By CHARLES I. DAVIS
• Kansas Senior Press Service
Laura Johnson had been living in the same home for almost 50 years. It’s where she and her husband, Sherman, raised their five children — two boys and three girls.
Laura did everything right. She was fortunate in that her husband had a good job, she did not have to work, and her children did well in school. The kids went to college, got married, and one-by-one moved away.
She and Sherman spent their golden years in their family home and enjoyed occasional visits from their kids and grandchildren. However, Sherman’s health began to fail him and he died. Laura remained in their home alone. As her children’s families grew, they became busier and the visits became less frequent.
After several more years, as she and her home grew older, they both required more maintenance. Her life was burdened with trying to schedule repairs on the house and make it to her own doctor’s appointments. She was wary of driving in the city; her eyesight and reflexes were not what they once were.
One day she woke up looking at the ceiling and realized she had blacked out and fallen. Her children became concerned and decided to research options. They determined that assisted living would be the most suitable option for their mother.
Laura Johnson is not a real person, but I see her story all the time. Older residents like her tend to be anxious at the thought of moving away, and often believe that assisted living is synonymous with a “nursing home.” Although there are some similarities between the two, there are more differences.
Assisted living facilities are designed for those who are independent enough to get around on their own, and the accommodations are more likely to resemble an apartment. Meals are prepared, dishes are done, and prescriptions are monitored.
There are many factors to consider when choosing an assisted living facility. Location is usually one of the main determining factors. Many times, prospective residents come from out of town and move into an assisted living facility that is near their caregivers’ or family members’ home.
Quality of staff is another concern. Is a registered nurse on the premises at all times? Does the facility have a house doctor? You might also want to investigate transportation options. See to it that the food and activities offered are to your liking.
Finally, size matters. Some people enjoy a large facility with lots of activity, while others desire a smaller, more personal or cozy setting.
The decision to move into assisted living does come with certain minimal requirements, and there are slight variations from facility to facility. In general, basic requirements may include being able to get in and out of bed without assistance, administer one’s own insulin shots if an RN is not present around the clock, eat without assistance and other things of this nature. Some facilities provide options for residents who are cognitively challenged and those who have tendencies to wander.
If you, like Laura Johnson, have found a facility that fits your criteria but are still reluctant to leave your home, you are not alone. I often see suspicion, resentment, and hesitance among new residents moving in. The senior’s adult children then pick up on this and start to second-guess the decision.
However, most residents quickly are well-adjusted, having fun, and moving forward with this new phase of their life. With their new peer group, they usually enjoy activities such as card games and entertainment and organized trips outside the facility. Spiritual needs may be met with regular in-house church services, and many other services are provided, including hairdressers, entertainment, and of course on-site health care providers.
Ultimately, it becomes apparent that the decision to move into an assisted living facility was the best after all. And time and again I hear the phrase, “I should have made this move a long time ago.”
I hope those of you who find yourself or your loved ones in a similar position will not hesitate to consider assisted living.
Editor’s note: If you or your loved ones are considering assisted living and would like some unbiased counsel, consider calling your Area Agency on Aging. Aging information specialists are available to help you assess your situation and sort through local options.
Charles Davis has a geriatric medicine practice in Overland Park and is medical director at assisted living facilities. 913-648-8880