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When Is It Time for Assisted Living?

If you and your relatives have your hands full caring for an elderly loved one, you may be wondering when it’s time for a change. Here are some tips for knowing when to consider an independent living, personal care, or assisted living environment.

UPMC has facilities to fit the activity level and care requirements of every senior. Learn more about UPMC’s Senior Communities.

When Is It Time For Personal Care or Assisted Living?

Before considering moving your loved one to a care facility, it’s important to know there are different types of resident facilities for the elderly, says Lori Greer, the regional administrator for UPMC’s Senior Communities Personal Care and Assisted Living.

“The difference is that assisted living facilities enable the residents there to age in place,” says Greer. “With assisted living, services are provided in the home setting so that you can maintain those people’s lifestyles for a longer period of time.”

In Pennsylvania, some facilities are personal care and others are assisted living. The primary difference is having an assisted living license that meets the licensed requirements for space and facility support.

There are only a handful of licensed assisted living facilities, four of which belong to UPMC Senior Communities. Both options are available at UPMC Senior Communities and both provide excellent services.

Determining the best time to start the conversation with your loved one is tricky. Greer recommends looking at the situation objectively. “Ask yourself: ‘How is their quality of life being compromised?'” she says. “For some residents, it’s typically a physical limitation, like their range of motion, balance, abilities, something like that. For other residents, they’re in physically good shape, but cognitively, socially, or emotionally, they’re having challenges.”

An example of a huge challenge for elderly loved ones if grief. “Usually this population is experiencing a lot of grief because they are losing spouses, children, friends, and family members,” she says. “So they start to feel very isolated or alone. And if grief is overtaking their quality of life, then their activities of daily living are compromised.”

Other challenges may include diminished self-care. “Are they not taking their medications consistently?” asks Greer. Make sure they’re eating and bathing regularly, too.

When Daily Tasks Become Difficult

Watch for a change in everyday activities. When tasks become disruptions, it’s time to consider other options. Examples include:

  • Household appliances left on
  • Neglected grooming and laundry
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Trouble taking medications
  • Unpaid bills or other evidence of financial negligence
  • Social isolation
  • Trouble navigating the home

Greer says these signs rarely start as serious. At first, they’re usually small inconveniences. But when they start to add up, it’s time to seek out caregiver help.

Do Your Research

Learning the differences between each option will ensure your family members are taken care of at the level they need:

  • Independent Living: This is for seniors who appreciate freedom and privacy with on-call support. This arrangement could be perfect for aging relatives who still can function independently but would benefit from social and emotional support creating a network of friends and an easier life style with eating, cleaning, transportation and social needs.
  • Personal and Assisted Living: These are usually apartment-style facilities that include help for daily routines and various social activities.

Once you’ve researched the different options relevant to your situation, you may feel prepared to make a decision. However, you should take one more step. “Schedule an appointment and go visit the facility,” Greer says.

According to Greer, indications of a quality facility may not be as obvious as you’d expect. “There are a few things you can observe right off the bat,” she says. “First is the cleanliness. How does it smell?”

Trust your gut when you visit and assess the spirit of the community. “How does the staff interact with you? If people don’t want to be bothered or they’re annoyed you’re there, that’s going to tell you something, as opposed to someone who’s available, willing to answer questions for you, give you a tour, show you everything, welcome your questions, and welcome you into any part of the building,” says Greer.

If you have trouble formulating questions, consider evaluating a real-life example. “Most places have a model room where you can go in and everything is set up,” says Greer. “But you want to see beyond that. When people come to our facility, we will show them, with their permission, a current resident’s room. Because it’s not the ideal setting, it’s the real-life setting.”

What to Expect

Both you and your aging relative naturally want to dismiss the need for help. But Greer says if you anticipate denial, then you can work through it together. Mutual fears are the most important topic to tackle. Acknowledging concerns will pave the way for a smooth transition, whether you make the decision tomorrow or in a few years.

“When they get into a community setting, they have a lot of choice — they can participate in one or all the activities, and some residents do,” says Greer. “Others may only socialize for three meals a day, but at least during that time they get some connection with peers and the staff keeping an eye on then.”

Ultimately, this will be a fruitful, invigorating decision for your loved one. “So many of them start to come out of that isolation, and that’s always exciting to see … when someone sort of blooms and comes alive again,” she says. “It’s very rewarding.”

The discussion about transitioning to a care facility is one that should start early and be ongoing. It’s nuanced, but with these tips, you know you’re starting on the right foot.

UPMC has facilities to fit the activity level and care requirements of every senior. Learn more about UPMC’s Senior Communities.