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Is an assisted living facility right for you?

Published Oct. 2, 2005

(ran PT SP NP HT TP editions)

Let's face it _ as we age, there are activities we don't want to be bothered with anymore.

Then there are activities that we can't complete without help from friends or family. But when that help becomes difficult for friends or family to manage, we need to consider a change.

The first step is to recognize limitations. Ask yourself these questions:

Do I have difficulty performing daily tasks? Is there anyone who can help me?

Do I need help preparing meals, bathing, dressing or keeping track of medications?

Do I need help with housekeeping chores and laundry?

Do I need help getting to doctors' appointments, shopping or conducting personal business?

Am I having memory problems or am I frequently confused?

If you answered yes to these questions, you may want to consider an assisted living facility. The level of assistance can be tailored for you, so you don't pay for more services than you need. Services typically include housing, meals, 24-hour emergency monitoring, supervision of medications, socialization with peers, assistance with one or more activities of daily living (bathing, dressing, grooming, eating, getting around.) Some assisted living facilities also include incontinence care and specially designed environments for people with Alzheimer's disease or other memory impairment.

Most assisted living facilities are privately owned and operated and not covered by publicly financed programs. Costs can vary greatly, with fees starting at $1,000 per month and rising based on amenities and level of care. Medicare and Medicaid do not pay for assisted living services.

To determine your budget for assisted living, add up your monthly income. Then deduct costs for such items as medication, lunch with friends, long-distance telephone calls and insurance. They will continue to be your responsibility.

You will no longer be paying for lawn care, property taxes, utilities (electricity and water), garbage pickup and so on. In some cases, you may not have to pay for local telephone calls.

By deducting the items you will continue to pay from your monthly income, you will know what you can afford.

The next question is what size facility is the best for you. ALFs range in size from small (three to 12 residents) to full-service communities with 600 to 800 residents.

As of this year, more than 64,000 people are living in nearly 2,000 licensed ALFs in Florida, up from 1,568 licensed ALFs in 1992 _ an increase of 22.5 percent. Pinellas County alone has nearly 300 licensed ALFs. They are licensed by the Agency for Health Care Administration. The license should be conspicuously posted in each ALF, with the inspection survey posted near the license. You have the right to ask to see the license and to read the survey.

Specific regulations govern ALFs. An ALF is not permitted to provide continuous 24-hour nursing services. ALF residents may not be bedridden for more than 14 consecutive days. An ALF is not a nursing home and therefore not required to have a nurse on staff. ALFs cannot provide nursing services such as monitoring blood gases or intensive rehabilitation treatments. (This can be provided in ALFs by home health).

There are several factors affecting the emergence of ALFs as a viable alternative for long-term care. The cost of long-term care is projected to increase greatly. ALFs provide seniors with an alternative to nursing home placement. Working with the home health care industry and hospices, ALFs are specializing their services. The population older than 85 is expected to double in the next 20 years, so government agencies are beginning to recognize this lifestyle option.

_ Diane Sargent is co-founder and president of Assisted Living Network, a marketing company that works with ALFs in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Manatee counties. For more information, call Assisted Living Network at (813) 532-9280.