Whether the discussion comes about for ourselves or our parents, eventually the topic of senior living at home or in an assisted living facility (ALF) will crop up and when it does the question is almost always the same: What’s the difference?
Basically, it breaks down to the foreseeable pros, or benefits, and cons, or drawbacks. Almost instantly the thought occurs that, “Staying at home, of course! Because it’s … home.”
But is that really all there is to consider and is it really always the best answer? It’s natural to have concerns about moving into an senior living facility. There are probably more than just five issues to weigh but they do boil down to the same general points and it’s never an easy decision.
1. Family. Assisted living facilities are that middle ground between full independence and a nursing home. ALFs offer professional care and attention around the clock, some structured times such as for meals that can’t be negotiated (choice removed) and a number of activities focusing on community and participation. When you or a parent starts to lose friends and family it can be hard to meet new people, especially when you have lost some mobility. Opportunities simply don’t exist to get out among people after a certain age, it seems. The assisted living centers are like a community lifestyle: depending on the ALF, living arrangements can be like small apartments with some common areas for gathering and socializing, or like condos and even townhouses in some centers. The pro with ALFs would be the chance and ability to socialize with like-minded individuals, meet new friends, have the chance to get out and be active with those of a same age. The con is fairly obvious: you move out of your home, away from familiar settings, possibly away from family, although they are greatly encouraged to visit. However, many ALFs will accept small pets and allow for a good many personal items to be brought over for individual decoration and personalization of one’s living quarters.
2. Freedom. ALFs will remove some choices from the individual while still promoting as much independence as can be achieved under the circumstances. This means certain events that you or your parent once controlled may no longer be at your discretion. You may not have the choice of when to eat breakfast, lunch or dinner. Perhaps your showering schedule will have to be adjusted so help can be available to you. However, if you can no longer do them alone anyway, then were you to remain at home, you may be waiting on a child or grandchild to have the free time to assist you, or waiting for your in-home nurse provided by the state to come and give a sponge bath. While independence seems threatened, the fact is that it’s not the ALF doing it but the unavoidable demands of growing older and losing mobility.
3.Enjoying Life.This is a very personal point: what will the quality of life be away from the family? It’s quite possible the nest has been empty a while. Maybe a spouse has passed away and you or your parent is living at home alone. While those grounds are familiar, is life truly being enjoyed? Homes get very tiring to maintain and run when we get older; we end up using all our energy just to get chores done and end up too tired to do anything fun. If assistance is needed for some basic daily tasks, how long do you need to wait for a family member to help? They have their lives, too. Sometimes ALFs help immensely in the ability to get our personal tasks done in a timely fashion because it’s a professional facility; families mean well and want to help, but it’s hard for them to set aside time to include helping mom shower and wash her hair, then get dressed and ready for the day. You have to decide whether the familiar surroundings are making life better or if a change of scenery might help you get more done for yourself.
4.Cost. Truly the biggest con to assisted living is the cost. It can run anywhere from just under $2,000 a month to well over $5,000 a month. That includes the help, meals, lodging, transport, planned activities, medications dispensed, no more worry about the home repairs or even changing the light bulbs, the whole deal (though for some communities there may be an additional fee and what is offered by an ALF depends greatly on the individual facility), but Medicare doesn’t pay for it. Social Security may cover some and passive income or even a long term care policy if one was taken out, but it’s no cheap endeavor. And if those options aren’t available to you, there are some creative suggestions to help pay for assisted living. Conversely, staying at home for care may not be overly cheap either if you have to pay for professional home assistance or specialized medicines and delivery. Plus can you still get around outside the home? Can you make sure mom gets to all her appointments when it’s up to you to drive and you still work and have your own spouse and kids to tend to? The cost of taking off work time or gas for transport may be a factor.
5.Deteriorating health. This is another hard fact to face: your condition may worsen or mom’s might. Her slight dementia will eventually escalate past a point that you can no longer give her the care and attention she needs. Your own health may deteriorate to a point that you need more constant and active care, too. It seems like eventually, you’ll probably need to seek assisted living anyway. How to handle that? Seize the moment now because you know it’s around the corner or wait for that eventuality? The pro is you get to spend more time with the family, ideally. The con is the family may find it harder to offer more specific attention in certain ways. Do you make a decision while you can or let someone else make it for you down the road?
The pros and cons to assisted living versus home care are varied, personal and emotionally deep. It’s no easy decision unless you’re often alone, finding it hard to upkeep the house or get up and down stairs and would like to downsize. You may very well want to find new friends and still be active with those your age while welcoming visitors. You’re never too old to try something new. Or you simply can’t bear to leave the house you bore your children in and where you were a family together. You’d rather take the pain of struggling up and down the stairs to being with strangers. Either way, it’s something everyone faces and the choice you make needs to be shared with others. Seek support and suggestions and even look into a few assisted living facilities in your area, talk to the residents. It could be your fears are unfounded and you’ll find more pros than cons in accepting a new direction in life.