It’s that time in a loved one’s life to which no one’s particularly looking forward. And, short of premature death, it’s almost inevitable. Lucky and few are those who stay sprightly and fully independent into their nineties. Sometimes, looking into housing options that allow for independence while also ensuring that someone is always on site and able to help in the event of a medical (or other) emergency, is the most sensible way forward. Of course, received wisdom dictates that all of us want to spend as much time in our original homes as possible, free of outside interference. Some of us may even be resistant to basic adaptations such as wearing a medical alarm, let alone having a seat fitted in our showers.
Having the ‘Sheltered Housing/Assisted Living’ Conversation
No matter how much we may protest, sometimes it’s simply not safe for us to keep living in our homes. The first challenge, before any thoughts of moving can gain traction, is to convince an ailing family member that sheltered housing and assisted living are good options. How do we go about telling such a person that there will be physical and psychological benefits to this, especially when we’re dealing with, say, a father whose health is faltering but who remains doggedly stubborn about independence at all costs?
A family member’s reluctance to countenance such a change of housing can sometimes be based on the fact that he or she has never seen inside a facility. As a consequence, they imagine a stereotypical ‘old people’s home’. All kinds of awful visions may be conjured in their imaginations – enforced sing-a-longs of ‘(There’ll Be Bluebird Over) The White Cliffs Of Dover’, sadistic Nurse Ratched-style care-workers, endless games of gin rummy, mandatory socialising, strange odours, soul-deadening institutional decor. The obvious solution is to talk about visiting some sheltered housing complexes where such fears can be allayed.
Another source of reluctance can be the way in which sheltered housing is perceived as one more dispiriting step towards death. This can be countered with information about the many ways in which sheltered housing can enhance someone’s life. For one, he or she will no longer be responsible for the maintenance of a property. There’s ample evidence that senior citizens thrive in such a situation, with the stress and pressure of hiring plumbers, electricians, IT installers and repair personnel completely lifted off their shoulders.
WHAT IS SHELTERED HOUSING?
Usually restricted to people aged 55 and above, sheltered housing is generally a complex of units of varying size (from studio to multiple bedroom, with their own front doors), with support staff, including at least one who lives on site (e.g. a warden). Round-the-clock emergency help is available via an alarm system. There will be communal areas, including gardens, and although properties may well have their own sitting rooms, there may also be a shared one for people who want to socialise. Social activities, by no means enforced, will also be available. Of course, each sheltered housing scheme is different and some may have features which others lack. There will also be disparities in the levels of care provided. What won’t be on offer at most sheltered housing complexes are domestic help (ie cleaning), meals and extra care services (e.g. help with having a bath). Sheltered housing is not subject to inspections so, unlike care homes, it is not part of a ratings system.
WHAT IS ASSISTED LIVING?
If the level of support and care provided by a sheltered housing scheme is insufficient but your frail relation does not want to consider care homes, then assisted living is the in-between option. When you move to assisted living housing, you get a self-contained flat and your own front door, but there’s a greater level of personal care and more services. The additional services will usually be tailored to the occupant and can range from help with dressing, to washing, using the toilet, taking prescriptions, shopping and laundry. Sometimes, assisted living also entails the provision of meals and there will more than likely be several staff living on site rather than just the manager/warden. As with sheltered housing, a 24-hour emergency system will be in place, there’ll be social activities and a minus age requirement of 55 or 60. Similarly, the combination of personal sitting rooms and communal sitting rooms, means that inhabitants can socialise or fly solo as the mood takes them. Another significant difference when it comes to assisted living is that the Quality Care Commission inspects facilities and issues ratings.
RENTING OR BUYING
Both sheltered housing and assisted living can be sought via renting or buying. Prices will vary depending on the scheme you choose, the amount of care you need and, naturally, the location. Service charges and utilities will also play a part in determining costs and, if you buy, there will still be ongoing charges in the form of bills for care and assistance.
Visit Age UK: ] and the government website: ] to find out more.