The decision to move into assisted living is significant, made with care and a lot of thought. And the vast majority of older adults and family members are happy with the decision. But there may be times when the question, “Should you move your parents out of assisted living?” may arise. Whether you’re facing personal reasons or a viral outbreak such as COVID-19, how do you know if or when to move a loved one out of assisted living?
Dr. Kevin O’Neil, chief medical officer at Affinity Living Group, noted there are several factors adult children should consider before removing an aging parent from an assisted living community.
“Many residents in assisted living have functional needs, and some may have cognitive issues,” he says. That’s why it’s important to ask these questions:
- Can their care needs be met at home? “There’s a reason they’re in assisted living,” says O’Neil. “And it’s usually because they have needs that couldn’t be met at home.” They need help, sometimes with multiple activities of daily living. Can the family provide the same level of care their loved one is receiving in the community setting? You may have to pay for home health providers, and it’s important to note that Medicare doesn’t pay for custodial care at home.
- Is your house suitable for them? Assisted living communities are designed to reduce the risk of falling. According to the National Council on Aging, falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries for older adults. Do you have grab bars in the showers? Is there adequate lighting? Can your house accommodate a wheelchair or other assistive devices?
- What will their level of socialization be? According to O’Neil, socialization is a big reason many seniors choose assisted living. Between having neighbors close by and social activities planned by the community, they can stay connected and develop meaningful relationships. “Senior isolation is toxic,” says O’Neil. “Will they have those same opportunities if they leave their community?”
- How disruptive will the move be? We can all be creatures of habit, but seniors with cognitive issues need a consistent routine. A break in that routine can raise the risk of acute confusion, which could lead to either aggression and agitation or withdrawal and disorganized thinking.
- What kind of physical activities will they be able to participate in? Assisted living communities have regularly planned fitness classes that are adapted so residents can be active and safe. Will your loved one be able to do that in your house?
- What other health risks would your loved one be subject to? Older adults are more vulnerable to illness. Will your family be exposed to others who are ill (and possibly asymptomatic), and then bring those germs home?
- What will the impact on your family be? Being a caregiver is not easy. Some older adults in assisted living have high-level care needs, and the risk of burnout for the family is real. There are also financial costs to being a caregiver — can your budget support them?
If you’re concerned about your loved one residing in assisted living during a viral outbreak, it’s important you talk with the community about their emergency preparedness, and what they’re doing to mitigate the spread and care for residents. O’Neil suggests you ask about the following:
- What are their infection control practice guidelines?
- What kind of visitor screening is in place? Are there restrictions for nonessential visitors, such as friends and family? When essential visitors such as medical providers and supply vendors come to the community, are there temperature checks and questions about symptoms?
- Are there hand sanitizing and/or hand washing stations throughout the community?
- Is social distancing being practiced, even among staff?
- What kinds of personal protective equipment does the staff have access to?
- Is telemedicine an option so your loved one can still see their health provider?
So — should you move your parents out of assisted living? O’Neil acknowledges if your house is suitable and you have the time and resources to care for a loved one, it might be acceptable to bring your loved one home. But you have to carefully weigh the risks. He adds, however, “With assisted living’s focus on prevention, and resources and people who are experienced and dedicated to the care of this vulnerable population, people are likely more safe staying in their community. And until we know more about COVID-19, it’s better to stay in the assisted living environment.”
If you’d like to know more about how assisted living and other senior living communities are addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, visit this page.
National Council on Aging