Adjusting to Assisted Living: 5 Things My Clients Taught Me

By: Terri Lawson, Care Manager and Advocate

Assisted Living is a popular option for people in their later years needing help with keeping good hygiene, medication management, and other health needs.  People choose assisted living for a variety of reasons. They may live alone and be at risk of falling, can no longer manage their medicines as prescribed, don’t want to cook and clean like they used to, and don’t want a caregiver or housekeeper in their home. 

LifeLinks often helps our clients find an assisted living community that best meets their needs.  Many people tour a few facilities as they narrow their choices, most often hosted by a marketing or community engagement staffer employed by the facility. You may visit a model apartment, meet a few residents, and have lunch. The facility representative will tell you about rent, care fees, and a community fee (another name for a sign-up fee) which may be reduced or waived if you ask. They will tell you about the friendly, home-like community that all the residents love.   

Below is a list of adjustment points that my clients have taught me.  Adapting to assisted living, even in the best of situations, is not easy. Assisted living can bring peace of mind for family members and make life much easier and safer for the resident.  There is an adjustment curve, however, and knowing what to expect can help a new resident settle in and enjoy the good life. 

  1. It will take some time to feel like home.  Assisted living apartments tend to be small.  You will likely have to give away, sell, toss, or store some of your furniture and personal possessions. It may also take time to get used to the physical layout of your new apartment.  For example, you may wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, think you’re in your old home – the one you could walk around in blindfolded – and stumble or fall. One way to reduce this risk is to liberally place night lights around your apartment, at least for a while, and keep walking paths extra wide and extra clear. 
  2. It will cost more than you think.  Your rent will go up, if not each year then every 2 or 3 years.  There may be added fees you didn’t expect at first, like a higher cost if you take a lot of medicines or you need your blood sugar checked frequently. Read the lease and any other written agreements thoroughly, and ask a lot of questions.  Ask a friend or loved-one to visit the community and read the agreements and give you their suggestions.    
  3. Your independence and privacy may be reduced.  Most assisted living communities want you to be as independent as possible.  There are rules, however, to keep communities running smoothly and to help keep you safe.  Those rules may include a requirement to sign in and out of the facility, and you may have assigned seating at meals.  Staff and other residents will want to get to know you. They may ask and share information about you in a casual, social way that could feel wonderfully friendly or uncomfortably intrusive, depending on your personality.  Assisted living is a shared community with shared dining, activities, and space. Not everyone will be fair and kind. Talk to a facility decision-maker if you have a problem. They want to help. 
  4. If your health changes, your needs and level of care may change, and you could be asked to find and pay for more care or to move to get the care you need.  Assisted living communities are regulated and have rules to follow. They admit and care for people whose needs can be safely and effectively met in their community.  For example, in Tennessee, a resident must be able to evacuate the building in an emergency within 13 minutes. If you need more personal care (e.g. bathing, dressing, toileting assistance) than the assisted living community can provide, you may need to find and pay a caregiver or sitter to assist you if the facility will allow it. You may need to move if the facility cannot safely care for you, for medical reasons or for any reason that you may be a danger to yourself or others.  
  5. An independent Care Manager can help.  There is little care coordination in assisted living facilities. Nursing and care staff in assisted living are overwhelmingly conscientious.  They are diligent about your medication management and will provide in-house medical attention as needed. They will call for help when you need emergency care.  They will not, however, go with you to the ER. They may provide or help find transportation, but they won’t attend doctor’s appointments or schedule follow up appointments for you.  You are on your own to get the information from the doctor’s visit back to the facility or to a family member. Assisted living facilities will not coordinate your hearing, vision, or dental care. Many residents may be able to independently manage all their routine and specialty health care needs.  For residents with poor memory, who feel overwhelmed by a new diagnosis, have multiple specialists for multiple health problems, who have had a recent health set-back, or who are overwhelmed by the health care system in general, you may need a LifeLinks Care Manager to help.  

Assisted living communities want to care for you and keep you safe, happy, and healthy.  Many go out of their way to provide exceptional care and customer service. The points above are not meant to stop you from seeking out or moving into assisted living.  They are meant to prompt questions and solutions so that you will have a great experience in assisted living.    

If you are looking into or already living in an assisted living community, LifeLinks can help. Good Care Management can help those living at home or in a facility navigate the ups and downs of aging and the complicated health care system in order to enjoy an excellent quality of life.    


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