If you’re considering moving to an assisted living community, you’re wondering what it would be like to actually live in one. Visiting friends in assisted living, or taking a tour of a community, or even having a meal and participating in an activity will give you some idea, but what’s really going on behind the scenes? What does it feel like when the lights go out? And just who are these other people living here, anyway?
Let’s look at a day at a typical, contemporary 50-100 bed private-pay assisted living community. Life here will differ somewhat from life, for example, in a smaller residential care setting, such as a private home that has been converted to assisted living. However, many of the differences are of scale and amenities, and not necessarily of quality of care.
And of course, every resident’s routine will be unique, depending on his or her required level of care and interests.
Life is not regimented in an assisted living community. Aside from meal times and scheduled activities, your time is your own. There is 24-hour supervision, which means that should you need help, it’s always available. But you can go to bed when you want, wake up when you want, and design your own day around the community’s planned events or other interests you may have.
The first person you may see in the morning is a nurse or care associate coming into your apartment to check on you and dispense your morning medicine or supplements, should you be on a prescribed regimen. To help prevent errors, assisted living communities practice medication management. Prescription drugs are tightly controlled and distributed in proper doses by the staff.
If you need assistance with one or more of the activities of daily living, a care associate will be there to help you with bathing, dressing, personal hygiene, and/or moving from one place to another. This will continue throughout the day as you need help. It is important to remember that as your needs increase and you require more daily assistance, your monthly fees may increase, too.
Most communities have set times for breakfast, lunch and dinner in a dining room that may also convert to a multi-purpose room. If you should miss meal time, many communities have cafes in which you can have a snack, and all will serve your meals in your room should you be indisposed. Meals are designed to be nutritious and meet your specific dietary requirements. You will usually have a choice among several entrees, side dishes and desserts, and sometimes there is an a la carte menu from which to order. Meals may be included in your monthly fee or available as a meal plan. Equipped kitchens or kitchenettes are also available in many apartments for those who still want to prepare some or all of their meals.
After meals, communities offer not only scheduled activities, but the facilities and equipment to let you do things on your own. This might include woodworking, playing billiards, putting golf balls, arts and crafts, swimming, reading a book from the library, spending time in the sunroom or courtyard with family, neighbors or friends, or a host of other things in which you’re interested. You will find that many of the other residents come from similar backgrounds as you do, and most are congenial and welcoming. You may even discover an old friend living a few doors down. Your family is always welcome at meal times, for activities, or just to visit.
Scheduled activities, which are, of course, voluntary, might include an exercise class, water aerobics, bridge, video games or other games, Bible study and religious services, art and education classes, shopping or restaurant outings, social events, book clubs, musical and other entertainment, even happy hours. If there’s an activity you like, you can usually find it.
While all this is going on, your bed is being made up, your apartment is being thoroughly cleaned (usually once a week), and your laundry is being done. If your hair needs cutting or styling, or if you need a manicure or pedicure, that is usually available on-site. Some communities even offer limited banking services, shopping, and visits from health care providers. Transportation is available for those who no longer drive.
After dinner there may be more activities, but things get quiet relatively early in assisted living communities. You can visit with friends, play cards or watch a movie in a living or media room, or just retire to your apartment to read a book, watch TV or catch up with phone calls and correspondence. Most communities have Wi-Fi, so you can email or Facebook to your heart’s content.
When it’s time for bed, a care associate will be there if you need help. And there is always a call button nearby for emergencies. Nights can seem lonely at first, but it is reassuring to know there is always someone just down the hall. Exterior doors are usually locked after a certain hour so intruders cannot get in, and there may be security personnel on the premises.
Sound ideal? It can be. Of course, an unpleasant neighbor, or a misunderstanding with the staff, or any kind of unplanned disruption in your daily routine can temporarily take the shine off. But, compared to remaining in your home, with the accompanying maintenance, housekeeping, meal preparation, social and health care challenges, living in an assisted living community can be the best way to make the most of your retirement years.