When the time comes that living alone is no longer feasible for a loved one and living with a family member isn’t practical or advisable, the next step is a search for the place that will prove to be the best choice, making the move acceptable to the resident and most reliable for the family. It is a life change for all concerned and a true challenge for those most responsible.
There are basic requirements: location, reputation, safety, health management, activities, ambiance, security, comfort … all aspects that make families feel confident that this is where their loved one will be well taken care of.
But “well taken care of” is a vague phrase. There are specific things to observe that are more subtle but can make the difference between success and disappointment.
Aides: Visit the facility long enough to notice the relationship of the staff and residents. Is there a sense of warmth, intimacy and caring? Do the aides serving residents focus on each person’s needs, pay attention, listen? Aides are essential people at an assisted living residence and they should relate to residents in ways that are caring, responsible, cheerful.
Health and fitness: How important is exercise? Different levels of exercise enable those in wheelchairs to participate. An experienced, sensitive staff can modify fitness sessions to include different levels of ability. Residents who have been resigned to sitting most of the time can gradually be encouraged to do simple standing exercises, gently strengthening their bodies, and increasing mobility.
Diet: Is there a nutritionist who helps residents make healthy choices? Is the menu appetizing but also designed to provide purposeful pleasure, recognizing the specific needs for each resident? Low-sodium, gluten-free, and minimal sugar are necessities for many residents and should be known and monitored by servers. Is the menu well-balanced, well-prepared and attractively presented, with special attention to requests and preferences?
Resident input: This is an asset that can truly enhance daily living, and is much more meaningful than a suggestion box. Residents need opportunities to be heard, to share experiences, to compliment and to complain. Well-led group discussions and freedom to express personal opinions can decrease anxiety, build confidence, and establish peace of mind and a sense of belonging. The socialization aspect of these group meetings is often more appealing than lectures.
Resident integrity: This is something that can be observed and felt. It has to do with the acceptance and honoring of each resident’s ability status, and whether your loved one will be equal to every other resident, whether he or she is using a cane, walker, wheelchair, or mechanized wheelchair, or not requiring any special equipment. No resident should be categorized as helpless, but each should be treated as an individual who receives the same person-to-person caring, respect and attention as every other resident.
Pet acceptance: Often the separation from a beloved pet will make complete adjustment and peace of mind impossible. Does the facility accept pets and (if necessary) supply staff to take care of walking and feeding?
Music and art: Studies have confirmed that targeted music therapy and arts and crafts experiences designed for older adults can affect parts of the brain that sharpen memory, decrease anxiety, and awaken positive emotions. Reduction of certain medications can often result. Instruction by professionals who understand the variabilities of memory is a big plus.
The ability to communicate these deeper benefits of assisted living can neutralize normal resistance to the whole idea of changing one’s address, lifestyle, surroundings, and companions. It also gives family members, especially immediate caregivers, a new lease on their own lives that they deserve.