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8 Signs That May Suggest It's Time For Assisted Living

Dec 12, 2017


One of the most difficult things we face in life is deciding when it’s time for a parent or other loved one to move into assisted living. Boy, if only there was an instruction book – wouldn’t that be a best seller??

On the Lookout for Changes

There’s really no way to know for certain, and the decision should be based on practical matters as well as what’s in your heart. Here are eight signs that the time for transitioning to assisted living may be drawing near.

  • Letting things go around the house. For example, lots of clutter, piles of laundry, spoiled food, dying plants, dirty dishes that appear to have been sitting for a long time, overflowing trash, and neglecting pet care tasks such as emptying the cat’s litter box.


  • Neglecting personal care. This can range from appearing disheveled and unkempt to signs of not bathing. Are you noticing that their clothes are dirty or they’re wearing the same thing all the time?


  • Changes in personality. As people age they tend to slow down, but if someone is withdrawing from friends and social activities or giving up hobbies, it could be more serious. Do you sense they feel isolated, lonely, or depressed? Do they rarely leave the house? Do they lack interest in things they used to enjoy?


  • Safety issues such as worsening mobility, increasing number of falls and accidents, inability to properly manage medications, difficult getting up from a seated position, forgetting to turn off the oven or stove, struggling with going up and down stairs.


  • Changes in eating habits. Skipping meals and be a sign that they’re struggling with shopping or preparing meals. Look around the kitchen; do you find stale, expired, or spoiled foods, or multiples of items (for example, more cereal or juice than they can use in a lifetime)? Are they losing weight (lack of interest in food, perhaps) or gaining weight (forgetting they ate and eating again)?


  • Overall cognitive decline. For example, lack of sound judgment, difficulty following directions, increased confusion, or requiring lots of prompts and reminders. Also, rely on neighbors and pay attention when they report observing unusual behaviors.


  • Driving issues. Traffic tickets, unexplained dents or scratches on the car, tailgating, drifting out of their lane, or driving the under speed limit can all be signs.


  • Wrestling with finances. Watch for bills piling up, overdrawn bank accounts, final notices or calls from creditors, evidence they may have fallen victim to a scam, large volume of receipts or thank you letters from charitable organizations, or bills that have been paid multiple times.


Denial is a Natural Part of the Journey

As I think back to when I was grappling with this decision for my mom, all of the signs were there – as was a significant amount of denial on both of our parts.  This is all too common, and if you aren’t sure how to broach the subject, or have a loved one who is fighting you every step of the way, consider consulting with a geriatric care manager.

These professionals are trained in dealing with exactly this type of situation. Put simply, it’s what they do; how wish I had known that 10 years ago. If you’re having trouble finding someone in your area, visit the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers’ website.

Be Realistic About Needs

Last but not least, as you’re evaluating options, remember that by definition assisted living is meant to fill the gap between full independence and skilled nursing.  Ask yourself the hard questions about exactly how much assistance your loved one needs. Some assisted living communities will accept residents who actually require more intensive care than they are equipped and staffed to provide. The result can be disastrous, so this is something to be aware (and beware) of.

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