga? Or does lifting weights sound better? Or maybe it’s time to learn how to garden?
The best assisted living communities offer many amenities on-site, such as beauty and barber salons, fitness and wellness programs, and recreational activities.
Many communities also coordinate transportation to shopping centers, religious services, outings, and many other daily activities, even on short notice. These communities understand that transportation enables residents to live more independently and ensures that your mom will be able to continue enjoying the activities she’s accustomed to.
They can savor delicious, nutritious meals with friends
Another benefit of assisted living is that meals are provided — and many are prepared by award-winning chefs. The meals are not only nutritious, delicious, and can meet the changing dietary needs and personal preferences of each resident. But they are also enjoyed in the company of friends and fellow community members. Meals — and life — take on more meaning when shared with others.
They can forget about yard work and home maintenance
Another key advantage of an assisted living community is that your loved one can say goodbye to yard work, snow removal, and home maintenance. Keeping the house clean, mowing the lawn, making dinner — almost all of that work gets moved off of your loved one’s plate, and many day-to-day concerns become someone else’s job.
They will never have to worry about safety or security
Assisted living communities are designed to provide a safe and comfortable living environment, which means that your mom can finally sleep soundly. And you can sleep soundly, too, knowing
that most assisted living communities have emergency alert systems. If something happens in your mom’s home, she can summon help with the click of a button.
As your mom ages, grab bars in the shower and ramps instead of stairs not only help her stay mobilized but also reduce the possibility of experiencing an injury due to falling. And if a fall does happen, trained professionals are working around the clock, so help is never far away.
They can get care if and when they need it
The best little-known-secret about assisted living is that many people who live in assisted living communities are incredibly independent.
Moving to assisted living doesn't mean your loved one relinquishes privacy and independence. Assisted living team members will only pick up those chores when your loved one is ready to be done with them or when they can no longer be handled safely or appropriately.
For example, if your mom doesn’t want help with laundry or housekeeping, no problem. But if she struggles with memory loss and often forgets to take her medications, a professional can ensure that she is getting the proper dosage at the appropriate times. If your dad doesn’t need reminders to take his medication, he can continue doing so without any help. But if he has trouble with mobility, his home and care plan can be specifically arranged to make getting around easier for him.
There is no one-size-fits-all package with assisted living communities. Each person who makes a community their home has their own history, personality, and needs. Assisted living team members offer personalized care — if and when they need it — that’s unique to your loved one.
Assisted living provides just the support needed for each person, empowering residents to live independently.
Still have questions about assisted living? To learn more, from the right time to start looking to how much it will cost, download The Definitive Guide to Assisted Living Facilities.