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Five reasons why assisted living may be the best solution for your loved one

by Carol Bradley Bursack, Editor-in-Chief

Elders often say they want to stay in their own homes. They've lived there for decades and see no reason to move. However, many times their neighborhoods have changed so much that they are no longer safe. Even if the neighborhoods are safe, many of the old neighbors have died or moved away, and the elders become isolated. Many times a move to assisted living can give elders a new lease on life.

Older homes that seniors hang onto often have bathrooms and bedrooms on a second floor. I've seen seniors sleep on the living room couch because they don't want to make the trip up the stairs to go to bed. This is often unhealthy for their bodies, and if the only bathroom is up a long flight of stairs, they still must climb. Stairs are not only an obstacle because of the energy it takes to climb them, they present a real hazard when it comes to falls.

Change can be hard for anyone and elders are often reluctant to change the way things have always been. Decades of their lives may be tied to the home they live in, and the idea of moving away is terrifying, so they insist what they have is what they want. But the old home isn't necessarily the best place for them.

Five benefits of assisted living facilities

Family members or caregivers need to move slowly and with compassion when they try to convince an elder to move from the family home. However, once the adjustment is made, many elders are thrilled with the change. Why? Here are five reasons.

Safety. Assisted living centers are set up to provide a safe, comfortable environment for elders. Many, though not all, have secure entrances. Nearly all are monitored enough so that elders aren't vulnerable to attack or burglary as they may be if they stay alone in their home. Just the fact that there are other people around makes communal living safer than being alone in a house. Also, most assisted living centers have alerting systems so if residents have emergencies in their own apartments or rooms, they can summon help.

Meals. Appetites can diminish as we age, plus many people don't enjoy eating alone. Elders home alone often warm up something in the microwave or on the stove rather than preparing a nourishing meal. They then may eat in front of the TV for company. In assisted living, meals are provided and they often offer many choices of food. But the biggest plus may be that people have company for their meals.

Many centers offer kitchenettes, so people have the option of preparing some meals in their apartments if they choose, which some do, especially breakfast. However, the pull of communal dining is pretty strong once they get used to company. When people have company for a meal, they generally eat better, so these communal meals can help keep a senior healthy. Also, many assisted living centers keep an eye on how well the elders eat to see if supplements seem to be necessary.

Transportation. Most assisted living centers provide group transportation for shopping and to community events. Also, they can generally arrange transportation for seniors who need to get to clinic appointments. Each center is different, but the ability to go where they want is important to elders, and many seniors can no longer drive, or choose not to drive in heavy traffic. Assisted living centers can be a big help getting people where they want to go.

Less worry. Even renters have to actively contact a landlord if there are plumbing or other problems in their apartment, and often they must follow up on repairs. For homeowners, it's worse. Seniors can be taken advantage of by unscrupulous contractors and repair people. They tend to be trusting and this makes them vulnerable. In assisted living, they don't have to worry about repair responsibilities. If something doesn't work properly, they or a loved one can alert the administration and the problem should be fixed. There's no worry about the senior letting in a stranger to fix their bathroom pipe or getting bilked on the bill.

Socialization. Socialization is perhaps the most important reason why many people who insist that they will hate assisted living end up thriving. Many elders have slowly gotten so they don't want to go out of their home because it's too difficult to get where they want to go. Significant lifelong friends have health problems or have died.

When not actively used, social skills can decline, causing anxiety when elders do go out among people. Depression can set in, furthering their reluctance to be socially active. Elders without social exposure can become virtual hermits, except for those who have family visits. While family visits are fun, seniors needs peers, as well. In assisted living, even those who swore they'd hate it often find, once they adjust, that they again enjoy the company of peers. They play cards, listen to music, exercise, have snacks, go to community events and have people come in to entertain them.

Assisted facilities should provide multiple options

A good facility provides choices. They don't force involvement, but they encourage residents to try different activities. The facility staff should find out what activities the senior has enjoyed in the past and try to find something similar that they can do at the center. The vital ingredient, however, is that the elders are around peers. The chance to form new friendships grows with each day they live in a good center. Socialization has been shown to keep many people active and healthier than they would be if they remained alone at home.

While assisted living isn't the answer to every elder's living problems, it does help many have a healthier, happier life. This, in turn, often increases life expectancy. However, quality of life may be the key factor in the growing success of good assisted living facilities, as it should be with every service we provide for our elders.