Overview of Assisted Living for Physically or Mentally Disabled Adults
Assisted living facilities are designed for individuals who need various forms of care, which may range from medication assistance to intermittent nursing care. Although many of our loved ones may prefer the comfort of their homes, a time may come when assisted living options should be considered. This time may arrive when a loved one requires more frequent monitoring by a nurse, or needs assistance with daily routine activities. Moving to assisted living is a big transition, and it’s important to find the best facility for your needs. The right facility will smooth the transition and help your loved one return to normalcy quickly.
In this article, we will discuss a plan of action for helping a disabled adult transition to an assisted living home and the importance for extra special care provided by trained caregivers. This guide discusses assisted living for both mentally disabled and physically disabled adults.
A parent who is disabled may have mental, behavioral, or physical limitations. We may feel more restricted as we age, but our challenges may be even greater if we have disabilities. As we age, we may struggle with completing specific tasks, or may require constant supervision and require assistance with completing all tasks. Caring for a parent or a loved one can be stressful, exhausting, and cause burnout. We may sacrifice other relationships and aspects of our lives to ensure our disabled loved ones receive the support they need. It may be time to consider an assisted living facility with a team of caregivers who will care about your loved one the same way you do. Also, despite physical or mental disabilities, our loved ones may still strive to maintain their independency, so it is important that caregivers are trained to provide support with daily needs, while promoting feelings of independency and self-fulfillment.
Make a List of All Assisted Living Facilities Near You
The first step is to find assisted living facilities near you that can provide care for disabled adults. When searching for assisted living options, the following resources can be helpful:
- Local yellow pages
- Local or state Area Agency on Aging (AAA)
- Friends and relatives
- Retirement guides
- The state licensing agency
- The American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (AAHSA)
Plan to Visit Several Assisted Living Communities
Prepare a list of all assisted living facilities that are near you. Call the facilities that most appeal to you, and ask for information about the facility. This may include floor plans, leaflets, brochures, etc. With this information, narrow down your list to the most suitable candidates, and book appointments to tour the grounds.
It’s important to take a physical tour of assisted living facilities, because a visit provides a first-hand look at infrastructure and operations. This helps you make an informed decision. Take multiple tours at different times of day, to ensure you get an accurate impression of each place. It’s also important to visit during meal times, to assess the food. Have your parent participate in a couple of activities in the facility, to get a sense of the community life. Enquire about the onsite experiences of the staff and occupants.
Checklist of Factors to Consider During Visits
During a visit, keeping a checklist of what would improve your disabled loved one’s current quality of life can be helpful.
Location of the facility is important. It ideally should be in a safe neighborhood, away from pollutants, such as industries, and should be a cool, relaxing environment. It should be near shopping malls and business services, to allow residents to socialize and meet people in the outside world. It should also be close to family and friends, to enable regular family visits and close family contact.
Design of the facility is of the utmost importance. The building’s design should be attractive, with lush vegetation outside. The interior of the building should be decorated to give a home-like feeling. The floor should be well mapped and easy to follow, and all exits and entrances should be well labeled. The rooms and entrances should be designed to accommodate wheelchairs, with lifts and ramps. Wheelchair lift platforms are essential for ease of movement in a facility. In the individual rooms, the shelves and drawers should be placed in positions that allow for easy wheelchair access, and the floor should be carpeted with non-skid materials.
Check whether common areas for socializing are clean, free of odor, well heated or cooled, and well ventilated. They should have properly marked exists and entrances. In addition, they should be well lit, by either artificial or natural lighting.
Are the resident administrator and caregivers qualified? Does the administrator possess Master’s degree, years of experience, ongoing education and certifications about assisted living care, and the necessary persuasion to ensure all staff understand the culture, expectations, and resident-centered care approach?
It is important to understand that the number and type of staff should be proportionate to the number of beds for a good staff-to-resident ratio, and the care needs for 24-7 care. This would help ensure each disabled resident and family receives the special care they deserve. It is important to ensure that the caregivers are well trained to provide the services provided to ensure the residents have an optimum quality of care. The positions of the staff tend to range from food services managers and dieticians, to beauticians, nurses, activity directions, and assisted living administrators.
It’s important to be keenly aware, and to observe the personal traits of the staff. They should demonstrate patience and kindness, not appear overworked, positively engage with all residents including the disabled ones, treat other staff courteously and professionally, appear well-trained, educated, licensed, and be able to handle resident concerns swiftly and effectively. Great staff members are essential to the welfare of residents.
Residents and Atmosphere
If you are permitted, spend some time with the current residents to find out their views of the facility, and ask how they like the community. During the visit, see if the residents socialize with each other, and gauge their levels of comfort and happiness. Also, evaluate the reception you received from the residents upon your arrival. Finding out how the current residents’ levels of function compare to your loved one’s abilities is also important. Lastly, look for organized activities such as book reading, posted daily schedules, events in progress, and degree of resident participation. Specifically, inquire what activities are available to disabled and low mobility residents.
Check that the security measures ensure that residents are safe. These may include high walls and guarded gates to deter unwanted outsiders. Other measures include emergency call buttons installed in rooms and bathrooms. These measures help occupants have peace of mind.
Check also for safety measures that help prevent accidents. Ensure that the design is aimed at minimizing hazards. Some of the measures that should be in place include well-lit stairs and hallways, oversized hallways and doorways for walkers and wheelchairs, no-skid floors, bathroom handrails, smoke detectors, clearly marked exits, and safety locks on doors and windows.
Service and Medical Care
Check for medication management procedures in the facility. Disabled adults may be under medication, and since they may forget or not be able to take it by themselves, this can put their health at risk. For this reason, staff should help by reminding residents or assisting them with medication. The staff should also ensure proper drug storage.
Check the availability of personal care services (eating, bathing, and dressing). Disabled adults are often unable to tidy themselves or their living spaces. Hence, 24-hour access to staff assistance for cleaning, doing laundry, and putting everything in order is essential.
Access to medical assistance is paramount. This may be 24-hour medical or physician access, or regular onsite visits from healthcare providers (doctors, nurses, dentists, etc.) organized by the facility. In either case, onsite treatment is of high priority. Disabled adults may have an array of health issues, and access to healthcare providers is a major determinant of facility choice. The medical team should also have a rapid response time for medical emergencies. It’s also important to check the policies of the facility regarding collaborations between the family and healthcare teams. It’s fundamental that the family be involved in the day-to-day health management of the resident.
Acquire information about the periodic assessment of loved ones’ needs, and find out who would conduct those assessments. There should be written plans of care for each resident that include medicine policies and oversight.
Cost and Contracts
During the tour, it’s important to get information about resident rights and actions in unforeseen scenarios. Such a scenario could be an unplanned move, or being asked to leave the facility for one reason or another. Information about transfer and discharge decision-making should be clarified.
When satisfied by the above, enquire about all costs, which may include an entrance fee, monthly rent, utilities, and services. Information about additional costs for additional services should be provided. Furthermore, the method of payment is also important. Whether the payment plan is monthly, quarterly, or annually, find out about payment frequency and the services offered by each plan. Also, find out whether long-term care insurance is accepted, and see if the facility offers financial assistance.
Go through the contract carefully to avoid being shortchanged, and ensure that every part has been clarified. You can even involve a lawyer to help you understand complicated areas of the contract.
Types of Amenities to Search For
Remote controls for the air conditioning system and heating system are essential for temperature control. Remote controls for television are also essential. They should be simple, with large, well-labeled buttons. Internet access is also essential for fostering communication. This enables residents to connect with friends and family through email or social media platforms, like Facebook. Telephones are also important for communicating with family members. They can reduce boredom and increase family connection.
Assisted living facilities with onsite social coordinators may bring in outside entertainment, such as choral groups or magicians, and may arrange for special activities and games. Activities professionals will take special care with each person to ensure he or she remains engaged in enjoyable activities. Find out if the facility provides art or music classes. They may have movie theaters, and perhaps even full stages for plays and musicals.
Private units and bathrooms are essential. They should be designed to allow disabled people to easily use them. The door locks should be properly positioned for ease of use, and the toilet and showers should be designed for people with disabilities. The floors should have grip for ease of use and to prevent accidents.
The living facility should provide wheelchairs, preferably electric-powered. The infrastructure in the facility should accommodate wheelchairs; there should be ramps and lifts with paved grounds.
Most, but not all, facilities will also include some form of memory care services, typically in a separate wing for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. If your loved one is mentally disabled and needs or will likely need memory care in the near future, make sure the facility you choose has it available. Moreover, mentally disabled adults will need special entertainment and social opportunities, tailored specifically to someone who isn't fully mentally capable. Make sure to ask what amenities are available for adults with mental disabilities.
Most facilities offer three meals per day of varying cuisines. The facility should be able to offer customized meal plans for residents, or even allow residents to submit their own menus. For late-night or afternoon cravings, the facility should have 24-hour cafés. In addition, staff may keep stock of snacks, foods, and drinks preferred by residents. The facility should have its own nutritionist to manage nutritional conditions.
Private dining areas may be offered for family entertainment, or for celebration of birthdays, anniversaries, and other social events.
The facility should be designed to be pet friendly, and should provide food for pets. The community may also have its own pets, and a staff member to take care of them.
Onsite salons and barbers can help residents stay trendy. They may offer hair washing, styling, grooming, and pedicure and manicure services. In-house massage therapists may provide stress-reducing massages for relaxation, renewal, and to help maintain agility.
Transportation is also essential, so that residents are not confined to the community. It’s the responsibility of assisted living centers to organize transportation for residents, especially those with disabilities. Errands requiring transportation may range from medical appointments, to shopping, visiting relatives, or sightseeing.
The Move and Settling In
After signing the contract, the next step is to move in. Decide what to take with you when moving. It’s important to consider that the rooms may be smaller than regular senior apartments. Furniture is important, but ensure that these items are comfortable and don’t take up too much space. Important furniture items include arm chairs, coffee tables, beds and dressers. Décor items are also important; these may include art or old family pictures. Lastly, take bedding and tablecloths, as well as kitchenware and utensils.
These items may be brought in gradually, or may be taken all at once. Once in the new environment, it’s important to make the place feel like home. This can be achieved by organizing favorite items in an easily accessible way, and by displaying family photos and art on the walls. Furniture should be arranged in such a way that allows easy access to the room.
Since some facilities or quarters are shared, it’s important to label your inventory. In assisted living communities where laundry is done by assistants, it’s important to label clothes, to prevent them being mixed with others. In locations where the kitchen is shared, labeling utensils can prevent confusion.
The first objective upon arrival is to tour the facility, in order to become familiar with the amenities. Of particular importance are the amenities for people with health issues.
It’s also important to get to know the staff, and become comfortable with them. Be sure to interact frequently with caregivers.
Establishing a daily routine is crucial, since there are neither family obligations nor other work. Having a personal routine enables maximum use of the facility.
Helping Your Loved One Adjust
This is a big transition, and the first few days are often lonely. People require time to adjust. Family is essential for a seamless adjustment to an assistance living facility. Being surrounded frequently by family can make the transition smoother. In addition, this transition period can be spent with a family member staying in the facility. Regular communication with family members is also helpful.
Moving to assisted living is difficult for the family and for the loved one, so it’s important to make the process smooth. This can be achieved by:
- Being available to your loved one, but taking care not to force yourself on them. It’s important to communicate and understand your loved ones. Some may want family close, with visits every few days, while others may want some time alone to adjust to their new life.
- Keeping emotions in check when things are uncomfortable. The first few weeks can be difficult and may be uncomfortable to watch. At this point, it’s important to remain positive, be a good listener, and to refrain from expressing too much emotion. Avoid being overly cheery, while still being positive and supportive. It’s important to accept that although things may be uncomfortable initially, the situation will improve with time.
- Getting help, if necessary. During the transition period, it’s important to be close to our loved one, but this can be difficult if you have a full-time job. In such cases, ask another family member or relative to help. People are often more than happy to step in.
It’s important to keep an eye on our loved ones, and to advocate for the improvement of their welfare. Be observant, and keep communicating with your loved ones about what needs to be done for them to get the best care possible. Also, communicate with the staff to build a rapport. If there comes a time when you or your loved one feels the facility no longer addresses their needs, or their needs have changed, find assistance with looking for a new facility.
About the Author:
"Assisted Living for Disabled Adults - Mentally or Physically" is authored by Anisha Rao, MPP, Healthcare Consultant, Certified Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Healthcare Professional. Anisha holds a Master of Public Policy from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Health Administration and Public Policy, a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, and a Minor in Management of Aging Services. Anisha has extensive experience in Healthcare Services and Aging issues, including dementia care, senior health, and nursing home care. Anisha is passionate about ensuring disabled seniors receive the best care possible and empowering seniors with disabilities to become more involved in their care planning decisions.