The Difficult Decision About Assisted Living
Last weekend, I visited my 90-year-old mother in Florida (that is her picture on the right). And yes, it was sunny and warm! (I know, you are all green with envy!)
This visit was different though. My mother and one of her best friends have decided to move to an independent living complex with congregate dining. My mother, my aunt (89 years old), her friend Shirley (94 years old) and I went on a field trip to tour the facility (www.foresttrace.com). We met with the leasing director, took a tour of the apartments, and had dinner in their dining room. The complex has a combination of independent living apartments and assisted living if residents need more intensive care. If someone needs daytime help, that can be easily arranged.
Dinner was restaurant style with a menu and many choices. The food and presentation was quite good. In the dining room there were actually a number of men! It reassured me that my gender was not entirely an endangered species. But in this group of 85-95 year olds, about 80% were women.
The major problem for this trio of older adults is that they can no longer drive (Thank heavens!). All three of them were reluctant to give up their driver’s license, for understandable reasons. When they surrendered that piece of paper, they lost much of their independence. Yes, they can take cabs or the bus in their retirement community. But for them it is a psychological blow—they are now dependent on others for rides. They can’t come and go as they please. No wonder it is such a struggle for older adults to stop driving! (And for their adult children who plead with their elderly parents to give them their car keys.)
These three women are also having difficulty with meal preparation. I went shopping with my mother the day before and afterwards she was completely exhausted. Shopping, meal preparation, and cleanup just require too much energy for this group of women. Also, they no longer have much of an appetite (a very common experience among older adults), and they don’t eat very much when they dine alone in their apartments. (My mother admitted to eating a lot of canned soup) But eating is a social activity, and they eat more when they eat together—a very good reason for the very old to have meals with others.
None of these three women really want to move. The thought of negotiating a new environment is stressful. They are comfortable in their familiar environments. My mother is overwhelmed with the idea of sorting through her things and deciding what to take. My brother and I reminded my Mom that we will swoop down and do the entire job for her, as we did when she moved from her house into her current apartment.
Change is very demanding. But my mother and Shirley have always been decisive women. They are not afraid to make decisions, even if they are difficult ones to make. My aunt, on the other hand, is fearful and it is difficult for her to make choices—“I like the place” she says, “but I am not ready to move”. My cousins want her to move with my mother. But I don’t think she will.
Many adult children and their elderly parents consider assisted living programs. Just to give you an example of the costs, Forest Trace’s one bedroom apartment in independent living (quite large) costs about $3000 per month, which includes the rental of the apartment (includes electric and cable), two meals a day, all the activities (lectures, exercise classes, entertainment, rides, weekly maid service, and a 24 hour nurse). Friends can share two bedroom apartments at a lower cost (closer to $2,000) per person. Assisted living, which provides much more care, is $4,210 per month.
Similar programs in Snohomish County start at $2000 (minimum charge) per month and go up—so they are similarly priced. The average cost nationwide is about $39,000 per year or about $3200 per month.
We are all living longer, and hopefully, we will have a high quality of life. Finding options for our aging relatives is one of the many challenges of adults in mid-life. The struggle to maintain our dignity, independence, and well-being is the goal of positive aging.
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