A Place for Mom
Assisted Living
Memory Care
Independent Living
Senior Living

Make the best senior care decision

Group of happy seniors have breakfast at an assisted living facility

11 Signs It Might Be Time for Assisted Living

Written by Haines Eason
 about the author
22 minute readLast updated October 26, 2022

Hundreds of thousands of seniors currently call an assisted living community home. But, like everyone, seniors want to preserve their independence. So, when choosing a retirement community for yourself or your loved one, there are a lot of factors to consider. Ensuring current health needs are met is important, but will the retirement community be able to meet your future health needs as well? According to Barbara Levison, a geriatric care manager and the president of Florida’s Aging Life Care Association chapter, assisted living is all about balance: a little assistance and as much independence as possible. Assisted living offers access to 24-hour care for seniors who would benefit from some daily assistance but don’t require skilled nursing or specialized dementia care. Is assisted living the right fit for your senior loved one? Read on for our 11 questions and essential guidance from Levison.

Key Takeaways

  1. Activities of daily living (ADLs), such as bathing, dressing, and mobility, present frequent concerns for seniors. Nearly 9% of adults 75 to 84 need personal care assistance, according to the CDC.
  2. Seniors in assisted living often form connections with other residents. These friendships can help prevent senior isolation, as well as increase a senior’s likelihood of participating in enriching activities.
  3. Assisted living communities can coordinate care for their residents to reduce hospital visits and the risk of serious health complications. Doctors, physical therapists, and other health professionals may even provide services at the community.
  4. Caregivers are at serious risk for health complications of their own. Sixty-five percent of caregivers report sacrificing their own physical and mental health in order to care for a loved one.

Feel confident and prepared to tour

This downloadable guide helps you identify what to look for in a community and key questions to ask when you visit.

Download the assisted living touring guide >

Let our care assessment guide you

Our free tool provides options, advice, and next steps based on your unique situation.

When is it time for assisted living? 11 questions to ask yourself

To be more precise, over 800,000 adults reside in assisted living communities, according to the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living.[01] And as life expectancy for Americans continues to increase, that number will grow. You’ll know it’s time for assisted living when a loved one can no longer live comfortably at home without assistance. Ideally, you’ll be able to make an unhurried decision, but sometimes a crisis demands action.

“In my experience, families and caregivers often wait until things are progressing to a breaking point before looking for assisted living options,” says Levison. And, she adds, both senior well-being and caregiver mental health may be strained by the time many families take these essential steps.

Here’s the good news, though: Some straightforward questions are all you need to get started.

Does your loved one require help with activities of daily living?

Activities of daily living (ADLs), such as hygiene and mobility, present frequent concerns for seniors. Nearly 9% of adults age 75 to 84 need personal care assistance, according to a 2017 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).[02] This figure grows to 21% for seniors 85 and older.

Medication management stands out as one of the most common concerns for seniors and caregivers. In a 2020 A Place for Mom survey of more than 1,000 caregivers, 60% were considering a move to assisted living for their senior loved one due to issues with medication management.[03] Errors in medication management can pose a real danger for seniors: The CDC estimates 350,000 people are hospitalized each year due to misuse of prescriptions.[02]

Beyond medication management, assisted living communities provide help with other daily tasks such as bathing, which benefits both seniors and their caregivers. For Linda Lagesse, 78, who served as her husband’s sole caregiver for nearly four years, ADLs motivated her to contact A Place for Mom’s Senior Living Advisors to find assisted living for her husband.

“I bathed him. I dressed him. I tried to help him get exercise,” Lagesse recalls. “I was exhausted. It just got to be a lot.”

Do they need more opportunities for socialization?

Alongside positive relationships with staff, seniors in assisted living often form connections with other residents. These friendships can help prevent senior isolation as well as increase a senior’s likelihood of participating in enriching activities.

If your loved one often seems bored at home, consider that assisted living encourages residents to get involved with activities like fitness classes, happy hours, game nights, and more.

Would your loved one benefit from care coordination?

Before his move to assisted living, Lagesse’s husband experienced frequent health issues that continued to land him in the hospital.

“He kept getting sick, which meant that he was not getting the care he needed from me,” Lagesse said.

In addition to the emotional and physical toll of these hospitalizations, her husband’s regular appointments with many doctors and specialists could become overwhelming.

To simplify this process, assisted living communities can coordinate care for their residents. Doctors, physical therapists, and other health professionals may even provide services at the community. For residents who wish to continue to see their own doctors and care providers, transportation to nearby appointments is provided. Additionally, assisted living staff communicate insights from these appointments to families and caregivers, allowing them to stay informed and involved.

Would a lifestyle without chores reduce stress?

Daily chores and home upkeep can raise stress significantly for ailing seniors and their caregivers. Assisted living communities remove these responsibilities by providing services like:

  • Vacuuming
  • Dusting
  • Bed-making
  • Bathroom cleaning
  • Laundry
  • Interior maintenance

Is home maintenance more than your loved one can handle?

Even if your loved one enjoys some of the chores associated with home ownership, there’s a lot to keep up with. Home repairs can be complex — and expensive — and they can involve ladders, electrical wires, and other hazards. All of the following, and more, are the responsibility of the assisted living community:

  • Sidewalk and driveway clearing
  • Exterior repairs (roofing, siding, windows, etc.)
  • Electrical and plumbing
  • Painting
  • Limb, leaf, and debris removal
  • General landscaping

Does your senior family member lack access to proper nutrition?

Often, seniors may lack the energy or resources to grocery shop. Plus, cooking can become challenging for loved ones as they age or lack the motivation to cook for one. This can have negative effects on senior nutrition.

According to a 2020 A Place for Mom interview of 1,000 caregivers, nutrition was one of the top three reasons for considering moving a senior family member to assisted living.[03] Here are some of the dining options typically found in assisted living:

  • Three chef-prepared meals a day
  • Complete nutrition and ingredients that touch on every food group
  • Fresh fruit, healthy snacks, and drinks available at any time
  • Weekly menus posted in advance
  • The option to select a special meal plan that accounts for diabetic, fortified, low-sodium, high-fiber, kosher, and other diets
  • Dining rooms designed to foster conversation during meals

Can you continue to provide adequate care long-term?

If caring for your aging loved one has made achieving balance in your life more difficult, assisted living may help. Taking a proactive approach to finding trained, compassionate, round-the-clock care through assisted living can allow you to focus on your relationship with your senior loved one without the pressures of having to be constantly attentive to their needs.

Additionally, it’s important to remember that there’s a hidden cost of family caregiving. This cost can be direct, like home accommodation expenses — wheelchair ramps, safety locks, and grab bars — or indirect, like lost wages or career advancement opportunities.

In other words, it’s crucial to be honest and realistic about your caregiving commitment and the expectations you’re placing on yourself, experts say.

Have friends or family members noticed changes in you or your loved one?

Have friends and family members commented that your loved one’s health may be worsening, or that they may need more mental stimulation? While this isn’t an automatic sign to seek out assisted living, it can present an opportunity to explore your options.

It’s also necessary to consider how caregiving is affecting you. Unfortunately, caregivers are often the last to notice their own burnout and fatigue. In these situations, family members and friends can act as accountability partners in protecting your mental and emotional health.

“One of my friends stayed with my husband so that I could get away for a couple of days. When I got home, he met me at the front door and said, ‘Linda, you cannot continue to do this. This is too much,’” says Lagesse. “That was really the turning point. It was eight days later that my husband ended up back in the hospital. I knew I had to do something. I couldn’t continue to do what I was doing.”

Does their physician recommend assisted living?

While the perspective of family and friends can play a pivotal role, some caregivers and seniors might want a medical evaluation. In these scenarios, seeking counsel from your senior loved one’s doctor can give much-needed insight.

For Lagesse, this meant reaching out to her husband’s cardiologist and his primary care physician, both of whom supported her in moving her husband to assisted living.

Just as a doctor’s opinion can comfort a caregiver, it can also boost a senior’s confidence and enthusiasm in the decision to move to assisted living. Seniors are more likely than people of other ages to trust their doctors and take medical advice, according to a 2019 survey from Pew Research Center.[04]

Is your own mental and physical health suffering?

In addition to all the time you spend caring for your senior loved one, take time to check in with and prioritize yourself. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How are you feeling about yourself?
  • How are you feeling about the person you’re supporting?
  • How are you feeling about how your life is going?
  • How are you feeling about the amount of sleep and rest you’re getting?
  • How are you feeling about other aspects of your life that you’re responsible for?
  • Does the person you’re supporting enjoy being with you?

When caregivers have negative answers to these questions on a regular basis, it can signal the need to step away from a full-time caregiving role.

So, is there a right time to move a parent to assisted living? While the answer is unique to each individual, one very important indicator is whether a caregiver is consistently overwhelmed. A 2020 A Place for Mom survey of 1,000 caregivers found that nearly two out of three primary caregivers have arrived at this breaking point: 65% reported sacrificing their own physical and mental health in order to care for a loved one.[03]

On top of worsening the burden on the caregiver, feelings of stress can harm senior health and jeopardize the relationship between senior and caregiver long-term. Alongside the negative mental impacts of caregiving, the physical health repercussions are shocking: More than half of caregivers have been diagnosed with two or more chronic conditions, according to the 2020 AARP Caregiving in the U.S. survey.[05]

Caring for a family member shouldn’t mean neglecting your own health — and persistent health problems may signal that it’s time for assisted living.

Is your loved one largely independent?

Levison urges families and caregivers who are considering senior living to educate themselves on the various types of care available and the many differences between those options.

“If your loved one is experiencing cognitive decline and needs constant supervision, then they would need memory care as opposed to an assisted living facility,” says Levison. “Also, if it’s difficult for them to hold a conversation, they would be more comfortable in a memory care facility where residents have similar abilities. If an individual is requiring regular skilled nursing care due to complicated medical issues, it might be time to consider a nursing home as an option.”

Though there are exceptions, assisted living generally isn’t a good fit for individuals with dementia, stage 3 and 4 wounds, or brittle diabetes. Similarly, seniors who require access to 24/7, on-site nurses would benefit from more advanced care.

In general, seniors in assisted living are mostly independent, but they may need help with brushing their teeth, taking their medications, showering, or other activities of daily living. Seniors may also choose assisted living for socialization and mental stimulation. To see if your loved one would thrive in an assisted living setting, nurses typically perform a needs assessment.

Talk with a Senior Living Advisor

Our advisors help 300,000 families each year find the right senior care for their loved ones.

When is it time to move a parent to assisted living? Next steps for finding care

An infographic with a list of 11 signs it might be time to seek assisted living services for your loved one

Most areas across the United States have a variety of retirement communities to choose from and these communities offer a continuum of care, ensuring their health services are designed to meet seniors’ needs. The days of long waiting lists are gone, giving seniors greater flexibility and choice.

If you’ve answered the questions above and recognized signs that your loved one may need additional care, talk with a Senior Living Advisor to learn more about local assisted living communities near you. Their advice is free to you and has helped hundreds of thousands of families make the move.

Feel confident and prepared to tour

This downloadable guide helps you identify what to look for in a community and key questions to ask when you visit.

Download the assisted living touring guide >

  1. American Health Care Association (AHCA) and National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL). Facts & figures.

  2. A Place for Mom. (2020, December). Annual Caregiver Survey.

  3. Pew Research Center. (2019, August 2). Findings at a glance: Medical doctors.

  4. Lagesse, L. (2021, January). Personal communication [Personal interview].

  5. Levison, B. (2021, January). Personal communication [Personal interview].

Meet the Author
Haines Eason

Haines Eason is managing editor at A Place for Mom and oversees its editorial team of expert senior living writers and editors. Under his leadership, his team produces hundreds of articles a year to inform and educate readers about aging, caregiving, senior living, community types and services, and providers that oversee multiple facilities. He has nearly 15 years of experience as an editor and copywriter in journalistic, agency, and institutional settings. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Montana and Washington University in St. Louis, respectively.

Edited by

Danny Szlauderbach

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical, legal or financial advice or create a professional relationship between A Place for Mom and the reader.  Always seek the advice of your health care provider, attorney or financial advisor with respect to any particular matter and do not act or refrain from acting on the basis of anything you have read on this site.  Links to third-party websites are only for the convenience of the reader; A Place for Mom does not recommend or endorse the contents of the third-party sites.