Common Myths of Assisted Living Facilities

When faced with the responsibility selecting a long-care option for their parents, many families have preconceived ideas about the lifestyle found at assisted living facilities. Common myths are perpetuated by the media which tends to emphasize the negative stories experienced by a relatively small number of seniors rather than the built-in camaraderie and safety net that assisted living facilities provide.

Myth #1: The phrase ‘assisted living facility’ is just new terminology to describe nursing homes.

In fact, assisted living facilities are a relatively new concept designed to serve the needs of a changing society, in which seniors live longer than ever before and prefer to live as independently as possible. Throughout the United States, adult children commonly juggle two-career households, raising children and attempting to meet the needs of their aging parents.

Within the last 20 years, professionals in the field of eldercare have recognized the need to promote an active lifestyle within an environment where care is also provided. As a result, seniors no longer feel they are burdening their families with their needs, live independently in their own apartment, enjoy a full calendar of activities and feel secure in knowing assistance is always available. Whereas nursing homes focus primarily on skilled medical care and therapies, assisted living facilities promote as much independence in activities of daily living as possible.

Myth #2: Assisted living facilities won’t accept seniors in wheelchairs or those who experience urinary incontinence.

While independence in mobility is encouraged among residents of assisted living facilities, wheelchairs are not prohibited. However, residents must be able to transfer (move from bed/chair to wheelchair, etc.) with the assistance of one other person. Those who require the assistance of two people or who cannot bear any weight are not appropriate for this environment as their care exceeds the licensure of most assisted living facilities.

Similarly, residents who experience urinary incontinence are usually accepted as long as their condition can be managed with a toileting schedule, incontinence products and reminders on a consistent basis. In many cases, seniors receiving assistance with toileting are able to return to an active social life that they may have compromised in worrying about the possibility of an accident. If bowel incontinence becomes an issue and cannot be managed appropriately, this may require an alternative care setting as the condition poses a health risk to other residents.

Myth #3: Medicare will pay for the care provided in assisted living facilities.

Medicare does not provide coverage for non-skilled care services such as assistance with activities of daily living, including bathing, dressing, medication management, toileting and transferring. While nursing homes accept Medicare, assisted living facilities typically accept only private pay or long-term care insurance.

In some instances, assisted living facilities will set aside a limited number of apartments for Medicaid recipients and others may offer programs to assist residents whose income falls below a particular median range. However, those with limited finances and who anticipate applying for Medicaid in the near future may want to consider alternative care options such as care homes.

Written by gerontologist Sara Shelton.

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