Assisted living has gotten a bad rap over the years. Phrases like “nursing home” give many seniors visions of dirty rooms, less-than-desirable food, and rude orderlies. Luckily, many residential care facilities aren’t as unpleasant as people think. In fact, they can be downright medically necessary. That’s why knowing when it’s the right time to consider these options is so important.

There are many factors — physical, medical, and social — to consider when debating whether to enter a care facility. This decision can be one of the most important in your life, so you’ll want to know all the facts. We’ve got you covered.

The Can’ts of Assisted Living

Certain day-to-day tasks are essential to caring for yourself or your spouse. We discuss the most significant ones below, though you may have additional needs depending on your situation. If you can’t do most these on your own, it may be time to consider residential care.

  • Feeding yourself — Being able to cook is important for maintaining personal independence. In fact, we’re big advocates of learning how to cook. Even if you don’t know a recipe or two, you still need a way to get food. For many, grabbing a meal out or buying prepared meals is a viable substitute. Losing the ability to cook or buy meals is a red flag, as are diets that require special considerations.

  • Taking your medication — If you find yourself forgetting to take medications or taking them improperly, we urge you to get help. Even if you have a medication management system, remembering which pills to take and when to take them can be trying. Assisted-care facilities can keep track of this vital information for you, allowing you to focus on enjoying yourself.

  • Cleaning your home or yourself — Keeping both your home and body clean is essential to independent living. Seniors are uniquely at risk for hoarding, but cluttered or dirty homes present health risks. Similarly, if you or your spouse can’t maintain good personal hygiene, consider assisted living. Whatever your reason, like mobility or mental issues, cleanliness is necessary. This is especially true if you have issues with the next item.

  • Using the restroom — Dealing with human waste is a health concern, whatever the reason. There are many illnesses or physical conditions that can cause urinary incontinence or fecal incontinence. Even if you aren’t incontinent, mobility issues can make it difficult to reach the bathroom. Improper disposal of the waste risks disease, social isolation, and a lowered quality of life. Many older Americans struggle with incontinence or mobility issues, but still live on their own. These are generally a problem when they’re paired with other “can’ts.”

  • Shopping for the essentials — The ability to cook and clean your home is important, but so is being able to get the goods needed to do those tasks. With many seniors giving up driving for safety reasons, going shopping isn’t always possible. Those who get to the store also need to be healthy enough to go down the aisles and lift groceries. If any of these are a struggle, a care facility should be considered.

  • Maneuvering in your home without health or safety concerns — This item pairs with cleaning your home, but also deals with mobility. If your home has falling hazards or you’ve had several falls recently, living on your own has most likely become too risky.

Having trouble accomplishing day-to-day tasks, in isolation, can be frustrating, but not dangerous. However, experiencing multiple can’ts creates an environment where considering assisted living becomes necessary.

Major Changes in Mental or Health Status

Outside of the can’ts, changes to your health or well-being can make residential care necessary. While you may be able to do everything needed to maintain independence now, a significant health change can wipe the slate clean. As you recover and adjust to the new normal, you’ll need to relook at everything.

Sudden health concerns like a heart attack or a bad fall may force a transition to assisted living sooner rather than later. Degenerative conditions like cancer or Parkinson’s disease may call for the transition further down the road. Keep in mind that, as these illnesses progress, having a plan and making the move as smooth as possible becomes vital.

Changes in health or mental state can make residential care required, especially dementia or serious medical emergencies.

Medical changes aren’t the only reason to discuss residential care. Changes to someone’s mental state can be elusive, but equally as dangerous. Much like the withering effect of cancer, mental conditions like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease worsen with time. If you’re diagnosed with any of these diseases, some form of assisted living will probably be necessary.

If your health or mental well-being are compromised, talk to your doctor about whether residential care is an eventuality. They’ll have an expert opinion on your diagnosis and how you can best live with your condition.

Are You Taking Care of Your Spouse or Vice Versa?

Very little muddies the waters more in this case than when one spouse is taking care of the other. Usually, the caregiving spouse can live independently. Consequently, the suggestion of assisted living can seem unnecessary or even insulting to the caregiver. While that isn’t the intent, one spouse acting as a caregiver complicates things.

If you’re the caregiver, you must have a very honest conversation with yourself. Can you handle the stress and duties associated with caregiving? If you can, moving your spouse into a care facility isn’t an immediate concern. Going forward, you must watch the health of both yourself and your spouse.

If you’re receiving care, know the signs that caregiving is becoming dangerous for your loved one.

If you’re the spouse receiving care, watch out for the signs that caregiving is too risky for your partner. Namely, are they struggling to give you proper care? They may try their best, but are they forgetting to give you medication? Are they struggling to clean you or move you if you’re disabled? If the stress of caregiving becomes too much for either of you, transition into an assisted living facility. Avoiding doing so can be dangerous for the both of you.

The Big Questions

When you begin talking about assisted living, ask yourself, or your loved one, the questions below. If you answer “no” to any of them, a residential care facility may be the best option.

  1. Can I take care of my day-to-day needs?
  2. Can I handle the upkeep and care of my home?
  3. Am I healthy enough to live on my own?
  4. Can I take care of my spouse to the extent that he/she needs?
  5. Am I getting enough social interaction at home?

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Deciding whether to move to an assisted living facility can be one of the hardest choices you will make. It’s a big life change, but one that may be needed to keep you happy and healthy. If you’re beginning to struggle living on your own, please talk to a professional to find the solution that is right for you and your family.

Further Reading

A Place for Mom — The Assisted Living Effect: Better Health and Happiness