Mention assisted living to a loved one entering his or her senior years, and you may receive a quick and forceful rejection of the idea. Change is scary, and when that change means moving out of one's own home, it's scarier still.
Yet many seniors transition to assisted living successfully. An alternative to nursing homes and home visitation, assisted living is an option for seniors who need a little -- or a lot -- of help in their daily lives. This living arrangement is the fastest growing long-term care option, and as of 2009, there were more than 36,000 assisted living communities serving more than a million seniors [source: Assisted Living Federation of America].
Assisted living facilities can help seniors live full lives while relieving both them and their loved ones of worries that the seniors' needs are being met. These facilities vary widely when it comes to the services they provide their residents, and often, the amenities are what make the new living situation more of a delight than a fright.
Let's look at five types of amenities that can make a big and positive difference in a senior's assisted living experience.
Seniors typically move to assisted living to ensure they will be safe and receive needed physical and emotional care. The level of care varies, though. Most facilities offer help with everything from dressing and bathing to physical therapy.
Some assisted living facilities offer on-site medication management and assistance. This is a comfort to the senior and family members, knowing that staff will ensure scheduled medications are taken daily and on time. Medication management, too, is a convenient amenity. Seniors can, without having to make a special visit to a pharmacist or doctor, rest assured that interactions among different medications will not have an adverse affect.
For safety, those choosing among different facilities and the rooms within them should look for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance. Even if they're unnecessary now, features like bathrooms with accessible showers, grab bars, and plenty of space for walkers and wheelchairs may be needed in the future. Does each room have a call button? The ability to press a button when in crisis is an emotional comfort and can ensure quick assistance. Likewise, 24-hour security can help residents feel safe in their beds.
A number of assisted living organizations care for seniors' well-being as the levels of required care change over time. Continuing care allows a senior to begin residence in independent living, then progress to assisted living or nursing care as needed, all in one facility.
The more particular seniors may be about their preferences, the more they'll want to seek an assisted living facility that offers a high level of personalization. Individually controlled room heating and air conditioning, for example, is highly desirable for those who are more sensitive to temperature changes.
Is the senior a picky eater? Most facilities offer three meals a day, and the cuisine can vary from old-fashioned, meat-and-potatoes family-style dining to gourmet creations in formal dining rooms. Seniors with more discriminating palates may look for a facility that allows them to select among different meal plans. In fact, in some facilities, residents can even submit their own menus.
For late-night or afternoon cravings, seniors may appreciate amenities such as 24-hour cafés. Furthermore, staff at some facilities will even keep in stock whatever snacks, foods and drinks the resident prefers.
Now that the basics are covered, it's time for a little TLC. Commonly, assisted living staff will take care of cleaning and changing linens, doing the housekeeping and even washing the residents' laundry.
On-site beauty salons and barber shops keep residents looking great, with hair washing and styling, grooming, manicures and pedicures, and sometimes even makeup application. In-house massage therapists keep residents feeling great with stress-reducing massages that relax, renew and help maintain agility. And for those who still drive, heated underground parking can keep residents comfortable, warm and safe as they come and go from outings.
And how about private dining? Most facilities offer private rooms so residents can have a special place to entertain family and friends, or celebrate special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries.
The ideal assisted living facility is one that attends to seniors' well-being as a whole. For the body, fitness centers help seniors stay strong. Some facilities even offer free personal trainers, heated pools and therapy pools for the ultimate exercise and relaxation.
To keep the mind sharp, seniors may enjoy on-site libraries and computer centers. Another amenity for the well-being of the mind is memory management, also called memory care. Specialized memory care training (sometimes developed in conjunction with the Alzheimer's Association) involves specialists who offer activities that enhance dignity, build self-esteem, maintain interest and manage behavior of those whose memories are compromised.
As for the spirit, seniors may delight in strolls outside, or sitting amid blooming gardens and patios, many of which are enclosed, allowing seniors with dementia or Alzheimer's the ability to enjoy the outdoors while limiting the risk of the seniors roaming away.
On-site volunteer coordinators can play an important role in a senior's spirit, too. They match seniors with various community volunteer opportunities, some of which are intergenerational, offering seniors the opportunity to interact as tutors, or big brothers or sisters, to younger generations. And some assisted living facilities also offer regular spiritual services and may even have on-site chapels.
Age aside, what's life without plenty of fun? Assisted living facilities recognize the ultimate importance of fun and offer lots of opportunities to enjoy days and evenings.
A common amenity is the game parlor, where residents can meet to play cards and board games. Some even have cocktail lounges on the campus for those who enjoy a nightcap.
Facilities with on-site social coordinators may also bring in entertainment, such as choral groups or magicians, and arrange for special activities and games. Senior activities professionals will take special care with each person to ensure he or she remains engaged in enjoyable activities.
Assisted living facilities sometimes provide specialized rooms and classes for passions such as art or music, too. They may even have movie theaters, and perhaps even full stages for bringing plays and musicals to theater lovers.
Love golf? Some facilities have putting greens right on the grounds.
And for those who don't want to leave their four-legged friends behind, pet-friendly rooms are another fun amenity. Some facilities even bring in pets from rescue groups to visit.
For more articles about assisted living, check out the links on the next page.
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- All Assisted Living Homes. "Signs That It's Time to Look Into Assisted Living for Seniors." (May 15, 2011) http://www.allassistedlivinghomes.com/family-resources/signs-of-assisted-living-needs.html
- Assisted Living Facilities. "Services and Amenities." (May 10, 2011) http://www.assistedlivingfacilities.net/assisted-living-facilities-cost.html
- Assisted Living Federation of America. "Senior Living Options." 2009. (May 11, 2011) http://www.alfa.org/alfa/Assisted_Living_Information.asp
- Elder Guru. "What Should You Look For in An Assisted Living Facility?" Aug. 26, 2010. (May 14, 2011) http://www.elderguru.com/what-should-you-look-for-in-an-assisted-living-facility/
- Seniors for Living. "Frequently Asked Questions." (May 13, 2011) http://www.seniorsforliving.com/faq.php