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Assisted living deserves more than its bad rap
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OK, let’s get serious for a moment and talk about something that many older adults would rather not discuss — assisted living.
The term “assisted living” has gotten a bad rap over the years, and unfortunately, the assisted-living industry is somewhat to blame. The most-troubling concerns I observe and often hear from others (family members of loved ones and residents who are in assisted-living communities) are issues of unmet expectations.
When family members are looking for assistance for their loved one, they usually are seeking support for daily living activities such as help with medication management and administration, bathing and dressing, and general and specific oversight of health and well-being.
More than a few senior-living communities, unfortunately, over-promise many services that rarely are delivered in the manner described in brochures and by the marketing personnel. These unmet expectations are the causes and reasons for many dissatisfied customers.
Figure in factors such as meals prepared in an institutional manner, less-than-homelike surroundings, and schedules tailored more for the benefit of completing staff responsibilities instead of residents’ needs and desires, and you have a recipe for an unhappy camper. Heck, it’s no wonder seniors and their family members are frustrated with the whole assisted-living culture.
A few weeks ago, I was talking with a family member who wanted to know our schedule so she could begin introducing her mother to how her day would flow once her mom moved in. Although this is a nice, proactive approach to orienting her mother to a new setting, the reality is that we senior professionals should be asking the questions, such as, “What time does your mom like to get up in the morning?” “What is your mom’s favorite food?” “Does your father like to shower in the morning or the evening?” “Will your dad be able to manage his own medications, or would he like us to help?” You get the idea.
I learned a long time ago that the best way to plan for helping and serving others is to first ask them about their needs and desires.  Sometimes, as experienced senior professionals, we think we know what’s best for our residents. But you try telling an 86-year-old lady, like my mom, that because she now is residing in assisted living, she is going to have to change her schedule. I can assure you Mom is not getting up at 6:30 in the morning just so she can take a shower and make it to breakfast by 8. That ain’t workin’!  Mom likes to sleep in and would prefer coffee and toast while she lounges in her robe and watches her morning TV programs. But missing a nutritious breakfast is not a good option for her, either.
So now what? The answer is pretty simple: Ask her how she would like us to meet her needs and desires, and work from that point forward.  When senior-living communities can tailor services to better meet the needs and desires of each person who chooses to call the community her home … well now, that’s when we’re “talkin’ turkey.”

DeLong is the executive director of The Suites at Station Exchange.  Contact him at 912-531-7867 or go to

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