5 Things The Elderly Want From Assisted Living
Everyone wants to voice an opinion of how the elderly should be cared for when they can no longer care for themselves at home. Experts, and those with life experiences alike, all chime in to say which type of long-term care solutions are best, what to look for when choosing a caregiver, and what features you need in a continuing care facility.
Everyone that is, except the elderly. Who is asking them what they think is best, or what they want from their future care options? No one. Facilities are marketing to caregivers, not the seniors who will be living there. I felt it was time to give the elderly a chance to speak up about what amenities, services, and issues they felt to be the most important for themselves.
I spoke to over twenty local seniors who are still living independently or semi-independently at home. All had different plans for the inevitable future when they will need more care than they can provide for themselves. I asked them what they thought of assisted living, and what would make them choose it over in-home care or a skilled nursing facility for their future.
Together, they came up with more than 30 ideas for amenities and features they would love to see in an assisted living facility. However, the following five issues were ones that all of these senior citizens agreed were the most important to them, and would be the deal breakers if and when they needed to move to assisted living.
1. Adequate Staffing
A handful of staff members stretched too thinly over multiple residents is a recipe for disaster. It is also off-putting to seniors, who want to feel as though they have a consistent quality of care.
Two of the seniors I interviewed had spent time in nursing homes for physical therapy. They both agreed that an under-staffed facility made for too much tension and more loneliness than they would have felt recuperating at home.
2. Friendly Pet Policies
Family caregivers may be focusing on the nitty-gritty aspects of assisted living (such as cost and level of medical assistance provided) but the elderly are thinking about being forced to give up the comforts of home. Companionship of a pet is one of the comforts that they worry about losing.
All of my elderly interviewees stated that pets were an important part of their lives and one of the many incentives they had for staying as healthy and mobile as possible. Seven stated they would be willing to downsize to smaller pets as long as they could have them with them at all times. Two said they wouldn't want smaller pets, but would be willing to adopt their pets out if they were allowed to visit with them frequently.
Twelve stated that whether or not they could take their pets with them would be the deciding factor in their long-term care choice.
3. Personal Freedom
Assisted living is very attractive to those who want the same freedom they had at home, only with supervision "just in case". Nursing homes, on the other hand, often have locked doors, strict schedules and pages of rules and restrictions.
As one gentleman said:
"I'm not ready to be told when to go to bed, when to eat, and when I can have visitors. I want to be able to go outside for fresh air anytime."
Freedom also extends to community aspects, with some seniors stating that although they like the idea of socializing with their peers, they want it to be on their own individual terms, not as dictated by a activities director.
4. Continuum of Care
Like their children, seniors are concerned with the future of their caregiving needs. Will they be able to stay in assisted living for a long time, or will they need to move soon to a skilled nursing facility?
Whereas they share the same concern with their families, seniors have a different reason for worrying about the permanence of assisted living. It is hard enough to make such a big change once. They don't want to settle into their new home, only to have to relocate again within a few years.
This is why assisted living facilities that are part of a bigger campus are appealing. Facilities of this degree allow residents to transition to nearby skilled nursing, without leaving the area, friends, and familiar atmosphere they have grown accustomed to.
"The whole point in going is to get help early enough that you don't need a lot of care for a long time. But when that time comes, it would be nice to move over to another building, instead of several blocks away, or even to another town."
A concern for many was whether or not the facility offered specialized services for dementia and Alzheimer's. A memory care unit on the same grounds would help seniors with memory loss maintain a sense of familiarity with their surroundings, while still providing customized care based around their individual needs.
A retired nurse said:
"None of us will be the same if we have Alzheimer's. I wouldn't want to live out my life in a place that treated us all the same."
The biggest worry about assisted living care was the fine print. One woman stated that her sister had been "kicked out" of assisted living after her care needs increased suddenly. The family was surprised, since the facility had sold them on the idea that they would offer her the best care for the rest of her natural life, come what may.
"I would rather be told upfront what the place will or will not do. I want to know, is it worth my time to move here, or should I just wait for the nursing home?"
5. Best Value for the Cost
Like their children and grandchildren, seniors worry about the price of long term care. They don't want to saddle anyone with their expenses, but they aren't always sure if they have enough savings or assets to cover care for a long time. However, their biggest concern wasn't the final price. It was quality vs. price.
"I've heard that assisted living was cheaper on a monthly basis depending on what my needs might be", one man said. "All I want to be sure of is that I am getting what I do pay for. Cheaper isn't always better."
Considering that the nearest assisted living facility is small, sits on a busy highway, and has no grounds or special amenities other than nice carpet and a big front porch, it is easy to see why these seniors are worried that they won't be getting much in return for their money.
Since it is private insurance or cash only, it is out of the reach of many area residents who would prefer an assisted living facility over a nursing home. The ones who would be able to afford it are skeptical.
"I want good value for my money. If I'm paying for it, if my children are paying for it, then I want to say 'This place is worth every dollar!' Even if costs more."
Less Important Features of Assisted Living
The above features were only a small fraction of what the elderly wished to see in an assisted living facility. What other luxuries were these people eager to see?
One gentleman joked that he would like a 24 hour buffet. Others stated they would like a safe area on the grounds where they could exercise, with walking paths or even a track for jogging. All agreed that whereas visual appeal (interior design, landscaping, etc.) would be less important than cost or care quality, it would play a big part in helping them choose between two facilities.
One of my interviewees summed it up beautifully:
"If I choose assisted living, it will be based on how much it feels like home. But not just like my house. It would have to feel like the loveliest, safest home possible. Because I wouldn't be going there to keep from dying. I would be going there to continue to live!"
Copyright © 2014
by Jayme Kinsey
- Article by Jayme Kinsey exclusively for Assisted Living Directory
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