87% of older adults aged 65 and older say that they want to grow old in their own homes. Unfortunately, aging in place is not always the safest or most practical option. If your elderly loved one is facing the tough decision of whether or not it is safe to remain in their home, then a trial run at an assisted living facility may be the answer.
Most assisted living facilities allow potential residents to stay for short periods (from a few days to a few weeks) with no formal commitment. Often these short stays are termed “respite care.” The name comes from the fact that while the elderly person is staying in the facility, their caregiver can enjoy a respite: a short period of rest or relief.
During short term stays in assisted living, potential residents can participate in all the daily activities just as they would if they lived there full time. They can try out everything to determine if they could actually live there happily. I’ve included some of the highlights to allow you to see why a trial run might be beneficial.
Try out the Food:
Bad food is one of the most common complaints that older adults have about staying in a particular hospital or nursing facility. When staying temporarily in an assisted living facility, potential residents can try out the different menu options to see if they like the food and the dining style. If they hate the food, then they can figure out what the rules are regarding outside food and cooking in their own apartment.
Participate in the Activities:
Assisted Living facilities often have full schedules of daily activities….think cruise ship calendar. Some of these activities may include guest lectures, live music, exercise classes, bingo and other games, community outings, visits from therapy pets, movies (with snacks!), and countless other fun activities. Participation is, of course, not mandatory. Your elderly loved one may find that they enjoy all these new activities that they can’t get at home.
Meet the other residents and make friends:
The most common argument against living in an assisted living facility is “I don’t want to be around all those old people!” Your loved one may be surprised to find that the other residents are truly their peers. Many people in assisted living are still very active. It’s not always “just a bunch of old people.” Often times, there is a welcome committee made up of residents that love to teach new people the ropes. This allows for an easier and more welcoming transition.
Learn all the Rules:
Rules and expectations differ from one assisted living facility to another. Sometimes they are more lax than you might expect. For example, some facilities allow small pets to live with their owners. Some offer full kitchens so residents can save money on dining and cook for themselves. Your elderly loved one may believe that they will be prisoners in the “old folks home” when that is far from the truth.
Determine if they like the nursing care:
Some elderly people in assisted living are completely self sufficient except that they are unable to care for their own medical needs. Most of the time, the nursing staff manages medications. It’s important for potential residents (and their families) to be comfortable with the nursing staff. They should be able to trust that they get the medicines they need at the times when they need them.
Get acquainted with their room:
Assisted living apartments typically come furnished when the resident is there for only a short stay. However, if your parent has a favorite chair or a bed that they cannot live without, then they may be able to bring the item. Once they move in, they can bring their own furniture as well as many of their cherished items including decorations, pictures, and keepsakes. If they find it to be too loud at night, too cold, or too _____ (fill in the blank) then you can brainstorm how to fix the issue prior to committing to a longer stay. You may also be able to see some model apartments or check out the rooms of other residents to see how home-like they can be.
Have less fear and anxiety if they ever need to come back:
In the event that your loved one stays in an assisted living facility for a few weeks and then decides to return home, they still may get some benefit from the stay. In the future they may need to revisit the idea of leaving their home for a higher level of care. This idea will be less scary and less stressful when they know what to expect. This is especially true if your loved one has dementia and has difficulty adjusting to a new environment. Regular short term stays can allow them to adjust more easily when they must officially move.
Assisted living trial runs (respite breaks) can be extremely beneficial for caregivers as well.
For one thing, they can prevent caregiver burnout. For more details on this topic, click here. The knowledge that their loved one is being well taken care of allows caregivers to get some needed rest and relaxation.
Additionally, time away from home can allow caregivers to make any necessary adjustments to an elderly person’s home. For example, home modification or improvement projects can be completed or a hoarder’s home can be cleaned out.
What families should know about their loved one’s trial run in assisted living:
Bring their own clothing:
Assisted living facilities are not hospitals. The residents do not go around wearing hospital gowns. Your loved one will need several changes of clothing as well as at least one pair of shoes. Sometimes laundry is provided, but sometimes it is not. Find out what the expectations are regarding laundry care.
Bring their own assistive devices:
If your loved one uses a device such as a walker, cane, or wheelchair then they’ll need it at the facility. Be sure to label it with their name to avoid it getting lost.
Take a complete inventory of what your loved one brought with them:
Make a list of all items that your loved one brings with them during their stay. This includes all clothing items, dentures, glasses, hearing aides, assistive devices, bedding, dish wear, books, etc. This isn’t as big of a deal for full time residents because everything in the apartment belongs to them. If the apartment is furnished during a short stay then it gets a little harder to keep track of what belongs to your loved one versus what belongs to the facility.
Traditional visiting hours typically do not exist in assisted living. Family members are likely able to stay with their loved ones as often as they like. However, try to keep your visits somewhat short to allow your loved one to integrate into their new surroundings.
You will probably have to pay out of pocket.
Rates typically start at no less than $200/day. The price may go up depending on services provided. Medicare does not pay for respite care unless it is related to hospice care. For more information, click here to read or download a copy of Medicare Basics: A Guide for Families and Friends of People with Medicare.
The VA pays for 30 days/year of respite care but it must be provided “in home, in adult day care, or in a VA medical or community living center.” Click here for more details on VA benefits in regards to respite care.
Set up a Meeting with the staff before your loved one begins their stay:
You’ll need specifics on topics such as
- Can pets stay?
- What activities are offered?
- What will the nursing care include?
- Do you need to bring all of your parent’s medications or get new prescriptions?
- What is the price per day?
- What furniture or other mementos can you bring?
Plus any other questions that you may have
Even if your elderly loved one adamantly refuses to move out of their home, they may agree to a short stay just to pacify you. The knowledge that they are still in control and don’t have to make any final decisions offers a more calm and comfortable way to experience a new place. At the very least, they may agree to try out an assisted living facility for just a few hours at a time. Adult day services are an option where an elderly person stays in the facility for a few hours during the day. Adult day services will allow a small glimpse of what life would be like in assisted living. It could be the way to open their mind to the possibility that moving into assisted living might not be as bad as they think. Plus, it still allows a few hours of respite for caregivers.
If you’re struggling, and you need an objective way to know if your elderly loved one is no longer safe to live at home, then check out this article.