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Some senior citizens are fortunate enough to have the health and financial independence to live out their lives in their own homes without much outside interference. There are others who eventually require 24 hour medical care and professional supervision. A significant segment of the aging population, however, falls somewhere between these two scenarios. They may require some assistance with medications and transportation, but they can also maintain a fairly independent lifestyle. The concept of assisted living facilities addresses the particular needs of such seniors.
Assisted living bridges the gap between the constant nursing care provided in nursing homes and the unsupervised private home. Concerned family members may not be able to afford the monthly expenses of a nursing care facility, but they may also fear for their loved one's safety at home. This type of facility is designed to provide private or semi-private apartments for residents who meet certain standards of self-sufficiency. Typically, an ideal candidate for this arrangement can feed and clothe him or herself and take care of basic grooming tasks.
Some assisted living facilities are designed much like college dormitories, with semi-private rooms and common areas for cooking and entertaining. Others are planned as private efficiency or townhouse apartments, with additions such as handrails, visual alarms and emergency call buttons. Residents are free to personalize their living spaces. A professional nurse may stop by to administer medications at prescribed times, but the residents of these facilities can usually leave the facility at will.
A number of facilities also provide entertainment, social outings, bathing assistance and transportation. Relatives and friends are encouraged to visit as frequently as possible. Meals served in a centralized dining hall are often available to the public as well. There are often many other amenities such as private lakes, well-groomed gardens and beauty shops.
One of the most prohibitive elements of assisted living is the expense. Very few if any major medical insurance plans cover the cost. Some potential residents may have enough income from pensions or investments to pay for the facilities themselves, but many seniors on fixed incomes are not so fortunate. Even if they have the raw income to afford the assisted living apartment, they may also have a number of debts and bills. Family members must consider ways to absorb the substantial expense of a typical facility. Monthly rental fees can run into the thousands of dollars, mostly due to the number of paid staff members required to run such a facility safely.
Many seniors enter these facilities only after an independent lifestyle becomes completely unworkable. It can be a difficult transition to make, especially if the change includes a loss of driving privileges. Some senior citizens finance their assisted living arrangements through the liquidation of assets such as their homes and cars. Decisions of this magnitude should generally be discussed with those who will be responsible for their loved one's estate later. Other financial alternatives may need to be considered before assets are permanently liquidated.
For many families, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. Their loved ones are supervised by professional caregivers, and critical items such as medications and food are provided. Nursing homes can seem very institutionalized and impersonal at times, and the potential for accidents at a private home increase with age. Assisted living seems to be the best compromise between the uncertainty of independent living and the 24 hour monitoring of a nursing home.