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What’s New in Assisted Living?


Seventy years ago I visited an ailing uncle in a nursing home. An impressionable kid, I was horrified by what I saw, and I still remember the experience. Although the facility was said to be the best in our area, I remember an old, dark building with wide institutional halls, drab rooms, a pervasive unpleasant smell, and patients tied into wheelchairs staring blankly into space.

The effort in the best facilities today is to get as far away from that dreary institutional feel as possible. Especially significant are:

  1. “Aging-in-place” services so residents don’t have to switch institutions as their physical and mental needs require increasingly elaborate service – assisted living, skilled nursing, and hospice care all in one facility.

  2. Efforts to “de-institutionalize” through modern interior decoration, attractive landscaping, and gathering spots for residents and visitors to foster socialization. Within budgetary constraints, the idea is to look and feel more like a boutique hotel than an “old folks home.”

  3. Age-friendly technology to advance residents’ safety, socialization, entertainment, and comfort. There are devices to locate individual patients and staff and to alert staff to patients who wander beyond safe limits; applications that monitor heart activity, respiration, blood pressure, blood sugar, and other physical signs and that can administer some medications as needed; devices that invite particular patients to social activities that appeal to them; devices to entertain and enliven aging eye and ears, like big-screen TVs and volume-adjustable headphones; and so on.

  4. Specialty centers for movies, tai chi, massage, music/art therapy, and similar activities.

  5. Resident involvement (within limits) in the governance of the facility.

Two experiments that deserve a special look are the Village-to-Village Network and Project Green House.

For more on innovations intended to contribute to Peace of Mind for Your Aging Parents, see Chapter 16.