What does it all mean? A Guide to Senior Living

senior couple reading the paper outside with a flower

Some of the hardest decisions that we have to make in life involve the long term care of the people who we love the most. Medical science, education, and a greater emphasis on living a healthy lifestyle has caused a steady increase in life expectancy. While this means we are living longer and enjoying a greater quality of life, it also increases the chance that professional senior care becomes a necessity. Call it an addition to the modern circle of life.

Senior centers exist to provide the care that is needed to assure that people can continue to enjoy the greatest possible quality of life, despite whatever disabilities or medical needs they may have. The problem, however, is in deciding what type of center will best serve their needs. That is why we have put together this guide, to assist you in making those difficult choices.

Alzheimer’s Care

Alzheimer care centers are a highly specialized type of senior living center. They specialize in caring for people who suffer from this vicious disease, as well as other forms of dementia. They are normally found as standalone sections of other facilities, but more and more often they are being opened as independently run, dedicated memory loss centers devoted exclusively to the care of those suffering from the effects of Alzheimer’s.

Some things to look for are:

  • Secured access to prevent patients from wandering away: a common occurrence in dementia patients.
  • Circularly-designed facility: dead ends seem to add to the confusion that many Alzheimer’s patients experience.
  • Highly trained staff: caring for people with Alzheimer’s takes specialized training. You don’t want to leave your loved ones in the hands of anything less than the best!
  • Staff led activities: designed to keep the patient engaged and active, both mentally and physically.

Nursing Homes

Nursing homes, also known as skilled nursing facilities, are the option that many must turn to when they or a loved one can no longer be cared for effectively within any other setting. They are the choice for those who require near constant monitoring and assistance with the most basic of daily needs.

Generally, they are designed around a semiprivate room arrangement with meals being served in a common area for patients who are capable of feeding themselves or who can be reasonably moved. Most offer a variety of activities to liven the days of the patients.

All nursing homes that receive federal funding are required, by law, to have at least one LPN on duty at all times but most exceed this requirement as a standard practice. Unfortunately, the high degree of care that skilled nursing facilities deliver can make them very expensive. This is one reason why it is best to start looking for available care centers before your need becomes immediate. Demand is high and the earlier you begin looking, the better your options will be.

Some things to look for are:

  • Latest inspection report from the state.
  • Cleanliness
  • Safety features (bars in restrooms, stools in showers, handrails in hallways)
  • Staff response time when called
  • Staff availability for patients
  • Staff to patient ratio
  • General attitude of staff and patients (happy patients are a good sign, happy patients AND staff is even better)
  • Availability of emergency care if needed

Assisted Living

Assisted living facilities are the most varied of all the different types of senior care available. The general idea behind them is that there are many seniors who need some help with daily activities, but are still capable of enjoying some independence and are not in need of constant medical monitoring like that in a nursing home.

In most cases, rooms are set up as individual or shared apartment style units, and they may or may not have kitchen facilities. Meals and group activities will be shared in a common area of the facility and medical assistance and security are available on a continual basis.

Some questions to have answered are:

  • Are custom meal plans available? (Diabetic? Low-cholesterol? Kosher? Halal?)
  • Is the food good enough to eat every day?
  • Are exercise facilities available?
  • What is the general atmosphere of the facility?
  • Is medication monitoring available?
  • Is transportation provided for necessary patient needs (doctor appointments, personal shopping, church, etc.)?

Independent Living

Independent living communities could best be thought of as exclusive communities geared to meet the needs of seniors who are still independent, but are no longer able or willing to take care of certain chores, like yard work. They range in style from apartment buildings to standalone houses, but share the commonality of cutting the workload of taking care of a traditional home. They feature, in most cases, smaller dwellings and yards with less cleaning and maintenance needed.

Most provide a social calendar geared to their residence interest and appropriate for their age.

Some things to consider when looking at independent living communities:

  • Is it close to family and health care providers?
  • What are the interests within the community – playing chess or dancing the Cha-Cha?
  • What are the current residences like?
  • Would you be comfortable with both the people and the community as a whole?
  • Do you have the financial means to live in the community?
  • What support services are available in the community?

Retirement Communities

Retirement communities are pretty much exactly what they sound like. They are residential communities that cater to the wants and needs of retirees. For active seniors, they can be a great place to live. Many of them have age requirements and charge monthly fees, but also features such amenities as tennis courts, swimming pools, golf courses and workout centers. Basically, think about retirement communities as condos for seniors. You’ll pay a monthly fee, but you get services and amenities in return, plus the camaraderie of living in a community of your peers.

Making the decision

We’d love to reward your reading with the final answer. It would be great to be able to say that the best option is clearly this or that. But, like so many things in life, it’s more complicated than that. The decision is difficult, and only made harder by the emotions involved. It’s difficult to decide when everyone is pulling in the same direction, and it can feel nearly impossible if your parent or loved one is resistant to a move.

But here a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Every state in the country regulates senior living facilities in some way or another. You can always check with your state’s regulatory committee for background information. Don’t make this your only stop, but it is an important source of information.
  2. Talk to a financial adviser early on. Like planning to retirement, planning for senior care is easier if you have a few bucks socked away for it.
  3. Talk to your doctors. Just like any other professionals in any other field, doctors to each other, and they can often point you in the right direction or help steer you if you’re pointing the wrong way.

Hopefully, this guide gives you a good start to your journey. It’s a long and winding road, but if you do your research and due diligence, you’ll make a decision that you and your loved one can be proud of.