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A Big Transition

by Amanda Hamm Hengel

Finding the right assisted living facility can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be.

As with most of the major decisions we must make in our lives, deciding when it’s time for a loved one to move into an assisted living facility can be difficult. Fear, guilt and anxiety are just a few of the emotions everyone involved in the decision may feel as the logistics of the move are considered. While these emotions and uncertainties are understandable, they aren’t always warranted. “A big part of [the difficulty of the decision to move into an assisted living facility] is education,” says Sharon Hymes, assisted living residency counselor for Lions Gate in Voorhees. “Sometimes the family just doesn’t know what assisted living really is and what it entails. Assisted living is not a nursing home. This is not the end of their loved one’s life. It is the beginning of something new.”

Edward Borm, community relations counselor at Spring Hills Cherry Hill, agrees.
“Understanding that assisted living is a model of life that will help you continue into your next stage of life is very important,” he says. “Knowing that there are different models of assisted living can be reassuring to the individual, because there are choices that can cater to specific interests and needs.”

Knowing what those different models are is paramount in choosing the right facility for your loved one. Knowing the right time to start considering a facility is, as well. “Leaving the home a person has been in for a long time and going to an assisted living facility is always a hard transition,” Hymes says. “Sometimes families wait for the loved one to make the decision, but they need to take control and make the decision for them. Sometimes it’s not done until it’s need-driven, where, for example, someone falls and cannot live at home alone anymore. Pre-planning makes the transition easier, rather than waiting for something detrimental to happen.”

While there isn’t a specific age that can be pinpointed as the exact time someone should move into assisted living, we all know that eventually we are going to age, and that assisted living may need to be considered. If you have explored the assisted living possibilities in advance, when the telltale signs that someone may not be capable of caring for himself or herself anymore appear, you can be prepared for the move. Those signs include changes in character and poor hygiene, says Tom Kelly, managing director of the Center for Leadership and Service Excellence at Brandywine Senior Living, which has several locations in South Jersey. “It’s a tough decision to move someone into an assisted living facility,” he says. “But sometimes letting Mom or Dad live at home by themselves means they’re going to be eating potato chips for breakfast, and you have to ask yourself, ‘Is this how we want Mom or Dad to live?’ The answer is no.”

Other indicators that it may be time to consider assisted living include not taking medications regularly, not eating right and falling, says Doug Halvorsen, president and CEO of The Evergreens Continuing Care Retirement Community in Moorestown. “These three things are so massively impactful on quality of life and, ultimately, on health care costs,” he adds.

Not surprisingly, one of the major concerns seniors have with moving into assisted living facilities is a loss of independence. In reality, what needs to be considered, beyond the loss of independence, is the loss of quality of life. “People value their independence,” Halvorsen says. “They say, ‘I like the fact that I make my own decisions.’ The fact that they don’t remember to eat, take their medication, or there is a possibility they may fall doesn’t matter, as long as they have their independence.”

The important thing to note, Borm adds, is that loss of independence really doesn’t need to be a concern at all. “People generally have concerns that they are giving up their lifestyle, independence and own decision making, but that is simply not the case,” he says. “The community that one chooses does have an impact on these life concerns. Residents have rights in a community. These areas of concern are addressed when our future residents and their families come to learn about our community. Our future residents can rest assure that the new lifestyle that we offer is designed around their individualized, specific needs.”

All of the assisted living facilities in the area offer different programs, so the best way to find out which one is right for you or a loved one is to check them out. Along with the different programs, there are also different types of assisted living. The Evergreens, for example, offers three tiers of living—apartments, where those who can still live on their own may live until they need to move to a more assisted living area; traditional assisted living, where people can still live on their own but with more assistance day to day; and skilled nursing, where residents can transition to once they can no longer take care of themselves day to day.

Halvorsen suggests making an appointment to see each facility, as well as just walking in for a visit, to see what the facilities look like when they are not planning for an appointment. “Walk around and consider things like, is the place clean, are there smells, are the residents there doing stuff or do they look zonked out, does the staff seem to be attentive,” he says. He also suggests looking into the facility’s quality of care, which can be assessed by state and federal score cards. “If you have an opportunity, it would be good to talk to family members who have loved ones living in the assisted living facility, as well as doctors who have had experience with the community,” he adds. While considering assisted living is an important decision, it does not have to be a difficult one.

You are not the only person, or family, who may eventually be considering this transition, and there are a lot of people out there who can help you through the process.

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Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 10 January, 2014).
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