Discerning When It’s Time for Assisted Living

Life is full of little choices and monumental decisions. Deciding whether it’s time to move a loved one into an assisted living situation is in the latter category. Here are a few things to consider, when evaluating whether it’s time to make the move.

By Mimi Greenwood Knight

Basic Red Flags That Tell You It’s Time for Assisted Living

  • Is your loved one more accident prone? Has she had a fall, a medical scare or gotten into fender benders lately?
  • Does he take longer to snap back from an illness or a simple head cold?
  • Have her chronic health conditions worsened?
  • Is she having trouble managing daily activities such as dressing, shopping, cooking, doing laundry and managing medications?


Physical Red Flags

  • Does he look thinner? Are her clothes baggy? Sudden weight loss could indicate depression, trouble with shopping or cooking or any number of illnesses.
  • Does she seem frailer? Does he seem unsteady or unable to balance? Does she have trouble rising from a chair?
  • Has he put on weight? This could be due to injury, diabetes and dementia (He doesn’t remember eating and eats again and again). Or lack of money may mean she’s eating more processed and less fresh, healthy food.
  • Does he smell unbathed? Poor personal hygiene habits may come from memory trouble, depression or physical ailments.
  • Does her hair and makeup look alright? Are his clothes clean? Going from collared shirts to sweatshirts may mean he lacks the dexterity for buttons or has trouble managing an ironing board and iron.


Social Red Flags

  • Does she still get together for lunch or outings with friends? Does he visit with neighbors or participate in religious activities and other group events? Lack of socialization can be a sign of depression.
  • Has she abandoned a favorite hobby? Has he let his club membership go? Is her library card going unused? There may be unrelated reasons for cutting back, but dropping out of everything is another sign of depression.
  • How long has it been since he left the house. It may be that he no longer drives or she’s afraid to take public transportation. A move to a retirement home would mean regular organized outings.


Financial Red Flags

  • Does she have piles of unpaid bills? Lots of mail scattered around could be a sign of difficulty managing finances—one of the most common first signs of dementia.
  • Look for letters from banks, creditors or insurers referring to overdue payments, overdrawn balances, and recent accidents or other concerning events.
  • Look for thank-yous from charities. Since some charities hit up givers over and over, he may be sending more money, forgetting he just donated.


Driving Red Flags

  • Look for new nicks or dents on her car which can be signs of careless driving and frequent fender benders.
  • Does he promptly fasten his seatbelt? Even with mild dementia he should remember the rote basics of driving.
  • Does she turn off the radio or hesitate to engage in conversation so she can focus better while driving.
  • Does he tailgate, drift from his lane, go below the speed limit, react slowly to lights or other cars, and mix up gas and brake pedals?
  • Check out the dashboard. Does the car have sufficient oil, gas, antifreeze and windshield-wiper fluid?


Any of these signs—and especially several at a time—may mean your loved one is not safe staying home any longer. Convincing them to go may be one of the hardest conversations you’ve ever had. It’s never easy letting go of years of independence. But many seniors who finally make the move realize it was nothing to dread after all.

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