When it first becomes apparent that an aging parent or loved one could use a little extra help at home, many families try to provide the assistance and care themselves. However, there often comes a time when these family caregivers realize they need more than just a few hours a week of assistance.
Sometimes this can happen as a result of your loved one’s declining health, added family and career stress, or a fall or a fender bender that made you realize that their current living situation is no longer safe for them.
But deciding to search for assisted living is an emotional one — which is why so many families put off a move.
“Oftentimes, families will say, ‘We’ll get through winter,’” says Jonathan Athanas, Executive Director of The Arbors at Dracut. “They find a reason to push things off. The reality is, people can enjoy the benefits of assisted living, but the longer you put off the move, the smaller and smaller that window of enjoyment gets. You don’t want to find yourself in a position where Mom slips at Christmas, breaks a hip, and then assisted living is no longer an option. Then they have to go straight to skilled nursing.”
So when is the right time for assisted living? Here’s a look at how these families knew it was time for assisted living.
Mom Was Isolated at Home
Many seniors who live alone struggle with feelings of loneliness, isolation, and a lack of regular companionship. One study found 43 percent of surveyed older adults felt lonely, and another revealed that 60 percent reported feeling a lack of companionship and 41 percent reported feeling isolated.
According to researchers, loneliness is lethal. Research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even death.
So when Tony’s mom, Rosemarie, was preparing to retire from her 35-year career as the front-end sales clerk at DeScenza Diamonds in Boston, he got worried.
“Mom was facing yet another winter in the condo,” Tony says. “Realizing she might be stopping work or cutting back on work, which was a huge social activity for her, we thought it might be time to consider moving into a different living environment.”
Rosemarie settled into The Arbors at Stoneham, and she’s been making friends ever since. “She plays cards and Scrabble on a regular basis, and she has a table of friends she sits with,” Tony says. “From our view, this is the ideal time for her to be there. Without the burden of having to think about paying bills, maintaining the condo, spending time alone in the condo … with all this place has to offer, she’s now able to enjoy the active part of her life with much less burden and responsibility.”
Sisters Paula and Carol were also concerned about their mom, Nancy, living at home alone. “When she was home, she was blue,” Carol says. “She wanted more attention, more social interaction. We were there, but it wasn’t enough.”
Since Nancy moved into The Arbors at Chicopee, she’s come out of her cocoon. “She’s having a second adulthood,” Carol says. “She’s much happier. She’s more social. She has a gaggle of women who she talks about. It’s like she’s in high school. It’s a reversal. Rather than a depressing end of life, she’s having a good time. It really made a change. It made things better.”
Mom Wasn’t Eating Well at Home
Many seniors struggle with malnutrition. Of the millions of older adults admitted to the hospital every year, at least 1 in 3 is malnourished upon admission.
Sometimes health problems or medications lead to decreased appetite or trouble eating. Other times grocery shopping and cooking a meal for one doesn’t sound that appetizing, so instead of making a balanced meal, seniors swap protein for pie.
Regardless of the reason, malnutrition can lead to serious health concerns, including a weakened immune system, poor wound healing, and muscle weakness and decreased bone mass, which can lead to falls and fractures.
When Bob noticed that his mom, Winifred, wasn’t eating as well as she used to, he reached out to his three older sisters. “Her eating habits weren’t great. She wasn’t socializing as much. She was in need of care and attention,” Bob says.
Poor eating habits was one of the first things Lynn noticed about her mom, Janet, too. At the beginning of the summer, Lynn and her husband went on vacation. “I dropped off food for her before we left,” she says. “On the way home, we stopped by her house, and all the food I had left was rotting in her fridge.”
Then in July, Janet was rushed to the ER, where she was treated for dehydration and an untreated urinary tract infection. That’s when she knew it was time for assisted living.
Assisted living communities often help seniors eat better. Dining programs are overseen by a registered dietitian to ensure that the menu is nutritionally balanced, and top chefs are hired to create a dining experience that caters to each resident. Additionally, there is a strong sense of community in the dining room to help residents feel connected and welcomed.
Ever since Winifred moved into The Arbors at Dracut, she’s been eating like a queen. “It was a great fit,” Bob says. “The socialization, the care and attention to her medication needs, the better healthy eating — it all is a win.”
Mom Fell — Again
More than 1 in 4 older people fall each year, and 3 million of them are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries.
But falling doesn’t just cause injuries. It can also make a person become afraid of falling, which can cause them to cut down on their everyday activities. And when a senior is less active, they become weaker — and this increases their chances of falling. Falling once actually doubles your chances of falling again.
So when Marcia’s mom, Betty, left the burner on in the kitchen — again — and she fell — again, she knew it was time for assisted living. “The EMTs had been to my parent’s house probably 25 times last year,” she says. “Every time the phone rang, I feared something bad had happened.”
That’s when Marcia knew it was time for assisted living. And ever since Betty moved into The Arbors at Chicopee, Marcia and her siblings have been at peace. “It makes our life wonderful knowing that she’s well cared for,” Marcia says.
Mom Had Difficulty Managing Her Finances and Medications
Research shows as seniors age and memory starts to slip, managing finances and medications are typically one of the first set of skills to decline with age — and it’s hard to live independently if you have difficulty managing your medications or finances.
Lynn first noticed her mom was having difficulty with the bills. But she didn’t realize how bad it was until went through her mom’s medicine cabinet. “All the vitamins she told her doctor she took every day had expired years before,” Lynn says.
Tina also struggled to make sure her sister-in-law was taking her medications as prescribed. “It became increasingly obvious to us that, even though we were only five minutes away, the majority of the time she was isolating herself, not eating properly, not taking care of herself.”
Activities of daily living (ADLs) are the skills needed to live independently: dressing, shopping, cooking, doing laundry, managing medications. In assisted living communities, seniors receive personal care and assistance with these types of activities so that they’re able to live as independently as possible.
“For my husband and me, I think it’s peace of mind that we’re sharing the responsibility for her care with someone else, The Arbors at Westfield in this case,” Tina says.
Whether your loved one is having increasing difficulties with activities of daily living or you’re feeling burned out by caregiving, assisted living offers a higher level of personal care support as well as the added opportunities for socialization, dining, and activities. Additionally, it means that there is a plan of care in place, which eases pressure on you and your family.
If you’re wondering if it might be time to start exploring your assisted living options, download our eBook 7 Warning Signs It’s Time to Make the Move to Assisted Living.