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What Is Assisted Living Really Like?

Dana Larsen
By Dana LarsenSeptember 15, 2017
What is Assisted Living Really Like?

Navigating senior living can feel overwhelming for many families as the transition can sometimes be emotional and uncertain. Having an idea of what assisted living offers on a daily basis — including activities, amenities and care — can help families better understand what their parent or senior loved one will experience there.

What Assisted Living Is Really Like

Many families are deeply affected by their elderly loved ones’ transitions to assisted living. It’s not only a highly emotional time, but also a time when decisions are expedited for quick moves resulting from declining health.

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A Place for Mom expert and geriatrician, Leslie Kernisan, MD, provides insight to help families going through this emotional turmoil. She comments:

“I have seen some older adults really blossom in assisted living, mainly because assisted living often provides a lot more social activity — and even a family — for those who were lonely and even somewhat isolated in their home environment. This is especially true of older adults who had previously been having difficulty leaving home due to physical or cognitive limitations. Assisted living’s medication management services can also be very helpful, and sometimes I see seniors improve a lot medically simply because they begin taking their medications consistently.

It’s important for families to visit and get a feel for a community to see whether it’s a good fit for their loved one’s personality and level-of-care needed. It’s not the amenities, it’s the emotional and expertise that’s important. Communities are also looking at ways to improve not just providing good care, but also exceeding customer service expectations and improving the lives of seniors through research and advocacy means.”

As Dr. Kernisan notes, assisted living continues to evolve, but it’s very important to do your research and find the right assisted living community for your specific situation.

Read this Q&A to gain insight into what assisted living is really like and how it has changed from the institutional stigma of the past.

Ways Assisted Living Has Changed

In most states there is better, cleaner regulation and more adept staff training requirements in assisted living. Families and seniors themselves are also more comfortable with assisted living and senior care communities, as the stigma about senior care of the past has begun to diminish.

Today, the concept of luxury, resort-style living is becoming more attractive to active seniors and their families. There are a plethora of activities and amenities offered to seniors in assisted living today, including:

  • Barber and beautician services
  • Book groups
  • Dining and food services
  • Gardening clubs
  • Housekeeping and laundering services
  • Physical and occupational therapy
  • Scheduled transportation services to outings outside of community
  • Theater outings
  • Wellness and physical fitness, catered to individual needs, including:
    • Catered fitness regimes
    • Water aerobics
    • Walking

It’s important to consider whether your loved one would want to take advantage of amenities and participate in the events offered before moving into an assisted living community.

What Assisted Living Is Like, Today

Assisted living really depends on the senior living professionals at each community. The good and forward thinking companies and providers have created senior condo-like settings where care is provided discreetly, on a resident’s own schedule, inside their own apartment or home, and by consistent staff.

Daily schedules are different for each resident, and should be, as they are catered to individual needs. That alone shows how the trend in care has shifted to each individual.

A regional sales representative discusses these changes:

“An example of how assisted living has evolved over the years would be that I have eleven events planned for today in one location. Our approximately 100 residents choose to do several, or none of these events. However, these events are in addition to social and family events, and planning their own days that might include reading, walking, socializing, driving, and television. The biggest difference is that they are invited to double the opportunities to engage, learn new hobbies, or go out in a group if driving is difficult, or no longer feasible. There is no cleaning, shopping, or cooking time unless chosen, so each resident has a different routine, which is self-selected — and we provide the opportunity. It makes every day more engaging and fun. Even mealtimes in our dining room offer many options and times, so residents can choose to come when it works best for their schedule.”

The Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)

The Activities of daily living (ADLs) are the tasks necessary to participate in a senior’s daily care and are also an important consideration for families before a senior makes the move into an assisted living community.

Assisted living associates are trained to supplement where a resident has weaknesses and will know how to help them.

ADLs include:

  • Bathing
  • Dressing
  • Feeding
  • Grooming
  • Using the toilet independently
  • Walking and getting around

Other instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) include:

  • Finances
  • House Cleaning and Chores
  • Meal Preparation
  • Shopping
  • Transportation
  • Using the Telephone

In assisted living, many of the IADLS are handled by either the community or a relative of the resident. Each community has their own system, so it’s important to find the options that work for each family’s unique situation.

Care professionals become like family for the residents and they come to rely on them for their daily activities, whether it’s dressing them, helping them shower, or simply bringing them the right types of meals or newspaper articles for their morning routines. So it’s important for your parent or senior loved one to have a connection with the staff at their community, as they will become a part of each resident’s life.

Why Ongoing Staff Training Is Important

Trusting every person on staff who interacts with residents to provide great care carefully — and respectfully — is a huge task. Asking them to do it lovingly, and then ensuring follow through is also monumentally important. Many communities provide emotion-based care training, which emphasizes person-centered care; a great way to hire caregivers for their heart, and train them to do tasks correctly.

Communities also have a hiring, screening, and orientation process which is detailed and organized to find the right associates. Managers need to be constantly monitoring and modeling great care to new staff, as well as constantly offering ongoing training to all staff. At the end of the day, communities have people taking care of people. Things can inevitably go wrong, so each community needs to be able to address, correct and always apologize when they do. In fact, sometimes entire company policies need to be changed to prevent the same mistakes, but the important part is communication with families and staff. These are dads and moms, aunts and uncles, friends and loved ones, and they need to feel honored and respected.

Learn how many communities build their assisted living care team through ongoing communication, teamwork, training and standards of care.

Why Emotional Connections with Staff Are Important

Families, without exception want communities to care for their loved one the way they do. They want to be asked personal questions, and they want to share family stories. They want to trust care staff, and any associate working in senior care should be attempting to gain that trust once it is earned. Staff becomes part of the family, and an integral conduit of communication, support, and guidance.

A community operations representative discusses her relationship with residents and how they positively impact her life:

“I’ve been invited to family parties, holiday gatherings, and I’ve had residents and staff throw me a surprise baby shower after living with me at work during my first pregnancy. I received knitted baby gifts sent to me at home after his birth, and I was so honored residents did this kind and thoughtful things for me. I have loved working in assisted living communities because you are working in 100 seniors’ homes. These are the stories that happen everyday if you are looking at the right communities.”

Family and staff and resident interaction is what most families respond to when they visit. It’s a palpable energy when the community is working in synergy, which is why the emotional connections are so important.

What has your assisted living experience been like? Does your family have any reservations about assisted living? We’d love to hear your stories and thoughts in the comments below.

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Dana Larsen
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Dana Larsen

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