By:   Beverly Bernstein Joie, MS, CMC
Elder Connections

The process of finding a suitable assisted-care community for yourself or a loved one can be overwhelming for anyone, and I should know. I have worked with hundreds of families to educate them about choosing eldercare communities.

It is possible to make the difficult process of choosing an assisted-care community successful—if you are willing to make an up-front investment of energy and time to understand the aspects of care and cost, and the lifestyle options, that are available.

Here are some initial factors to consider:

Assisted care is an important component of the continuum of care for older adults. It offers a sense of apartment-like living, accompanied by meals, social activities, and the kind of care people require as they age. Many assisted-care communities also offer special care for those suffering from a form of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

• The biggest distinction between assisted care and nursing-home care is that assisted living provides help with the activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, toileting, and transferring from one place to another. It also helps with instrumental activities of daily living, such as food preparation, laundry, transportation, and housekeeping. These needs and services are considered “unskilled.” Instead, a nursing home provides “skilled” care.

The nursing home resident may have wound issues, brittle diabetes, complicated medical conditions, or be wheelchair bound, for example. Skilled needs require the care of licensed professionals; but in assisted care, licensed professionals are not mandatory.

• Compared to nursing homes, the government regulations and supervision of assisted-living communities is much looser and less stringent, although this is beginning to change. Assisted care is a relatively new phenomenon, and it takes time for the government to develop regulations to respond to changing trends in housing for older people.

Medicare does not pay for assisted living, and other sources of funding vary from state to state. But every state has governmental funding for residents without funds who require nursing-home placement. This is an important distinction. Often it is incumbent upon the resident to foot the bill for assisted living. Assisted care is often predicated upon the ability to pay for it, which shuts the door for many who simply cannot afford this option.

For people with the means to afford it—or for those who live in a state with adequate funding that they qualify to receive—assisted living is an excellent choice. It meets the needs of elders who are frail and require support, while it enhances their independence and autonomy.

Often, assisted living can free up the remaining time families have with one another to share memories and have quality visits. And most important, it allows residents to become part of a community that is their own, promoting their individual identities, dissolving social isolation, and allowing them to contribute and be cared for at the same time.

It is of the utmost importance that parents or loved ones and their families carefully research and explore assisted-care options. Being an informed consumer will help you reach the right decision

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