Saturday, October 24, 2020

When to Move to Assisted Living - Are You Ready?

When should you make the move to an assisted living retirement community?  Like most people, you have probably lived independently and comfortably your entire life.  However, eventually you may start to realize that you are no longer able to do an optimal job of caring for yourself.  You probably do not need to be in a skilled nursing facility.  You just want life to be easier, and maybe have a little assistance once in a while. 

It can be hard to acknowledge that you need to move to assisted living, and many people have them confused with nursing homes.  However, you may not have visited one of the delightful assisted living communities currently available in your area.  In most cases, residents live in their own private apartments, with their personal furniture and possessions.  They have both privacy and lovely common areas to enjoy. Typically, there are a wide variety of activities, fitness facilities, art studios, classes, and entertainment.  In most cases, the residents are given a choice of a broad selection of foods to choose from at each meal. Special diets are often available for those with specific medical needs, such as diabetics, or people who have problems with gluten or food allergies.

How can you decide if you are ready for assisted living?  The truth is that you can move into one of these communities whenever you wish.  You do not need to be sick, injured or have any particular health issue to justify moving to one.  It is not unusual for a healthy spouse to move into one with a spouse who has a chronic health condition. Many single people make the decision as they get older because they want to age in comfort and safety.  Even during the Covid-19 epidemic, people have successively transitioned into assisted living communities. Some communities even promote the fact that they have managed to maintain a "bubble" with few or no cases of Covid-19 among their residents or employees.

If you decide to wait to move into one, how will you know the time has come? You should consider making the move if you answer "yes" to even one of the questions below.  You should seriously begin the process of choosing an assisted living community if you answer "yes" to several of these questions, especially if you wish to make the choice of a community yourself, rather than wait until an adult child makes the choice for you. What questions do you need to ask yourself to determine that assisted living is right for you?

When Should You Move to Assisted Living?

1. Have you fallen recently?

It is easy to dismiss a fall as simply being an "accident."  After all, even as young adults, we all trip over things occasionally.  However, have you fallen more than once in the past year or two?  Did it happen because you were dizzy, experienced a sudden drop in blood pressure, had neuropathy, or lost your balance? Did you have trouble getting up after it happened?  Were you badly injured, severely bruised, or experienced pain for more than a day?  Even if you have not actually fallen, did you only manage to prevent a fall because you were able to grab onto a chair or counter at the last minute? 

Falls are a leading cause of death and serious injury in the elderly. If you have lost your balance, misjudged a step, or fallen for other reasons, and you live alone, it could be time to move to a safer location where someone will check on you regularly.  Until then, you may want to purchase a medical alert device (Ad) and get a service to go with it, so you can contact someone quickly if you fall and have trouble getting up on your own.  Some of these medical devices include automatic fall detection, so the service provider can get help for you, even if you are unconscious.

2. Are you having difficulty recovering from illnesses and injuries?

If you seem to be chronically ill, or have trouble healing from an injury or illness, your immune system may be telling you that it can no longer respond aggressively to your health issues. You could be approaching a time when you will need more medical attention in the future. It is far better to move into the assisted living community of your choice before you become too ill to move.  If you are almost at that point already, because of your illnesses or an injury, you should seek help in moving.  Many assisted living communities can refer you to someone who will help you choose the items you want to take with you, arrange the packing and moving, dispose of the items you no longer need, and make sure you are successfully relocated.

3. Do you ever forget to take your medications?

It is very important that you take your prescriptions correctly and on-time.  At first, a medicine organizer may help you keep your prescriptions straight.  However, if you find that you are still forgetting to take them, or taking them twice in the same day, it could be time to move to a facility where they can help track your medications and make sure you are taking them correctly.  In addition, they will notice if there might be drug interactions which your doctor may have overlooked, or if you seem to be having a bad reaction to a medication.  It can be important to have an independent person observe the effect your medication is having on you.

4. Do you have problems with any daily living activities?

Are you having trouble preparing your own meals and cleaning up afterwards?  Is it overwhelming to do your laundry, take a shower, or wash your hair?  Moving to assisted living will give you a well-deserved break.  They will provide you with meals, often served restaurant style, and they can also help with housework, laundry, showering, and personal grooming. It can make life much easier for you.

5. Are you eating properly?

Are you relying on takeout or frozen meals? Has your weight changed significantly in the last year or less? Weight change can either mean you have a serious medical problem, or it could mean you are not eating properly.  When my grandmother moved into assisted living, she was amazed at the number of liquids they provided at every meal, including a glass of water, milk or juice, and coffee or tea.  It is common for senior citizens to become dehydrated and not realize it.  Whether you have been overeating unhealthy foods, or under-eating the healthy foods your body needs to sustain itself, an assisted living community can help you find the right balance.

6. How is your personal hygiene?

Are you letting yourself go?  Do you spend the day in your pajamas, frequently re-wear the same clothing, or skip bathing and washing your hair?  This could be a sign that you would benefit from assisted living, where you will regularly see other people and have a reason to get dressed and look nice.  If dressing and bathing have become physically difficult for you, the community will also have assistants who can help you.  Many of them also have an on-site hairdresser.

7. Are you having mobility problems?

Are you having trouble walking or using the stairs in your home?  A physical therapist could help you regain some strength, and it is possible you may be able to remodel your current home to make it more accessible. However, if you are having difficulty getting out of bed, walking around your home, or standing for any length of time, it may be advisable to move to assisted living before your mobility problems become worse.  Even if you ultimately end up using a walker or require a wheelchair, assisted living communities are designed to make it easier for you to get around while using these mobility devices.

8. How is your driving?

If you have had some auto accidents, fender benders, or tickets, it could be time to stop driving.  You could rely on taxis, Uber or public transportation, or you could move to assisted living where they will drive you to doctor appointments and periodic shopping trips.  They will also provide transportation for outings to local places of interest.  It could be time to relax and leave the driving to someone else!

9. Has it become too hard for you to maintain your home?

Has it become difficult for you to keep up with your home?  Do the flower beds need weeding, the grass mowing, or the walls painting?  Are there plumbing or electrical problems you are ignoring because it is so difficult for you to deal with them?  Are you starting to feel like a hoarder?  Do you frequently lose things in your home, because of the chaos?  Life will be much easier for you in assisted living where you will no longer be responsible for maintenance.

10. Are you able to care for your pets?

If you own a pet, you do not want to neglect them.  It is not fair to the animal if you sometimes forget to feed them or fail to change the cat's litter box.  Is it becoming too hard for you to walk your dog, or take your pet to the vet? There are assisted living facilities which allow pets.  This move could benefit both you and your beloved animal.

11.  Do you get lost easily?

Getting lost or having difficulty following directions could be an early sign of dementia.  It could also be dangerous for you, especially if you having trouble finding your way back home.  If you find yourself getting confused when you go somewhere, do not ignore this symptom.  You should immediately talk to your doctor and seek out an assisted living facility which provides memory care, in the event your confusion becomes worse.

13. Have you noticed that you become angry more easily?

Anger, impatience and aggressive behavior can be early signs of impending dementia.  They could also be signs of depression or loneliness.  You should discuss these symptoms with your personal physician.  They may want to put you on an antidepressant.  Moving to assisted living could also benefit you.  You will be in a less stressful living situation, and they can monitor you for continuing symptoms of depression or dementia.

14. Have you become isolated or withdrawn?

Be honest with yourself.  Have you become less social than you were a few years ago?  Even during Covid-19, there are ways to interact with other people online, and reach out to your friends.  You should do some self-reflection about whether or not you have adapted.  Are you reaching out to other people, participating in social activities, staying in contact with friends, or continuing to pursue hobbies you always enjoyed?  If you have noticed a change, you should talk to your doctor about the situation.  Assisted living could help you reconnect with people and activities you enjoyed in the past.  

15. Are you ignoring your bills or your mail?

You bills are likely to be much simpler when you live in assisted living.  You can arrange to have your monthly fees and any other bills, such as insurance premiums, automatically withdrawn from a bank account and, at the same time, have your Social Security, pension and any other sources of income automatically deposited.  While you or a family member should regularly check your account to make sure the money is being deposited and withdrawn correctly, you will have few, if any, bills you need to handle directly.  This will also reduce your stress. 

16. Are you happy?

As people age, it is not unusual for some of them to become unhappy, lonely, or resentful towards their family members and friends who may seem to have forgotten them.  You cannot change the behavior of other people.  However, you can put yourself in a better living situation where you will be surrounded by new people who care about you, check on you, socialize with you, and participate in activities with you. Even if you are having absolutely no problem caring for yourself right now, the right assisted living community can improve the quality of your life immensely. 

Remember that you can move into assisted living for absolutely no reason, other than the desire to put yourself in a safe, secure situation because you are aging and becoming more frail. Most of them have independent living apartments or cottages where you live, until you actually need more assistance. Perfectly healthy people often live in assisted living communities because they have an ill spouse, or because they want to know they will be prepared for the future.  However, if you answered "yes" to one or more of the questions above, you should seriously consider moving into assisted living sooner, rather than later.  A good quality community will be able to recommend an agency or helper who can make the transition easier.  Check with state agencies to make sure you find a community which is safe and has had few problems or complaints.

The ideas for some of the above questions came from an article in Consumer Affairs.  You can find more information about finding an assisted living facility for a parent or other loved one at:

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  1. A really good assisted living facility in Orange County is Reata Glen. I believe they also have a location in San Diego. They encourage people to move in before they need help with any of the things you mentioned. That way you're acclimated to your new surroundings and made friends which makes the transition easier.

    1. You are absolutely right that Reata Glen and other Reata properties are excellent examples of high quality assisted living facilities. People should definitely consider moving to one before they are in a desperate situation and the idea of moving is too complex.


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