When to Move to an Assisted Living Community

When to Move to an Assisted Living Community

By Dean Solden  “The Senior Guy” 


Many people have loved ones that are getting older, in their 70’, 80’s, 90’s and more.  I know I do. My mother is 93.  Her brother, my uncle, just recently passed away.  He was 104.  My grandmother, their mother, died at 102.  It appears we have little heart disease in our family.  I like to say we have “good hearts.” 

You are probably saying to yourself, “wow, you’ve got good genes. You’ll probably live to 100 too.” 

Well, maybe.  What I didn’t tell you is that only half the family lives well into their 90’s or become centenarians. The other half die early of cancer.  There also is a corollary to depression and anxiety.  Hardly anyone in our family has depression.  Yet almost everyone has anxiety.  It makes you think. Little heart disease and little depression. Lots of cancer and anxiety.  Mmm. 

 So the running joke in our family is..”if you can get past the cancer, you’ll live to 100!” 

Needless to say, despite being in the assisted living business myself, I’ve had lots of family members live out that last few years or decade of their lives in assisted living communities.  So, I know a little bit about it. 

What I want to share with you in this article is what I’ve learned about when to move to an assisted living community.  Here is what I’ve learned over the years  - Most people move in too late – about six months to a year too late.  Why do I say this?  Because they wait until a terrible thing happens.  Then it’s almost too late for a smooth transition. What is that terrible thing?  I call it the double trauma. 

What people don’t realize is that moving from your home to an assisted living community is a trauma itself.  You’ve been living independently your entire life, sixty to seventy years, since you moved out of your childhood home in your late teens or twenties.  You’ve done what you want when you want for six or seven decades! And all of sudden, you are living more communally, with a group of other people - with schedules!  That is quite a shock to the system.  (At Orion Oaks Assisted Living and Memory Care, we have a saying – do what you want, when you want. I personally hate schedules). 

Now there are good reasons to move to an assisted living community. You might be living alone, for any variety of reasons, and need more socialization. You’ll be surprised at the good friends you will make.   Or you may be starting to need help with some of the basics of life – some help dressing, bathing, and meal preparation. (The food is outstanding at Orion Oaks – our chef is from Andiamo).  You may have started to be forgetful, and have a hard time keeping track all those medications you now need. (We are experts at that, as well. Sorry for the shameless plugs!)  There are a lot of good reasons to move to assisted living. 

But here is the big takeaway – do it sooner than you think, and avoid the double trauma!      What’s a double trauma?  It is when you have a major physical or mental situation which then demands you move to assisted living.  Mostly being – a fall or surgery.   If you fall and break your hip or your knee, that would be the last step (literally) in your being able to live completely independently.  There will be surgery, weeks or months of rehab (in a nursing home), and then more months of PT and OT to get back to a semblance of your former self.  During that time, if you were to go back home, you would need virtually full time care – which if you had to pay market rates – is $500 per day, or $15,000 per month.  Most of us don’t have that kind of money, so you go to an assisted living community for anywhere between $4,000 and $7,000 per month. 

But as importantly, moving into an assisted living community while at the same time dealing with a new, major disability – your broken hip (or whatever it is) is a major pain it the you know what.  You are dealing with a double trauma – the trauma of your new disability and the trauma of moving out of your independent home and into a new type of setting.  Double trauma’s are hard on the psyche!  I know, I’m married to psychotherapist!  One trauma is hard enough. But a double trauma is much more difficult. Now you’ll be fighting your mental health as well as your physical health. 

But…..if you move earlier – before you have the physical trauma - that makes it much easier.  Now you can deal with one issue at a time – moving from independence to semi- independence.  That’s takes a bit to get used to.  You’ll meet new friends. The food will be different (probably better).  There will be activities to do – some you’ll like and some you won’t.  But to change your living situation in your eighties or nineties is a big deal.  Maybe, besides the passing of a spouse, the biggest thing you’ve dealt with in many years.  It is enough. One big thing at a time is enough. 

Further, and maybe more importantly, moving earlier to an assisted living community than you think you should – reduces that chance that you will have that second trauma!  Most people get hurt at home doing things they probably shouldn’t be doing anymore - stretching to put in a lightbulb, getting on a stepladder to dust a shelf, tripping on a carpet that should been repaired, bending to put something away in a dresser that should have been replaced.  In an assisted living community, you have people around 24 hours a day, to help you do those things that are not so easy anymore.  You can help avoid the double trauma! 

So, if you are a planner, and all your life, and you’ve prouded yourself on planning – your wedding plans, your honeymoon, your taxes, your wills, your kid’s wedding, your cemetery plans  (yes, my wife, a planner, has been bugging me for years to finalize our burial plans), it would naturally behoove you -  when you are getting “close” to the point of needing assisted living – that you move to an assisted living community.  Now, and not in six or twelve months. Why? To avoid the dreaded double trauma. 


Thought for the day:  If you think you are close to needing assisted living, that means you need it!


Dean Solden is the CEO of Creative Senior Solutions (CSS), a management and development company specializing in managing senior living communities for the last thirty years.   CSS manages Orion Oaks Assisted Living and Memory Care in Lake Orion, Michigan.  (www.orionoakassistedliving.com).  Call Krystal at (248) 688-7464. You can reach Dean at (734) 260-3600 or dean@creativeseniorsolutions.com