By Dr. Marion Somers, Ph. D., Ask Dr. Marion

QUESTION: What is assisted living? Pinky in Tennessee, 58

ANSWER: Assisted living provides the next level of care for those who need a protected environment. Employees are on site, and they're attuned to the needs of their geriatric population. Household chores are performed: sheets are changed, laundry is done, and food is cooked and served. Some homes even have a beauty parlor on site. Grocery service is often available too. These facilities are also very secure, and offer sign-in and sign-out privileges. The medical staff is usually on call 24 hours a day, and there are aides to watch for memory impaired residents. Ask about all additional costs, as they can add up quickly.

Assisted living provides other important services for your elder. It's the next step in the level of care. These include some recreation activities, expeditions to events, malls, restaurants and movies, as well as regular bus service and other transportation. There's often a waiting list to get into an assisted living facility, so be sure to ask when inquiring for your elder. It can be a great option, but it's very costly. Most assisted living facilities cost more than $5,000 per month.

A warning: Be careful of what agreements your elder signs upon move in. These facilities have been known to add expensive charges for some services (such as laundry and transportation) that you might think are included in the monthly fee. Promises may not be fulfilled, so read the fine print. Use caution when signing the lease, since it's a legal document. Have your lawyer go over the contract and ask the right questions. It's not a simple lease, so make sure everything is understood before signing. What percentage will rent rise over what period of time? Is the facility affiliated with a local nursing facility, hospital, or college? Has the facility been around for awhile and established a shining reputation?

When looking for the right assisted living facility, be sure to make it easy for relatives to visit, or else the elder could be even lonelier than they already are. Parking might be an afterthought, but some of these homes have 20 parking spaces, and 15 of them are taken up by the staff. This can cause frustration and a waste of time which leads to fewer family visits.

©2006 Elder Health Resources of America, Inc.