Determining when the right time for you and your senior loved one to start considering assisted living is not an exact science. There is no right time for assisted living, as the decision of the timing varies from family to family — and it has just as much to do with the condition of you, the caregiver, as it does your loved one.
Heightened Care Needs
The first questions to ask is, “What are my loved one’s current care needs, and can I adequately fill them?” Think about how much you or your family members will need to alter current routines to make sure that the proper care is provided. Are you physically and emotionally able to handle their current care needs, or will your schedule and limitations put your loved one at risk
Consider how your loved one’s care will change in the coming months and years, as well as your own living situation — you may not be able to provide the same kind of care you do now down the road.
To determine whether your loved one’s care may be beyond your reach, you need to make an honest assessment of his or her condition. One of the first signs that the time is right to consider assisted living is a change in a loved one’s behavior. If you have noticed any signs of confusion or aggression that seem out of place for your senior loved one, you may need to prepare. If you have only noticed these signs later in the day, it could be a condition known as sundown syndrome, which comprises a set of symptoms that occur during the later hours of the day and are associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s. If your loved one has been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s, worsening symptoms may mark the right time for assisted living.
Another sign that assisted living may be the next step is wandering. This could be as simple as finding your loved one in unexpected places in the house with the lights off or as dangerous as your loved one leaving the home for hours at a time — and no way to get home. You alone cannot monitor your loved one 24/7 like an assisted living community can. An assisted living community will afford you the peace of mind in knowing your parent or senior loved one will always be safe.
Grooming and Hygiene
Keep your eye on the hygiene of your senior loved one. Are they wearing the same clothes every time you to come to visit? Do they look disheveled? Does it seem like they have not showered? Lapses in grooming and hygiene are telltale signs of a loved one not being able to care for themselves. It may be because be a physical ailment preventing them, and they may be too embarrassed to ask for assistance; it may also be a sign of dementia. No matter the cause of worsening hygiene — physical or mental — it is a sign that their care needs have changed and will require additional assistance.
What are your parent’s or senior loved one’s current medication needs? How much and often must they take medication — and can you be sure that they will remember to take it? Prescriptions are very serious, and taking too much or too little can have dire consequences on a senior’s health. Assisted living communities are staffed with dedicated personnel that not only administer medication at the proper time, but monitor signs of any changes that may occur, both positive and negative, from the medication. If you cannot do this yourself, it may be time for an assisted living facility.
If your senior loved one is still living in their own home, see if it is still safe for them. If you intend to keep your loved one in their home, you must make certain modifications to the home to ensure that it remains safe for them to live in. For example, if your loved one is prone to falling or slipping, handrails may be necessary for entrances and the bathroom. Appliances may also be an area of concern, as seniors can easily forget to turn off the gas or leave the oven on all night. If the home is large with a large front and backyard, that may mean upkeep that they can no longer handle. If you are able to keep up with the yardwork and help with household chores (or pay someone to do so) as well as care for them personally, it may not be time for assisted living.
However, if you find that you can’t help them maintain their home, pay their bills and make sure the yard stays weed-free, it is time to consider a new living arrangement. Caregivers often focus on the care they need to provide their loved one, forgetting that the home also requires care.
An important factor when considering assisted living is distance. If you or other caregivers and family members live a great distance from your loved one — or if your job is located far away, or often takes you on business trips — you may not be able to make it to your loved one’s home at a moment’s notice if need be. Factor in the length of time it takes you to get to your loved one’s home, and calculate how much time you will spend a week making these trips. If it interferes with your daily life and your caregiving, it is time for assisted living.
One of the most important factors to consider is how the caregiving situation affects you. Caregiving can come with some physiological costs that must be considered, as they can become detrimental to both you and your loved one. Caregivers may experience avoidance behaviors, crippling anxiety, hypervigilance and intrusive thoughts; anger and resentment are also common feelings among caregivers. Nobody wants to feel these things about their loved ones, and if you do find yourself feeling this way, it may mean that caregiving has taken control of your life.
You need to be able to live your own life in order to be there emotionally for your loved one. The feeling of not doing enough is also a common, and the resulting guilt can be disabling. The best way to overcome these feelings is to find a proper place for your loved one to receive the best care — a place where you will be able to take some of the caregiving pressure off yourself and transition into the role of being an emotionally supportive loved one, spending time reconnecting rather than resenting.
Deciding whether or not to move your loved one into an assisted living community is a difficult choice for anyone. Some people have feelings of guilt over simply considering it, but the feeling of not doing enough could not be further from the truth. Assisted living communities provide comfort, proper care and safety, allowing you to relax knowing that your loved one is in caring and professional hands. You will still be able to see your loved one just as much as you would as their primary caregiver, but the context of your visits will be all positive — you will be able to relax and enjoy your stress-free time together.