Living… with Assistance (instead of assisted living)

In my last two articles for “Neighbors of Orion,” and “Clarkston Living,” I talked about some of the basis of the senior living and care environment.  I talked about:


Assisted Living – that it is for people who may need some help with the “activities of living” – dressing, bathing, personal grooming, walking, maybe help dining, and who also may need 24 hour supervision. 


I also talked about…


Memory Support – Or sometimes called memory care, or dementia care. You can get help and support if a loved ones has early, moderate or severe memory issues (dementia or Alzheimers’s Disease) in an assisted living community; and sometimes the assisted living community has a separate “neighbohood” for those with moderate and later stage dementia. Usually people who may have the early stages of dementia can be in the “regular” assisted living neighborhood. 


I also talked a bit about Nursing Homes.  They are usually for people who have fairly substantial care needs and who have depleted their financial resources, and are on Medicaid.  When you need “Rehab” for a knee or hip or after surgery, - Medicare pays for that -  that is also done in a nursing home, although people don’t talk about that much.  


But today I want to talk about a concept we came up with, called “living with assistance.”  I came up with this term when I was a Board Member of the National Center for Assisted Living, (NCAL) one of two national boards for assisted living. 


I like the term “living..with assistance, better than “assisted living,” and I’ll tell you why.   Assisted living is now a term that most people now know about, and I believe  many people think of it as a modern day nursing home.  The “good” ones can be beautiful with amazing amenities, a grand piano, a chandelier, and a fancy dining room.  There are all sorts of activities going on throughout the day. 


However, if you’ve ever visited one, when you leave after a visit to your Mom, Dad, Grandma or Grandpa, you probably have thought to yourself, ”I wouldn’t want to live there.”  No matter how nice it is, it still may have many of the underlying dynamics of its much worse, sister nursing home.  You see a lot of very older adults sitting around, some slumped over, some walking around, many watching TV, and there is a general feeling that “this isn’t the life I’d like to lead when I am that age.”  Am I right? 


The reason you get that feeling is that the underlying structure of almost all assisted living communities, is the same as that of most nursing homes.  The primary emphasis of the entire operation is this…..

To provide the personal care people need to survive, and to keep them safe.  The emphasis is on “quality of care.”  


Now nothing is wrong with that per se; in fact, we almost have to make quality of care the primary focus because the state requires that of us..  We have to keep people safe and provide them their basic needs. It is the law. That is what we are judged on by the state during our state survey.  In other words, all the state rules and regulations are about helping people survive. 


But there is a HUGE problem with that.  Who wants to just survive?  Is that the purpose of living – to just survive from one day to the next , to be fed enough food, and be bathed and personally groomed and medicated – just so we can live for another day? 


I prefer to think we live to thrive, not just survive. Otherwise, what’s the point? 


I believe, instead of making the primary focus of the senior organization providing “quality of care,” we ALSO need to have as our focus helping people have a wonderful “quality of life.”  What happens at ten o’clock in the morning after someone has gotten all their basic needs taken care of.  Then what? What about their life for the rest of the day?  


Before people came to live in an assisted living community (or facility – a name I hate) they lived their lives.  At home.  They were living. Just because you move somewhere that helps you do some of life’s basics that you cannot do any longer, it doesn’t mean you should stop living.  In fact, that should be the whole point of moving somewhere when you need some extra support - to keep living!


You want to be “living….with some assistance.”  


Hint #1: if you are visiting or touring a senior community that calls itself an assisted living “facility,” run! If they think they are a “facility,” then they are, and they will run the building like a “facility,” and most probably, most of the staff will not be thinking about your quality of life.  


The assisted living industry in general needs to do a much better job at focusing on people’s quality of life, as much as they focus on one’s quality of care.  As the baby boomers are now beginning to populate senior living and assisted living communities, they are going to demand a higher quality of life than most assisted living communities have been offering the public for the last thirty years. I know I would. 


 I know this sounds like a blatant marketing plug – and it is – but that is what we try to do at Orion Oaks Assisted Living and Memory Care in Lake Orion.  Our managers and Carefriends (that’s what we call our caregivers) truly care about the quality of each person’s life…so they can “live….with assistance.”  


Dean Solden is the CEO of Creative Senior Solutions (CSS), a management and development company specializing in senior living.  CSS currently manages Orion Oaks Assisted Living and Memory Care in Lake Orion, Michigan.  (  You can reach Dean at (734) 260-3600 or and Orion Oaks Assisted Living at (248) 688-7464, or email at