If you are reading this, I am going to assume that one or both of your parents have moved, or are about to move, into an assisted living home. The months leading up to this life change have not been easy. Your parent’s ability to live at home alone has been a concern. You’ve tried different interventions, had many difficult adult child to elderly parent conversations and spent sleepless nights from the worry of what mom or dad was up to in the middle of the night, miles away from where you could safely keep an eye on them. You and your family have tried everything you were able but the time had come to pack up a lifetime of treasures and close the door on the memories that the family home has held for all these years. Moving day arrives and you settle into the assumption that life will be like just like the director promised. Things will calmly move forward in a place where everyone wears perfectly matched outfits, has perfectly coiffed hair, and friends await at every new game of bingo. If you are anything like me, you may have even planned a long overdue vacation to celebrate that finally, life would begin to settle down into a safe and dependable new rhythm.
Allow me to give you a peek at the locations not included on the map inside the thick glossy brochures.
The new world of the assisted living is just that, a world, in and of itself. It is a microcosm of the real word, just with a larger percentage of residents with hips and teeth that are not original to them. People are whom they are, regardless of where they now live or the age on their driver’s license that most likely was taken away from them in one of the biggest battles you have ever experienced. Your parents may very well be the sweetest people on the planet, and if they are, you truly need to keep reading.
Here are some assisted living sights not on the map they hand you on move-in day:
High school never ends. There are cliques, popular “kids” and unpopular kids. Often this hierarchy within an assisted living is based on social skills and cognitive ability. Sad, but true. Illnesses and medications can make individuals do interesting new things. People can suddenly, in the mid-80’s decide they love eating sugar packets or develop quirks for pouring the salt out of shakers and onto the floor. Some people have ticks that cause them to slam their hands down loudly onto the table. Do you get where I am going with this? If your parent is the one who could still properly sit at a formal Whitehouse dinner, there could be an objection to this new “uncouth” behavior of tablemates. Or, the day could come when your parent is the one losing some of their abilities that include manners. Someone, at some time, may be asked to be no longer seated at the table.
He’s Mine Lane
Statistically, elderly men are an endangered species. There are dangers lurking in the wild hunting grounds of the activity center and dining hall. Many sweet and lonely little old ladies are mobilized in fast moving electric wheelchairs and smooth gliding walkers. Relationships develop in assisted livings. Often individuals are there because their life partner has died. They are used to companionship and a warm hand in theirs. Also, it doesn’t matter how old someone gets, the need to love and be loved never ends. These relationships can be beautiful gifts in the life of your parent.
For my family, a relationship with a delightful lady from Ireland was the only reason my dad stopped going to work (yes, he was going to work at age 79 when he moved into his assisted living!) because he didn’t want to miss a thing his new friend was doing. The pep in his step could not be denied when he knew someone was waiting for him at lunch or wanted to catch the evening movie. Long afternoons shortened when she was on his couch as they sat hand in hand watching television.
But, stepping off the elevator together, often into a sea of elderly female residents, this demure yet spunky lady would announce, “Don’t even think about it, girls! He’s mine!” If I didn’t see it happen, I wouldn’t believe it.
Your stories are coming, my reader, your stories are coming....
The Red Light District
Oh gosh, you don’t want to know this one, and I am sure you’ve heard the rumors but s.e.x. happens inside these places. Sorry! It is true. If you suspect your parent is engaging in sexual activity, use your discretion at their ability to consent to such activities and proceed from there. They are adults and can do what they want. It’s sort of like living in a dorm but instead of playing beer pong, they play bingo. And maybe, oh, just maybe, strip poker.
Why did I go there? Sorry again.
The Pawn Shop
No one wants to hear this, and I give you permission not to listen. Mom’s 900-carat diamond ring that she has worn every day since she was wed during the Kennedy administration needs to be discreetly swapped out for a very similar 900-carat cubic zirconia. And buy two. If one gets lost, it will never be found. Ensure the “right” one gets lost by never allowing the real ring to walk through the door of the assisted living in the first place.
The House of The Fine-Toothed Comb
Read the contracts that your parent (or yourself, if you are their Power of Attorney) will be required to sign. Front to back, inside and out. Have the lawyer who took care of the estate planning documents look over it as well.
Inflation Towers High-Rise
Just as you read the contract over, you must understand the costs of care levels that will add a surcharge onto the monthly statement. Medication management alone can increase with the addition of just one pill. Know what ADL’s (Activities of Daily Living) qualify for increases in fees.
Over time, your parent may decline and what starts as a somewhat manageable monthly bill can turn into an amount near doubled in size and requires a stiff drink in hand to write the check each month.
The only things in life you can depend on are death and taxes. And, assisted living fees to go up annually. There is a percentage range that they can raise the rates. Calculate the highest percentage that could be charged to and be financially prepared in your projections.
Playing at the Theater: The Magic Show
Assisted livings have a critical word in them. “Living.” Understand the specifics of what additional paid care you can provide for your parent and what conditions will prompt a move to a nursing home or hospice center. Certain physical and medical issues that could arise for your parent may be too much for the assisted living to handle and prompt the move to a skilled nursing facility. Do not be afraid to ask for the criteria that would require moving someplace new for the additional care.
In fact, line up one or two nursing facilities just in case a fall leads to a hospital visit that leads to a stay at a rehabilitation facility. Often these types of decisions need to be made within days. You will be stressed and not make as informed a decision as you would have if you had done the research ahead of the crisis.
So now that you have a lay of the land, you can be prepared for some of the things that could come up for you and your parent at Happy Acres Assisted Living. The staff has seen it all; so don’t be too shy to addresses issues as they arise. Knowing ahead of time that some, let’s call them interesting, things can go on will hopefully leave you better prepared for their arrival.