Inquisitive families who search the internet for senior care services in Marina del Rey and Santa Monica usually find an abundance of articles and blogs debating the virtues of senior living communities (also known as “assisted living facilities”) and professional caregiver services, which allow older folks to remain at home and “age in place.” It seems healthcare publications, the AARP, and care providers have all written on the subject at length. But 2020 has proven an unprecedented year, begging the question, “Has COVID-19 changed the calculous, and if so, how?”
Here are important pros and cons for families investigating both options, as well as new considerations in light of the current coronavirus pandemic.
Social considerations are a two-way street in the age of COVID-19. Prior to 2020, most people would have viewed the “community” aspect of assisted living facilities as a net positive. After all, friendships and human contact generally improve happiness and mental acuity while also warding of loneliness. But the threat of a dangerous and widespread virus means today’s seniors also face a health tradeoff with each physical interaction.
What was arguably a “plus” in the assisted living column is now a “wash” at best and possibly a negative, depending on one’s health and individual circumstances. To be fair, many senior living communities should be commended for their diligence in avoiding COVID-19 outbreaks. But most experts would agree the risk to residents is still much higher than for those remaining at home. Families and their aging loved ones must ultimately weigh the social engagement risk-reward tradeoff for themselves.
Health & Safety
As previously mentioned, most healthcare experts would agree assisted living communities expose seniors to increased COVID-19 risk when compared to home-based living. However, these communities also provide safety nets that may not be available in a normal home setting. Assisted living facilities often have nurses on staff, are retrofitted with safety precautions that reduce fall risks, help to ensure healthy eating, and even promote medication adherence. So, elevated coronavirus risk may be at least partially offset by improved overall safety.
With that said, individual homes can also be retrofitted with equipment that reduces fall risk and improves safety. Families can install “grab bars” in the bathrooms, for example, and also leverage “emergency response” technology that alerts paramedics to falls and medical emergencies. And some home care agencies, such as BrightStar Care of Marina del Rey, have nurses and caregivers who help ensure medication adherence, healthy eating, and general safety. Families that take a holistic approach to promoting safety in the home through home modifications, equipment, technology, and caregiver services might ultimately create an environment even safer than a typical assisted living facility.
Quality of Life & Peace of Mind
For some people and their families, senior living communities can improve quality of life for aging residents while providing peace of mind for their loved ones. But the dynamics vary depending on individual circumstances. Certain seniors will find community living hectic and confining. These folks may prefer to have greater independence and control of their schedule and daily activities.
In addition, many older folks enjoy long-established habits and routines. While the benefits of social interaction can improve mental wellness for some, the trauma of being removed from a familiar home setting may prove damaging for others. Folks with cognitive impairment and dementia might be especially affected by a move. For those who do prefer to remain in home, a professional home care agency, such as BrightStar Care of Marina del Rey, can help them age in place more safely and comfortably.
Family & Friends
Aging adults and at-risk folks are encouraged to socially distance amid COVID-19, but many seniors and their loved ones seek a return to normalcy. For some, this means they want to be able to visit in-person as safely as possible. Forward-thinking assisted living facilities have developed innovative ways to encourage socially distanced visitations. But residents and families might still find the solutions unsatisfying.
Seniors who remain at home can set their own standards when determining acceptable risk. “Grandma” may not feel comfortable having a large group over for Thanksgiving, but perhaps she’s fine with close family stopping by with social-distancing and PPE measures in place. And for her, the minimized risk may be well worth the tradeoff if it allows her to see her grandchildren and other loved ones!
COVID-19 hasn’t factored much into the financial considerations of seniors deciding between assisted living and aging in place with caregivers. Concerns over cost have long affected this important life decision. And while the general thinking is that senior living communities are more affordable than hiring professional caregivers in the home, that isn’t always the case.
Seniors and families must consider the level of care needed to determine the true costs of home care versus assisted living. Some may find they only need caregiver services for a few hours a day or a few days a week, in which case the costs could be comparable to a senior living community and perhaps less. It’s also important to note that assisted living facilities themselves vary greatly in cost, depending on location and amenities. And for some seniors blessed with financial resources, quality of life might ultimately prove a more important consideration than cost.
At the end of the day, families and seniors should remember the decision between assisted living and aging in place at home is nothing new. While COVID-19 has created additional considerations, the basic question is timeless. Most older folks want to remain safe while enjoying a good quality of life, and their families want the same for them. People must evaluate personal situations holistically to find a solution that best addresses individual concerns and priorities.
If you’re a concerned family member or senior seeking information on home care services that facilitate safe “aging in place” (at home), contact BrightStar Care of Marina del Rey today for a free assessment!