When It’s Time for Assisted Living: Recognizing the Signs
Aging can be a difficult process. Physical ailments and declines in mental acuity and social interactions can be tough on the person experiencing difficulties as well as on the people who love them. It’s natural for all of us to want to stay in our homes as long as possible—and society has many resources to aid that effort—but sometimes assisted living can offer a better quality of life.
Deciding to transition to assisted living is often challenging because it’s so subjective. No one has developed any definitive test to indicate when the time is right. Your best hope for making a good decision is to consider the signs suggesting it may be time and then weigh them against the benefits of staying at home.
Abandoned hobbies: What are your loved one’s passions, and are they still actively enjoying them? Look for unused library cards, abandoned workshops, lonely craft tables. A change in interests is fine, but sometimes withdrawing from favorite activities is a sign of other struggles.
Forgetfulness: We all forget things on a daily basis. If your loved one is struggling to remember basic information, this becomes a more serious issue. It may indicate that more care, more companionship is needed to help them remember important daily tasks.
Wandering: Getting lost may be a sign of an adventurous spirit, or it may be the onset of a more serious mental decline. Wandering is a dangerous and common issue with the elderly and can lead to falls and injuries.
Unpaid bills: Look for unopened envelopes and notices in your loved one’s home. One early warning sign of cognitive decline is the tendency to forget about bills and other financial responsibilities. Ask to help your loved one pay bills. If possible, look at recent bank activity. Older people are often targeted to donate money and sometimes donate multiple times, forgetting that they have already given.
Hygiene: A change in personal hygiene is a big indicator of a change in mental or emotional wellness. If someone has always worn starched button-downs and now wears a stained t-shirt, ask some questions. If her hair is unwashed or his beard is going unkempt, these can be signs of mental decline, or they can be signs that your loved one is becoming depressed.
Weight loss or gain: A quick hug or a close look will help you to see whether your loved one’s diet is changing. If he has lost weight and seems to have lost strength, ask what he’s been eating. If he has gained significant weight, he may not be getting opportunities to be active, which is still important in later life. Both ends of that spectrum are addressed in assisted living facilities.
Falls: Falls are disturbingly common in older adults and are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries in seniors, so it’s important to watch for any signs that your loved one may be showing signs that a fall is likely. Watch for weakness in the legs, a change in balance and gait, even declining eyesight. All contribute significantly to falls.
Social withdrawal: How often does your loved one leave the house? Sometimes as people age they stay home for days—either because of fear about getting where they need to go successfully or because of depression. Ask your loved one about social outings. Sometimes they feel that moving to assisted living equates to being “locked up,” but for many, the scenario affords more freedom through daily outings and social opportunities.
Aggression: One sign of cognitive decline is physical or verbal aggression. Trained professionals know how to help a person who is showing aggression; family members usually do not. If your loved one has angry outbursts it’s time to talk about getting more help.
When someone who has cared for you throughout your lifetime now needs more care than you can provide, the best choice is to begin discussing options. It may be a daily call-in service or an emergency call necklace, or it may be assisted living. Moving a loved one into residential care is never an easy decision, but watching for telltale signs can help you know what’s best for your loved one.