Thinking ahead to assisted living

The question around moving should actually be: What information do I need to make this decision?

elderly woman

Is assisted living right for me? This is one of the most difficult questions for older adults.

Assisted living is geared toward older adults who don’t need nursing care, but who may need help on an as-needed basis. Though the goal of assisted living is continued self-sufficiency, assisted living facilities provide stable housing and easy access to consistent meals, personal care and support, social activities, 24-hour supervision and, in many cases, health-related services.

A move into assisted living is a decision that’s unique to every individual and, unfortunately, one that’s often prompted by an unforeseen event such as a sudden health change.

In my experience working with seniors, I find that the consideration of independent or supported housing is often avoided or delayed. Understandably, folks are reluctant to talk about the selling of a family home, the potential sacrifice of independence or even the stigma surrounding independent or assisted living facilities.

So the question around moving should actually be geared toward learning more: What information do you need to make this decision?

Here are four things to consider when deciding what’s right for you and your family:

Assisted living can be expensive: The average cost to live in assisted living in Minnesota ranges from $2,900 to $4,060 per month, depending on the facility and its location, with memory care units costing significantly more.

While there are some state programs to assist with the cost of rent in assisted living, such as GRH (Group Residential Housing), many facilities require you pay privately for two years prior to relying upon assistance, which is one reason to consider a move sooner rather than later.

The cost of services is typically separate: Services in a facility are usually charged separately from the cost of rent, and most often are offered in an a la carte style. It might cost $280 to have all of your meals provided for the month, with medication setup being an extra charge.

And if you happen to have more medications than most, you’re likely to be charged a higher rate. Each additional service, such as laundry, housekeeping and assistance with the activities of daily living, has its own associated cost.

Again, there are government-funded programs to assist with these costs. If you’re eligible for medical assistance, you’re also a candidate for an Elderly Waiver (EW), which is an option when financially strained. But, as with GRH, you may be required to pay privately for two years before utilizing this benefit.

It pays to have seniority: Many facilities have a waitlist for coveted apartments, such as those with a balcony or two bedrooms. If you’re already a resident at the facility, you would usually receive preference in the event of a vacancy.

Additionally, when experiencing an unforeseen medical event that requires either temporary or long-term support, you would already be familiar with staff at the facility and could start services more easily than if you were an outsider, scrambling to find care at the end of a hospitalization or transitional-care stay.

Accessibility may matter: During the aging process, we become more susceptible to falls, joint pain and fractures. If your home has stairs inside or outside, recovering from a knee or hip injury might make it nearly impossible to navigate your home.

Any assisted living facility is regulated by the state, accessible and won’t require any structural changes to ensure your safety.

If you’re thinking a move might be right for you, remember to tour various facilities and ask questions about staff turnover, staff ratios, activities, diet considerations and financial options.

Bring a loved one to be your advocate and to ask questions you might not have thought of, so you’re not alone in making such a big decision. While making the move can be a saving grace for many, others have found a way to make their homes just as safe.

The important things when making a final decision for yourself or for a loved one are safety, comfort and overall quality of life.

Grace Lundquist is a licensed social worker and a member of the Metropolitan Caregiver Service Collaborative. She has 11 years of experience in the aging/health-care field and currently works as the UCare program manager at Jewish Family Service in St. Paul. She also facilitates a caregiver support group at Sholom Home East.