Assisted living can improve the quality of life for seniors in a variety of ways.
Assisted living communities benefit both residents and their loved ones by offering attentive care and services, says Kushana Dentley-Stone, assistant executive director of Glenmere Assisted Living at Cloverwood Senior Living in Pittsford, New York, just outside of Rochester in upstate New York.
Just as important, residents often find a fulfilling lifestyle that appeals to their interests as well as their needs.
“It is a joy to see our residents embracing opportunities to socialize with their peers and to pursue what makes them happy. Because their families have the peace of mind knowing that their loved ones are safe and secure, they can simply enjoy their time together — without worry or stress,” Dentley-Stone says.
Here are seven advantages of assisted living:
1. Support for daily tasks
Many routine daily chores are taken care of for you at assisted living facilities. For example, assisted living facilities typically serve three meals a day, says Sheila Molony, a professor of nursing at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut. If a resident has special dietary needs, like a requirement for low-fat or low-sugar offerings, the meals are prepared to those specifications.
Assisted living facilities typically also provide:
— Laundry services.
— Light housekeeping.
— Transportation to and from appointments.
“If more services or supports are needed, such as assistance with bathing, dressing or grooming, or if short-term nursing care is required, these services may be provided by contracting with home care agencies for an additional fee,” she says. In some states, Medicaid reimbursement is available for personal care if the resident meets eligibility requirements for a Medicaid waiver program.
2. Community connections and social functions
Whether they stand alone or are part of a larger continuing care campus, assisted living communities offer a wide variety of community and social activities, says Dee Pekruhn, director of life plan communities services and policy for LeadingAge, the association of nonprofit providers of aging services.
Assisted living communities typically offer a wide array of activities, including:
— Art classes, like arts and crafts or painting.
— Educational courses, such as history.
— Live concerts and entertainment.
— Technology classes, such as how to use smartphones and computers.
These kinds of courses offer opportunities for intellectual stimulation and social engagement. Some assisted living communities also offer programs that connect seniors with people from younger generations. For example, the “Senior to Senior” program at Horizon House in Seattle builds connections between older adults and high school seniors. Over a period of five weeks, senior adults and high school seniors are paired by career interest and meet for mentoring in person or via phone calls or Zoom.
3. Recreational opportunities
Recreational opportunities for assisted living residents are usually planned and coordinated by a designated staff member, often called an activities or life enrichment coordinator, Pekruhn says.
Such programs can include:
— Exercise classes, such as yoga.
— Outings for lunches, shopping or to sightsee, such as trips to view fall foliage.
— Virtual reality. One assisted living community in New Jersey offers virtual reality to residents to allow them to enjoy their favorite vacation spot or experience a new adventure without leaving their living rooms. Favorite adventures include a tour of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and attendance at Beatlemania, a tribute performance that recreates what it was like to attend a Fab Four concert.
Assisted living facilities typically provide programming designed to meet the needs of people who are less mobile, she says. Offering virtual reality adventures, for example, helps meet those needs.
4. Help with managing medication
Assisted living staff members typically help residents manage their medication in a variety of ways, Dentley-Stone says. For example, at Glenmere Assisted Living, residents have the opportunity to use their pharmacy of choice and take advantage of on-site medication deliveries. Some assisted living facilities contract with an external pharmacy that delivers medication.
With trained staff members to provide assistance with self-management of their medications, that responsibility is lifted from both the assisted living residents and their families.
“Our staff have professional knowledge of the medications and ensure that they are taken appropriately and on time. Further, they provide an important connection with the resident’s medical provider — for instance, monitoring for and reporting any side effects,” she says.
5. Educational and cultural programs
Quality of life in assisted living facilities is enriched through various programs. Many assisted living facilities provide scholarly and cultural opportunities, like lectures on a wide variety of subjects, says Eric Leopold, owner of Assisted Living Advisers, a company based in New York City. The company helps people find the most cost-effective and appropriate senior living situations for them.
For example, some assisted living facilities in the New York City area have partnerships with local universities in which professors talk about topics chosen by residents, Leopold says. In recent years, the subjects were diverse. For one six-week curriculum, residents chose the topic of medieval knights; another educational course focused on the witches, goblins, ghosts and spirits of Halloween. Before COVID-19, university professors would typically go to assisted living communities to hold classes. During the COVID-19 lockdown, they typically held such classes on Zoom. Now that the pandemic appears to be subsiding, some instructors are starting to return to facilities to hold these classes.
Also in the New York area, students from the renowned Juilliard School of Performing Arts come to assisted living facilities to perform concerts for residents. During the pandemic, they performed via Zoom, but in recent months have started to perform in person, Leopold says. “The residents love it,” he says.
Many assisted living communities also provide opportunities for residents to give talks about their life experiences and areas of expertise.
6. A safe living environment
With advancing age there are several common safety risks that might arise. Fortunately, there are steps everyone — including assisted living residents — can take to protect themselves, says Dr. Scott Kaiser, a board-certified family physician and geriatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. Some of the pitfalls of aging, like falls, for example, can have devastating consequences.
Assisted living communities typically provide recreational, cultural and social programs that help residents stay physically, mentally and socially active and engaged, which can boost overall health. These facilities can “provide a broad range of resources to support you in living and aging well.”
While falls are common in older age — and often result in injuries that can range from a minor inconvenience to fatal — research suggests they can largely be prevented. Exercising regularly is one way to help prevent falls. Assisted living communities typically offer exercise programs, which may mitigate the risk of falling.
Some seniors worry about losing personal autonomy when they enter assisted living. “Ideally, assisted living can offer the best of both worlds: offering a safe living environment with added resources and caring people available to help, without forcing someone to give up aspects of their independence that they value most,” Kaiser says.
Consumers should also ask whether an assisted living facility they or a loved one is living in or considering is following the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention safety guidelines for COVID-19.
7. Memory support
Some people move into assisted living because they’re suffering from a neurocognitive disorder like Alzheimer’s and can no longer live alone safely, says Nora O’Brien, executive director of Willow Gardens Memory Care on United Hebrew of New Rochelle’s campus in New Rochelle, New York. Certain assisted living facilities offer memory support, which provides around-the-clock services to make sure residents are attended to, she says.
The goal is to ensure the residents’ well-being and to minimize confusion. Specially trained staff members keep residents living with neurocognitive disorders secure, socially engaged and living as they would if they were on their own as much as possible. “All of our staff — from administration and caregivers to housekeeping and dietary — are trained by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America so they are comfortable working with people who have dementia,” O’Brien says.
Services vary by provider but can include:
— Assistance with daily living activities, like bathing and maintaining personal hygiene.
— Engaging with residents in art or music activities that provide social stimulation and improve mood.
To recap, here are seven ways assisted living improves the quality of life:
— Support for daily tasks.
— Community connections and social functions.
— Recreational opportunities.
— Help with managing medication.
— Educational and cultural programs.
— A safe living environment.
— Memory support.
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Update 04/07/22: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.