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Signs it’s time for senior assisted living

20 questions for deciding if it’s time to move your loved one to assisted living

Profile picture of Jami Barnett, Ph.D.
by Jami Barnett, Ph.D. ConsumerAffairs Research Team
old man sitting in a wheelchair looking out a window

As your parents or loved ones age, you’ll have to help them decide where they should live. There are many types of senior housing, and assisted living is one of the most common ones. Assisted living facilities are housing choices designed for people who need help with daily activities (like cooking and bathing) but who don’t necessarily need a lot of daily medical care.

Moving your loved one into assisted living can be hard for everyone involved, but sometimes it’s even more difficult to know when the time is right to make the move. Obvious red flags like a broken hip or a sudden downturn in health may speed up the decision or process, but more often than not, there’s no clear sign.

If you suspect your friend or relative might no longer be safe living on their own, ask yourself about these situations.

nurse holding an old woman's hands in comfort

Questions to ask about health

1. Has your loved one fallen recently?
If the person falls again, how long might they be stuck before someone arrives to help them? Frequent falls, especially if your loved one can’t get help, are a sign that it’s time for more help and possibly for an assisted living facility. If they’re not quite ready for assisted living, consider getting a medical alert system.

2. Does your loved one seem to take longer recovering after they are sick or hurt themselves?
This can be a sign of a weakening immune system, and it might tell you they’ll need more care soon. Talk to their doctor if you feel concerned. Having full-time care in an assisted living facility or skilled nursing facility might improve their health.

3. Does the person suffer from a chronic health problem that is only getting worse?
If they do, it might be time to move them into an assisted living facility or nursing home. If they’re still well enough, they’ll be able to be involved in the choice and well enough to make friends with other residents when they arrive.

4. Is your loved one taking all their prescribed medications as instructed?
If they aren’t, find out why. Is it a financial problem, or do they forget to take it? If they’re concerned about prescription costs, a Medicare supplemental insurance program might be beneficial. If they miss taking medication because they forget, assisted living can help. The staff can make sure they take the medicine they need.

old man laying on a couch with a dog

Questions to ask about self-care

5. Do they have problems with activities of daily living (ADLs)?
Can your loved one cook for themselves? Can they do their laundry? If not, you should look into full-time care. Living in a facility that handles things like cooking and cleaning can give your loved one time for socializing.

6. Is your loved one eating properly?
Is your loved one mostly eating takeout or frozen meals? Has their weight changed significantly in the last few months? Rapid weight gain or loss can be a sign of serious medical problems or a sign that they’re having trouble preparing food. Talk to your loved one and their doctor about possible reasons for the change in their weight.

7. Have you noticed hygiene problems?
Have you noticed your loved one has stopped taking care of themselves like they used to? Have you noticed a new body odor? These can be signs someone is having a hard time bathing, which puts them at risk of infection and increases the likelihood of mental and emotional decline. Problems with self-care or other activities of daily living (ADLs) are a sign someone may not be okay living by themselves.

8. Are they having mobility problems?
Does your loved one have trouble walking? Can they get up and down stairs without help? If not, they may need to renovate their home for aging in place or move to an assisted living facility to ensure their safety.

9. Has your loved one caused a car accident or been involved in a number of minor fender benders?
If they can’t get around on their own anymore, consider their access to public transportation or rideshares. If that isn’t an option, an assisted living community that provides transportation to doctor’s appointments and social events could help them stay mobile without the risk.

10. Does your loved one have to deal with a lot of home maintenance, like mowing the yard or raking leaves?
Although they might enjoy owning a home, the upkeep may be more than they can handle. Talk to them about whether they’d prefer to live in a place where they won’t have to worry about maintenance and upkeep.

11. Does your loved one still keep up their house?
Are the dishes done and bathrooms cleaned regularly? If they can’t keep up with housework, an assisted living facility could reduce their stress level and provide a more sanitary living space.

12. If your loved one has pets, are they well cared for?
An inability to take care of animals might be a sign of immobility or cognitive problems. Some assisted living facilities allow pets; consider them if animals are an important part of your loved one’s life.

old woman sitting in room alone

Questions to ask about mental health and dementia

13. Have they left their home and gotten lost?
Have you noticed your loved one wandering out of their home without a clear sense of where they’re going? Wandering is often a sign of dementia; if this problem persists, talk to your loved one and their doctor. Often, people who have dementia benefit from living in an assisted living facility with a memory care unit designed to make their life safer and ease anxiety and confusion.

14. Has your relative or friend become unusually angry or violent when something upsets them?
Aggressive behavior may be associated with confusion and dementia, which might indicate they need to move to an assisted living facility. These facilities and skilled nursing homes sometimes have special memory care units for people living with dementia.

15. Are they isolated or withdrawn?
Has your loved one stopped participating in social activities they used to enjoy? Does your loved one go days without leaving their house? If so, talk to them about why. They may be scared to drive or uncomfortable participating in social events that used to make them happy. An honest conversation about why they spend so much time at home can help you get to the root of any problems that might indicate they should move to an assisted living facility.

16. When you visit your friend or relative, do you notice piles of unopened mail?
This could be a sign of financial difficulties or, if they’re confused by the mail, dementia. If they’re not opening their mail, they might not be dealing with bills or finances either. Finances are often simplified when someone moves into an assisted living facility. Talk to your loved one and a financial advisor about their options.

17. Does your loved one seem happy?
Even if they’re capable of caring for themselves, they might be ready for a change. If they don’t seem happy, ask whether a change in their living situation could improve things.

group of older people sitting around a living room

Questions to ask about community

18. Do they have a supportive community?
Is there someone who regularly checks in on your loved one and visits their home? Do they keep regular social engagements or have peers they can relate to? Most senior housing options offer such a community, and assisted living facilities have a staff to supervise patients 24/7.

19. Have their friends or neighbors expressed any concerns to you?
If that’s the case, talk to them about what they observe. They may have noticed things that would tell you it’s time for your loved one to receive full-time care.

20. Can their caregiver continue doing everything necessary?
Being a caregiver is hard work, both physically and emotionally. If you or another relative are caring for your loved one full time, it may become impossible for the caregiver to provide adequate care. If that’s the case, your loved one may benefit from an assisted living facility.

Bottom line: When is it time for assisted living?

Acknowledging that someone you love needs full-time care is hard. Recognizing that you can’t give them that care may be difficult as well. If you’re concerned about your aging loved one’s safety, health or happiness, talk to them about their housing options. Involve their doctor and a financial advisor in your conversations so that you and your loved one understand all the senior living choices available to them.

If your loved one lives with you and needs full-time help, take advantage of respite care facilities or use home health care services to give yourself a break. Talk to your local Agency on Aging or your state’s Department of Human Services to learn about the senior living resources in your area.

You can also read our Assisted Living guide and use this eldercare locator to see more facilities in your area. Assisted living facilities offer many mental and physical benefits to residents. If you decide an assisted living facility is the right choice for your loved one, you’ll have lots of options.

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Profile picture of Jami Barnett, Ph.D.
by Jami Barnett, Ph.D. ConsumerAffairs Research Team

Jami Barnett, Ph.D., is an experienced researcher, and she believes consumers have a right to clear and honest information about products. In her role at ConsumerAffairs, she thoroughly researches products and companies by interviewing experts, reviewing research studies, reading governmental regulations and investigating customer service responses. Her work gives consumers the information they need to make smart purchasing decisions.