Senior Connect Kingsport Quarterly Article (Spring) # 5073799

Make your golden years shine by choosing the right assisted living residence.

There are a lot of decisions to face as you get older, but perhaps the biggest is figuring out where to live as you age.

Deciding to move to assisted living or skilled nursing is more than choosing an address or a room. It has a major impact on your quality of life, from your social habits to your overall health and wellness.

Is assisted living right for you?

Many people struggle with making the choice between living independently and transitioning to assisted living. If you’re unsure whether assisted living might be your best option, consider a few points:

Do you live alone? Isolation is a serious threat to your physical and mental well-being, and many seniors don’t account for how they’ll be impacted by solitary living.

Driving becomes increasingly difficult as we age. If you lose access to a car, is there someone in your life who can help you get to doctors’ appointments, take you grocery shopping or help you visit family and friends?
Additionally, if you get injured, your ability to take care of yourself and manage your home can be permanently impaired.

If you’re on multiple medications, or if you have early signs of memory loss, aging in place can become nearly impossible without full-time assistance. Additionally, if you’re at risk for major medical problems, living alone could mean your symptoms go unrecognized for far too long.

Nearly everyone will need around-the-clock care at some point in their lives. And with in-home caregivers costing around $20 an hour, independent living can quickly drain your savings. Not to mention, home maintenance and repairs become increasingly expensive as you get older.

If you have concerns or insecurities about any of those points, it may be time to explore assisted living options. Your choices can range from day programs and activity-focused living at places like Wellmont Madison House to facilities for skilled nursing care for chronic and severe health problems, such as Wexford House.

Quality matters.

Not all assisted living residencies are created equal, and picking the right one can be difficult.

Luckily, there are quite a few indicators of quality that can help guide your choice. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services – CMS – has developed its Nursing Home Compare program, which evaluates assisted living centers, nursing homes and senior living residences on a five-star scale based on health inspections, staffing and quality measures.

Through Medicare.gov, you can use CMS’ comparison tools to see how various places rank. Several local facilities – including Wexford House – have earned five-star ratings, which means they achieve far beyond national standards.

The qualifications CMS uses for its program are the same standards you should use in evaluating places to live. Pay attention to several key measures, such as:

Cleanliness of the facility. Specifically, pay attention to any odors – an unusual or unpleasant smell can indicate hygiene problems.

Staffing, from nurses to support caregivers. Gauging interactions between employees and residents, because seemingly small indicators such as eye contact and pleasantries can speak volumes about your potential quality of life.

Other residents. If the current residents of a facility are healthy, active and engaged, chances are, you can expect a fuller and better experience there, too. Conversely, if they all seem unhealthy or miserable, the care provided at that residence is probably subpar.

Above all, trust your gut and your instincts. An assisted living residence isn’t a hotel or hospital room – it is home.

Dr. Marta Wayt is the medical director of Wexford House and the regional medical director for Wellmont Medical Associates. She also serves as the chairman of Holston Valley Medical Center’s medicine department, and she is on its quality metrics committee.