Societal attitudes toward elder care and end-of-life care are rapidly changing, but there are still many myths surrounding assisted living — the type of facility for people who need help with the basic activities of daily living. I work for an organization that provides free assistance to older people, finding them the housing or care they need, so I hear questions every day about what assisted living is like. Below are the five most common misconceptions I’ve heard and my response to them:
1. Moving into an assisted living facility means a loss of independence.
This isn’t necessarily true. It is true that the idea of being increasingly dependent on others is unsavory to almost everyone. Loved ones don’t like to witness an elderly relative’s decline, and it’s worse to be the person losing certain abilities. But sometimes we have no choice as illness and disabilities advance and it becomes harder to perform tasks once taken for granted — we become dependent on others for help.
But it is unfair to say assisted living facilities completely take independence away. When the system works correctly, centers help maintain and encourage the mental and physical strength of their residents. Facilities provide physical and occupational therapists whose job it is to help preserve independence for as long as possible. Some homes have activity directors who encourage mental stimulation and social interaction, both important factors in sustaining positive mental health.
This helps the facility, because it is easier to take care of residents if they can perform activities of daily living on their own, and it has been proven that residents are happier when they’re more independent.
2. Staying at home is less expensive.
It is true that the majority of homeowners have paid off their mortgages by the time they begin to need long-term care, but maintaining a home is still expensive. Utilities, homeowner taxes, maintenance and insurance payments add up.
The assisted living fee (median annual cost: $43,200, according to the recent Genworth Cost of Care study) includes entertainment, meals, physical/occupational therapy, memory care and medical attention if needed. Receiving this type of care at home is sometimes more expensive, especially if the person needs more than Medicare will cover.
3. You get what you pay for.
Relying on price as the most important indicator of assisted-living quality can be very misleading. Some homes are more expensive simply because they tack extra fees onto services that other facilities include at no cost, not because they are better. Quality care may be found in a less expensive facility just as easily as it can be found in an expensive one.
When you begin your search, you should be on the lookout for homes that practice person-centered caring. This type of approach includes personal development of residents, focused attention on hobbies, health and fitness, and communication between residents and staff.
Rather than solely checking price, be sure to do ample research and visit the facility at various times of day before picking a home. Visit during meal times, in the morning and near bedtime to get a clear idea of how the staff maintains routine. Also, be sure to read the contract thoroughly and take note of any fees or clauses where the cost may rise.
4. Assisted living chains provide the best care.
At times, the bigger and better known companies do provide top-notch care, but merely trusting a name can be as naive as believing in price alone. You need to check newspapers, online records, the Better Business Bureau and the state agency responsible for regulating assisting living for any complaints or accusations the company has faced in the past.
Check for a facility’s valid license, history of state inspections, transparency of its website’s information and how often that information is updated. Throughout the United States, individual care communities are licensed through the state’s department of health. If you call the health department, the agency can provide background information as well as any violations and/or complaints.
The only way to find the quality of a company or an individual home is to conduct extensive research yourself.
5. Assisted living centers are filled with residents who are sick or dying.
This is probably the myth that turns the most people off of assisted living. Today’s assisted living homes are not where people go to die, but rather where they go to maintain the quality of life to which they are accustomed. Without the assistance provided in assisted living communities, many people’s health would decline very rapidly. Assistance is what is keeping many people alive and well for years to come, without the fear of what will happen when they become less able to take care of themselves.
People who wait for a sudden life change, such as a stroke or a fall, will likely not be admitted into an assisted living facility. Homes generally require new residents to be partly independent when entering the community. For people who wait for a trigger event, their only choice may be a group home or hospice. It’s better to plan ahead than to wait for disaster to strike.
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