When moving to Tucson, it is easy to assess that there are many different options for retirement living.

From independent living, to assisted living communities and homes, to long-term nursing home care, there are various choices even within the Northwest / Oro Valley area. How do you choose what is best for yourself or your loved one? It is wise to become familiar with the various levels of care available within the senior living spectrum before you or someone you love is making a decision to move.

An Independent Living community can be the first step in providing a safe, all-inclusive environment. In an independent living community, there is no medical or custodial care provided, although meals are sometimes included. Once increased needs are presented — such as medication management, meal reminders, or increased confusion — an assisted living environment may become necessary. Several communities in the Northwest have multiple levels of care — make sure and ask when touring a large community.

The Assisted Living Federation of America defines "assisted living" as a senior living option that combines housing, support services and healthcare, as needed. Assisted living is designed for individuals who require assistance with everyday activities such as meals, medication management or assistance, bathing, dressing and transportation. Some residents may have memory disorders including Alzheimer's, or they may need help with mobility, incontinence or other challenges. (source: Assisted Living Federation of America).

Assisted living is regulated in all 50 states, and options for assisted living range from large "communities" to small assisted living care homes.

Technically, an assisted living facility is not considered medical, but instead a residential facility. There are three levels of care that can be provided within an assisted living facility or home: supervisory, personal, and directed. These levels of care are licensed individually to assisted living facilities and homes by the Arizona Department of Health.

Many larger assisted living communities can handle medical needs as long as they can be managed on an outpatient basis with the resident's physician. However, when more prevalent needs arise, a transition to a smaller assisted living care home may be made. These homes are also referred to as assisted living, but many refer to them as care homes. They are generally licensed for 10 beds or less and can provide a smaller environment with more 1:1 care. With the constantly changing healthcare system, more seniors who would have previously been in a nursing home are living in smaller assisted living care homes.

If medical needs become the primary need for the resident, or if an illness or injury has caused a change in medical status, a referral to a long-term facility such as a nursing home may be needed.

Most assisted living communities and homes — whether large or small — have some organized activities for their residents. Many larger communities have dedicated staff to plan activities ranging from in-house games and Wii tournaments, to regularly scheduled outings to local shopping centers and grocery stores. Many also have wellness programs which offer exercise and nutrition to residents at their level of ability.

Because there is no acute medical need, most insurance — other than long-term care insurance — does not cover the cost of assisted living facilities or homes. Assisted living payments are considered "private pay" because payment comes directly from the resident or their family. There is limited coverage of Medicaid or ALTCS insurance for some assisted living communities and homes. Veterans Administration insurance can provide general coverage through their Home Aid and Attendance program, although specific financial and physical requirements must be met for VA coverage, and the reimbursement may be minimal.

The first step in assessing a level of need is to ask some questions and potentially consult with a professional to evaluate the what level of care needed. Is the resident currently living at home? Is there any in-home care needed before trying an assisted living community? What has changed in the current situation which is making the resident or their family consider assisted living? Would a larger community or smaller home be appropriate for the resident's need?

If you need assistance in identifying the level of care needed, or to locate an assisted living community or home in your area or price range, e-mail Brooke Martin at healthcarecomm@gmail.com. For further assisted living information and research, try the Assisted Living Federation of America's website, www.alfa.org. Other local resources include the Pima Council on Aging, and the Alzheimer's Association.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.