assisted living isn't a prison

How many of you have promised that you’d never abandon your parents to die in a home?

You can imagine the sadness…and the smell, right? But that’s not what I experienced when I visited my grandmother.

I’d say hello to the folks at the front desk, grab her mail and make myself a cup of coffee in the lobby, say hello to the neighbors who were downstairs, and head up to her apartment. Every apartment had a shelf outside the door, which residents filled with fresh flowers and figurines.

We’d sit in her sunny living room and catch up on the gossip. She’d either come with me for dinner with my parents, join her friends for dinner in the on-site ‘restaurant’, or decide to stay in and cook for herself.

She’d never been particularly outgoing, but she’d quickly fallen in with a new group of friends and regularly saw the same friends she’d had since childhood. She ignored most of the clubs and activities, but she loved having a spot to garden and a library just down the hall.

I know she didn’t feel abandoned, since there was an apartment waiting for her at my parents’ house. She liked her privacy and didn’t like having to rely on us to drive her places. When we all decided it wasn’t safe for her to stay in her house, she and my mom chose the apartment in assisted living.

Don’t cross the wide variety of residential care facilities off your list before taking some time to get to know your options.

Many assisted living facilities feel like modern luxury condos

Many assisted living facilities feel like modern luxury condos

Staying at home is more comfortable

We’ve all seen horror stories on the news where some poor little old lady is being forced out of the home she was born in. It’s a gripping image, but it’s not really representative of our mobile population. Nearly 17 million Americans move to a different county every year and many of those are seniors moving to retirement destinations like Florida and Arizona.

Memories are important, but they aren’t a good way to decide whether or not your parents should age in place. Assisted living facilities and retirement communities incorporate universal design features that make homes safe and comfortable for people with different abilities. Your family home will seem a lot less charming if dad can’t safely get to the bathroom on their own. If your parents don’t like change, they probably won’t enjoy living in their home through a renovation.

Many residential facilities provide varying levels of care, so they can move once and stay in one place — safely. Moving your parents into an accessible home sooner rather than later gives them time to enjoy their independence and create happy memories in their new home.

Determined to keep them in their home? Run through Hometeam’s home safety tips for seniors to keep them safe.

Living together means mom never has to eat alone -- unless she'd prefer to

Living together means mom never has to eat alone — unless she’d prefer to

Assisted living facilities are lonely places

Isolation is a major concern for seniors. The majority of seniors in the US, UK, and Canada report being lonely.

Residential care facilities and retirement communities are known for their community amenities and activities. It’s a lot like living on a college campus, including all of the drama. If your parents really want to go back to college, they can choose a retirement community tied to a local university. By choosing a new home nearby, they can remain active in their current community while expanding their social circle.

Staying at home can be awfully lonely in the suburbs, making giving up driving especially traumatic. Sure, there are transportation services, but it’s incredibly lonely to be trapped at home.

If you’re using all of your free time to take them to doctors appointments and help them with errands, that’s less time to actually spend with them doing things you enjoy.

Living at home is less expensive

The cost of care varies tremendously. The cost of a residential facility is easy to tally up, while staying at home comes in unpredictable bits and pieces.

It’s sort of like the difference between owning a house and a condo. My friends who own houses think it’s insane that I pay condo fees, but I’ll never have to pay a utility bill, join a gym, replace a roof, or mow the lawn. I pay one flat fee that takes care of it all and someone else manages the details for me.

Even if the mortgage is paid off, there are still taxes, utilities, insurance, and upkeep. Modifications can really add up, especially if you need to remodel the kitchen or bathroom to make it accessible.

They’ll need someone to take care of the things they can no longer do themselves — from yard work to laundry. Many times family members will take on these chores. As care needs increase, you’ll need to find a mix of family, friends, and paid caregivers to provide assistance and companionship. You may need basic medical training. You’ll need to take them to appointments and make sure they have groceries, medications, and supplies.

Residential care costs typically include housing, food, transportation, entertainment, a health club, and other amenities. Continual care retirement centers often include assisted living, memory support, and skilled nursing care.

All of these things come at a cost. Before deciding assisted living is too expensive, come up with a good estimate of what the costs to provide similar care at home might be.

Don't delay moving to an accessible home -- it gives them time to settle in and make new memories.

Don’t delay moving to an accessible home — it gives people time to settle in and make new memories.

Residential care is where you go to die

My great uncle has been living in his retirement community since I was in elementary school and he’s doing just fine.

Living in a place designed for seniors makes people more able. When your mom has to have adaptive devices everywhere to make things work, it’s a constant reminder of all the things she can’t do anymore. When those features are built in she can regain her independence.

Assisted living provides the ability to seamlessly adjust the level of care to your parents needs, saving their energy for the things they enjoy the most. There’s no need to struggle with chores they’d rather not take care of themselves.

Even at the point where your parents require skilled nursing around the clock, there are still activities, social outings, and plenty of visitors. Your parents aren’t sitting around in a nursing home pining for your return — nursing homes are full of high school level drama and romance. Let’s just say there’s a reason nursing homes have policies recognizing seniors’ rights to a safe, fulfilling sex life.

Because of the assistance and adaptations of residential care options, many seniors improve as they settle in. That’s not a sign that they don’t need care and support — it’s a sign that the care and support they’re getting is working.

It’s my responsibility to take care of my parents

Yes, we want to take care of our parents. However, there are a lot of ways to do that. There are a lot of options for how to provide your parents with the care they need. As anyone with a loved one in a residential facility will tell you, you’re not off the hook as soon as you drop them at the door. Family and friends are still heavily involved with providing care, they just have a lot more professional support. There’s no need to go it alone.

Caregivers who decide to keep their parents at home often find themselves cutting back their hours, quitting their jobs, or retiring early. This loss of income has major repercussions. Without the proper support, caregiving can shorten your lifespan. Research shows that caregivers under chronic stress actually age faster. Chronic stress increases your own likelihood of becoming ill or disabled. Moving your parents into a residential facility in a rush because of your own declining health is traumatic for everyone — especially people with dementia, who are now thrust into an unfamiliar environment.

By exploring all of your options, you and your family can decide the best way to provide your parents with the support they need.

Written by Cori Carl
As Director, Cori is an active member of the community and regularly creates resources for people providing care.

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  1. Article is totally devoid of cultural considerations.

  2. Not always true ive worked for 2 different assisted living facilities and cared for residents that definitely needed nursing home care still do

  3. Regardless of the money you have or insurance coverage, most (as I imagine there may be a select few) are completely horrific. Yeah, they may have a fancy library or nice dining room but the day to day is terrible…bottom line is too much responsibility falling on aides who are under-appreciated, uninformed of important patient information, and underpaid, therefore the patient suffers.

  4. I wish you wouldn’t use the phrase “abandon your parents to die in a home”. I know you’re doing it for affect, but you’re making people not want to read the article, by starting out that way.

  5. Even with the money to spend it’s terrible. My mom had my Grandmother in a nursing home. $9,000 a month. No help dressing. Barely any help with hygiene. Terrible food. Left for over an hour after pressing the emergency button. My mom took her out after two months and is back to square one.

    As the daughter of a full time caregiver, it makes me so deeply angry.

    Not to go off on a tangent, but it’s destroyed our family – Mainly because my two aunts bailed on my mom when she needed them most. I go out of my way not to speak to them anymore and it breaks my heart.

  6. My dad is in one and while it is not the same, it is not great quality of life either. If you have big bucks you are good, other wise forget it, very very expensive.


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