It can be difficult to understand the various senior care options available, as well as when it’s time to transition yourself, or a loved one, to a senior care facility. Assisted living, for instance, may be an appropriate option to ease the journey from independent living to facility-based care, and it offers a variety of benefits.

Michael Tehrani, MD, a geriatric physician with Brand New Day, a California Medicare Advantage plan, praises these facilities. “Patients don’t have to worry about much other than enjoying themselves. The gym, games and social activities are all provided for them,” he says. “At home, seniors might feel alone without much to do, but when they are in assisted living, they are surrounded by others who share similar interests.”

What Is Assisted Living?

In general, assisted living is a facility where older adults receive care and supervision. These facilities usually have communal areas and private or semi-private rooms to house their seniors.

Assisted living differs from other types of senior care, such as live-in senior care or nursing home care. The main difference between nursing homes and assisted living is that nursing homes offer skilled nursing care, like the administration of medical treatments or procedures.

In contrast, assisted living is a lower level of care, primarily focused on various activities of daily living rather than complex medical management. With live-in senior care, a full-time caregiver remains in the private residence to care for the senior.

The Pros of Assisted Living

Michelle Feng, a licensed psychologist and the chief clinical officer of Executive Mental Health in Los Angeles, says that some of the pros of assisted living include:

  • Increased socialization and connection. “This increases engagement and combats loneliness. For those that are worried about something happening to them at home, the additional support in an assisted living facility can lead to decreased anxiety and an increased sense of safety,” Feng explains.
  • Safety. Feng warns that remaining at home can have its drawbacks when living there is no longer safe or has become too difficult to manage. Keeping up the home and seemingly simple things like changing lightbulbs and smoke detector batteries can be more stressful, as a fall can result in more severe consequences as we get older.”

Since there are so many factors to consider when choosing an assisted living facility, it takes research to find the right timing and the best facility. Consult a moving checklist for assisted living for all the questions you’ll need to ask to ensure you or your loved one choose a facility that will provide a positive experience.

When to Consider Moving to Assisted Living

There are many reasons to consider moving from independent living to assisted living.

According to Lisa Dunlap, a geriatric and hospice nurse practitioner and founder of Nurse Your Soul in Wilmington, North Carolina, it’s important to start thinking about it years ahead of time. “All seniors should consider moving into independent living facilities or assisted living facilities,” she says. “It’s best to start searching before a cognitive or functional decline occurs. These types of facilities often have long waitlists of two to seven years, which is another reason to start shopping before it’s needed. And though they are costly, it can work out better financially than having a 24/7 private hire caregiver in the home and costs of house maintenance and meal prep.”

The reasons for a senior to consider transitioning to assisted living include:

  • Complex health conditions.
  • Mental health issues.
  • A need to downsize.
  • Declining ability for complex tasks.
  • Decreased treatment compliance.
  • Independent living has become unsafe.

The ability to perform basic activities of daily living becomes a challenge during the aging process. Tasks that usually take a few minutes – like getting dressed, grooming, eating and using the restroom – can take some seniors significantly longer. This can be a cause of stress and also a concern for injury.

Additionally, having a complicated diagnosis that involves a specific diet, physical therapy and/or daily maintenance becomes difficult to manage as seniors age. A senior care facility becomes the best option when independent care becomes overwhelming.

As seniors age, they are susceptible to mental health difficulties. This can be due to a health condition or personal circumstances. A common symptom of Alzheimer’s disease is agitation and social isolation, especially in the later stages. Seniors may also be coping with the recent deaths of their peers and loved ones, which affects their mental health.

Feng notes that “research from a 2020 study indicates that losing the ability to perform activities of daily living can negatively impact mental health. In a two-year prospective study with over 2,000 Americans over 65 years of age, researchers found that a loss of independence with eating and bathing was associated with the most decline in mental health status.”

Mental health may improve in a senior care facility as there is more opportunity for social integration and activity.

Many seniors are living in sizable residences meant for family get-togethers and visiting grandchildren. However, this amount of square footage can become difficult to navigate. A lack of mobility means getting from the bedroom to the kitchen for a snack becomes taxing.

Seniors may also have trouble with the maintenance involved in a home’s upkeep. Keeping surfaces disinfected, cleaning cookware and maintaining pet waste are all essential to supporting good health.

In addition, some seniors struggle with throwing items away; there may be memories attached to items as mundane as old receipts. The practice of hoarding is also not uncommon among seniors. A 2014 study in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry estimates that between 15% and 25% of seniors exhibit some of the characteristics of hoarding disorder, which can be exacerbated by old age and dementia.

Instrumental activities of daily living are more advanced self-care tasks that are necessary for living independently.

These include:

  • Grocery shopping.
  • Transportation to and from activities.
  • Preparing meals and cleaning up after meals.
  • Financial management of bills and assets.
  • Housekeeping.
  • Communication (using their phone and email as needed).
  • Managing medications.

When seniors are unable to accomplish the above tasks, they may require the additional assistance of a senior care facility to cue or oversee that these activities are completed.

Growing older often comes with the diagnosis of one or more chronic diseases, which isn’t easy to process. Chronic conditions require adherence to a medication and treatment regimen.

If a senior is unwilling or unable to follow their treatment plan, they may require the help of an assisted living facility. Check out the best Medicare Advantage plans with part D coverage to browse which plans have the best medication coverage for chronic conditions.

When the risk is greater than the reward of independent living, it’s time to search for an alternative.

Some risks of independent living may be:

  • Increased prevalence of falls.
  • Wandering in or outside the home and getting lost.
  • Caregiver stress and burnout.
  • The cost and effort of home care becoming burdensome.
  • Sundowning, or confusion or agitation that occurs in the evening hours).

These risk factors can cause worsening physical and mental decline. In a senior care facility, there will be staff available to ensure that physical safety risks are mitigated.

Making the Best Choice

Ultimately, deciding on the timing and level of senior care for your loved one involves many factors. The physical health, mental health and safety of your loved one all must be taken into consideration. Consult a medical provider for tailored medical advice to help your family make the best decision.