Assisted Living Facilities for Aging Loved Ones

How do we find the best possible care for our aging mother? In our quest for a workable plan, one of the options that has surfaced is "assisted living?" What exactly does this entail? What kind of service does it offer, and how do we select a good assisted living facility? We'd appreciate any advice you can offer.

“Assisted living” generally refers to a care-giving model that provides more care than independent living but less care than a nursing home. Seniors are embracing this concept in increasing numbers because it allows them to remain somewhat independent yet still receive necessary services.

Assisted-living facilities come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are called by several different names  board-and-care homes, adult foster-care homes, personal-care homes, sheltered-care facilities, residential-care facilities, or dormitory-care facilities. They may be freestanding or part of a retirement community or nursing home. Sometimes they are set up to function within a continuing care retirement community that provides independent living, assisted living and nursing care. These residences may house as few as two people in a home-like setting or hold up to 200 in an institutional environment.

Assisted living combines housing, personal services and some health-care services in an environment that promotes individual independence, privacy and choice. While the size of the residence varies, all assisted-living facilities typically offer the following services: assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs), such as eating, bathing, dressing, toileting and walking; 24-hour security; three meals a day in a common dining room; medication dispensing or reminders; housekeeping and laundry; social and recreational activities; and an emergency call system. Fees will vary depending upon the kind of housing your mother prefers (private vs. shared room) and the types of services she needs. In general, costs range somewhere between $1,000 and $4,000 a month.

In selecting an assisted-living arrangement for your mother you should shop around for a facility with well-trained, reliable, friendly staff and quality care. Seek out recommendations from physicians, clergy, social workers, financial planners and friends. Visit as many facilities as you can to get a sense of the kind of choices you will have. Ask lots of questions – about staff training and turnover, meals and menu selections, medical services, daily activities, and visitor allowances. Try to find a place that’s reasonably close to your home. Chat with the residents about their experiences and satisfaction level. The Consumer Consortium on Assisted Living (CCAL) has developed a lengthy questionnaire you can take with you when you meet with the director of the assisted-living facility. You can download the entire document free of charge from the
CCAL website or send for a printed booklet.

It’s important to note that assisted-living residents or their families generally pay the cost of care out of their own funds. Medicare does not pay for assisted-living services. Most facilities accept only private pay, although some states offer limited assistance through Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income. Thirty-seven states reimburse for assisted-living services as a Medicaid service. Check with your state Medicaid office for more information.

In determining whether assisted living is the best option for your mother, there are a number of factors you’ll want to take into consideration, including her personality, her health needs and her financial resources. If she’s losing some function but is still a sociable person, assisted living may be an ideal choice. If, on the other hand, she’s not fond of congregate living, a better option may be to arrange for help through adult day-care programs or home care.

For additional help and information on this topic, we’d encourage you to consult the resources and referrals highlighted below. Or if you have relationship concerns and challenges associated with this situation, please don’t hesitate to give our Counseling department a call.


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Caring for Aging Parents


Caregiver Action Network

National Association of Area Agencies on Aging


Caring for Ill or Aging Parents

Elderly Care

Discussing Your Medical Wishes: A Patient’s Guide

Making Medical Decisions for a Loved One: A Caregiver’s Guide

When to Move an Elderly Parent Into a Senior Residence Facility

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