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Assisted Living 101

Some answers to basic questions like what does it mean, who is it for and when should you look into it

By Anne Endicott
contributing writer

Mostly gone are the nondescript buildings housing dark, dreary corridors with pungent odors and a laststop- in-life feel. Today’s assisted living facilities boast vibrant, active communities, with amenities and services that encourage independence, yet offer assistance if needed.

“Over the years, the vision of what senior care was going to be like has changed,” said Karla Cheney-Downs, administrator with Courtyard Fountains of Gresham. “People are living longer, and they’re staying more active. In assisted living, our goal is to help them stay independent, but provide help as they age if they need it.”

For baby boomers and their parents, where to go when it’s no longer possible to remain on their own has long been a worry as retirement age approached. Factor in medical conditions that require management, and it’s no surprise that panic sets in when deciding the next step in life. Assisted living communities fill the void by providing a balance between independence and assistance with dignity as needs change.

“Someone can be totally independent when they move in,” said Cheney- Downs, “but as time goes on, they might need help getting to the dining room or reminded to take their medications. Assisted living facilities continue to evolve to meet the challenges involved with the aging process, without restricting or limiting someone’s choices.”

Assisted living is where people go to live, according to Cheney-Downs, which explains why today’s facilities resemble a cruise ship on land. Entertainment is built in via a busy activities schedule, bus transportation is available for medical appointments and meals can be shared with others in the dining room. Apartments come in studio, one- and two-bedroom units and include weekly housekeeping, three meals a-day and all utilities except telephone and cable television. At Courtyard Fountains, monthly rent runs from $2,640 to $4,200, depending on the size of the apartment.

Remaining active and independent is paramount for seniors, Cheney-Downs said, but so is the comfort of knowing they’re not alone, especially if they’ve suffered through a medical crisis alone before.

“Some people just want to know that there’s someone around if they need help,” she explained. “Maybe they’ve had a heart attack before and laid on the floor before someone found them. Assisted living gives them peace of mind that someone will check on them if they don’t show up for dinner or haven’t been seen in a while.” Downsizing and moving frequently is a hardship for seniors, Cheney- Downs points out, which is why retirement communities and assisted living facilities strive to provide medical care that enables residents to remain in their home. Twenty-four hour nursing assistance is outside licensing boundaries for assisted living facilities, but Courtyard Fountains invites Hospice workers in to care for residents during their last days.

“It’s our goal to keep them here as long as we can,” she said. “Every move is a step backwards for a senior. It’s important we treat them with dignity, and they know we have their best interest at heart. This is their home, and we want them to be comfortable.”

Part of the admission process for assisted living requires information provided by a doctor to determine what a resident’s medical needs may be. Overseeing and understanding what prescription drugs a resident takes is done by an in-house registered nurse, as well as an outside pharmacy, which reviews resident’s medical charts every 90 days for drug interaction.

“When someone comes in to assisted living, the best service we can provide is that medication monitoring,” said Cheney-Downs. “One of the biggest problems with seniors is that they don’t take their medications as prescribed or on time. Having a good, safe monitoring policy is important.”

Cheney-Downs acknowledges that helping seniors make the decision to move into a retirement community or assisted living is often met by resistance. Seniors worry about their belongings, fear a perceived loss of independence, and if medical conditions are an issue, feel they’re being locked away in a “home.”

Involve mom or dad in the decision, she recommends. Arrange a tour of a facility and allow them to choose what to take with them. Doing it sooner rather than later guarantees a smooth transition.

“Don’t wait until you see that mom or dad isn’t showering, eating regularly or is sleeping all day,” she said. “Now’s the time to call assisted living. They will buy into it if they can have lunch with people who can carry on a conversation, pick out their own apartment and not feel like they’re being put away.”

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