Assisted Living Facilities

By Wesley Patrick

As caregivers we must realize that, at some point, our loved one will not be able to live independently anymore. The next step may be setting up your loved one in an assisted living facility. But what exactly does that mean, and what does it entail?

An assisted living facility is a combination of housing, personalized help, supportive services, and healthcare designed to meet your loved one’s specific needs. The supportive services are around-the-clock and may include medication reminders, bathing and dressing, housework, even balancing a checkbook.

Residents in these facilities usually have their own space in the form of a room, apartment or suite, but also may live with their spouse or roommate should they choose to do so. The key factor here is that there is constantly some level of supervision of the residents and responsibility for the loved one’s well being. This may help caregivers catch a break and find some relief.

Residents usually arrive at an assisted living facility from their own homes, the homes of their children, nursing homes, or hospitals. Simply put, an assisted living facility is ideal for someone who needs nursing care, but is far too frail to live at home anymore.

An assisted living facility should be licensed by a state agency (usually an agency for elder affairs). The general requirements might include room and board, medication management, meals, the development of an individualized service plan, a qualified and certified staff, and a 24-hour, on-site staff. Other services might be the organization of recreational and social activities, housekeeping, and transportation to shopping or doctors.

Assisted living residents sign a lease when they enter one of these facilities. The rent may cover everything or there may be additional charges above and beyond the monthly rent. Insurance may cover some of these costs, but families usually pay out of their pockets.

So how should caregivers choose an assisted living facility? It is imperative that you check out several of them in person. This is not something you can do on the Internet or the telephone. Check for the atmosphere, common area cleanliness, well-kept grounds, and the type of residents living there. Following are some things that should be considered when choosing a facility for your loved one.

  • Has the facility been open for long?  Many of these places start recruiting before construction is complete. The drawback to signing on to a brand new facility is that not all policies and procedures have been established which might lead to delays for certain services.

  • Is the facility licensed? Assisted living facilities are not federally regulated. It is up to the individual state to define what they are and to establish a set of licensing requirements. Each facility should have some kind of credentials, so ask to see them. It is probably best to go with a state licensed place as they are reviewed regularly and must adhere to at least minimum standards.

  • What are the hiring standards for the staff? You can talk to the admissions director about the facility’s hiring standards. Ask about any ongoing training and that employees are at least 18 years old, have at least a high school education, and some previous experience working with elderly people. Also check to make sure that employees are screened for criminal offenses.

  • Will the staff here be available to my loved one 24 hours a day? Most facilities do have that kind of emergency assistance, but ask to make sure. Also be sure that the staff will be able to assist your loved one with any special personal needs such as dressing, grooming, eating, bathing, and using the toilet and telephone. Other important details include policies on medication assistance, and whether the facility is willing to work with you on your loved one’s individual service plan.

  • Does the facility provide activities that promote recreation and socializing? This is important because your loved one needs human contact to keep from feeling isolated and exercising—even just a walk—will help maintain good physical health. Ideally you want to find a place that feels like one big happy family.

This should get the ball rolling on you and your loved one finding an assisted living facility suitable for both of you. Remember, the most important thing is to visit any potential facility in person and ask questions. Make an informed decision. Your loved one’s well-being and your peace of mind depend on it.

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