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Requirements for Assisted Living

Wondering if you or a loved one is eligible to move into an assisted living community? Seniorly's got everything you need to know about assisted living requirements - from eligibility to assessment to paperwork - and so much more.

By Arthur Bretschneider Updated on Sep 26, 2023
Reviewed by Angelica P. Herrera-Venson · Reviewed on Sep 26, 2023

Finding the right place for mom or dad to get a bit of extra help but still have their own space is an important part of a healthy aging process. And believe it or not, one of the questions we get asked most often is about whether or not a parent will actually qualify to join an assisted living facility.

Worry not - we're here to clear up the confusion! Assisted living facilities are one way to give our loved ones a place to call home while getting the care they need. Most assisted living communities help out with daily activities while keeping that all-important sense of independence alive.

So, let's shed some light on the question of who is eligible to stay in assisted living, what the assisted living requirements actually are, and help you get you a step ahead in making the decision that's just right for your loved one.

What is an assisted living facility anyway?

Let's start with the basics. An assisted living facility is a type of living arrangement designed especially for seniors - a place where they can have their own space, but also get a little bit of help with some everyday tasks. Think about things like preparing meals, taking medication, personal hygiene, or simply getting around.

It's not a hospital, and it's not a nursing home. It's more like living in a condo where the management team lends an extra helping hand! Simply put, assisted living facilities are designed to make life comfortable, safe and easier, while still respecting and maintaining the much-desired sense of personal freedom and independence.

So how much assistance does assisted living really provide? It's important to remember that assisted living services aren't designed for people who need advanced medical support or someone to be around 24/7. For that level of care, other options, like nursing homes or a skilled nursing facility, might be more appropriate. Because of this, there are assisted living requirements that need to be met in order to qualify for assisted living services.

Assisted living admission requirements

A good candidate for assisted living is typically a senior who needs a little extra help with daily tasks but wishes to maintain a level of independence. They might be mobile but perhaps find activities like preparing meals, taking medications, or keeping up with housecleaning a bit challenging. Maybe they're feeling a bit socially isolated at home and could benefit from the social opportunities and recreational activities offered in a community setting. Assisted living services are built around supporting "activities of daily living", or ADLs. ADLs are fundamental to assisted living, and include support for things like:

  • Eating or meal preparation: Candidates for assisted living may require some help with meal preparation, but ideally they are still capable of feeding themselves.
  • Hygiene or personal care: They might need assistance with bathing or showering, whether for safety reasons or physical limitations.
  • Dressing: If getting dressed independently is a struggle, this can be an indicator that assisted living might help.
  • Toileting: Some seniors struggle with tasks like getting to the toilet and maintaining personal hygiene, and this is where assisted living can step in.
  • Mobility (transferring): If moving around independently, like getting in and out of bed or a chair, is posing safety challenges, assisted living may be a good option.
  • Continence: Managing bladder control can sometimes require assistance and this can be provided in an assisted living community.

It's also important that seniors feel comfortable with the idea of living in a community with other residents. Ultimately, being open to change and having a desire to live in a social, supportive environment largely determines if someone is a good candidate for assisted living.

6 reasons why you may not meet assisted living requirements

While an assisted living facility can be a great option for many older adults, it's important to understand that it might not be the right choice for everyone. Here are a few reasons that older adults might not be eligible for assisted living:

  • Extensive medical needs: If someone requires round-the-clock intensive medical care or supervision, a skilled nursing facility might be a more appropriate setting.
  • Severe memory disorders: While many assisted living facilities can accommodate mild to moderate memory impairments, those with severe Alzheimer's disease or dementia may require a specialized memory care unit.
  • Behavioral issues: If the person has severe behavioral issues, aggressive tendencies or problems interacting with others, they may not be suited to a community living environment.
  • Financial constraints: Assisted living costs can be high. If finances are limited and insurance coverage or benefits are not adequate, it could be financially challenging in the long run.
  • Being bedridden: Individuals who are bedridden, often demanding constant care and medical attention, might not be ideal candidates for assisted living. These scenarios are better suited to nursing homes or highly specialized care facilities that can provide the level of round-the-clock care and supervision they require.
  • Substance abuse: Seniors struggling with alcohol or drug addiction may not be good candidates for assisted living. These facilities may not be equipped to handle the unique challenges and medical complexities that come with substance abuse. 

Ultimately, making the decision requires careful evaluation of the person's needs, preferences, and situation. Professional advice from a healthcare provider or a senior care advisor can be very helpful.

Ready to start your search for assisted living?

Assisted living facilities: common rules and regulations

Assisted living communities have certain rules in place to ensure an orderly and safe environment for their residents. While these can differ from place to place, some common rules may include:

  • Behavioral codes: Showing respect and courtesy to staff and fellow residents, avoiding aggressive or disruptive behavior.
  • Safety measures: Following safety protocols and measures put in place by the community, like sign-in/out procedures, emergency drills, etc.
  • Community spaces: Respecting shared spaces, keeping noise levels down during quiet hours, and cleaning up after using shared amenities.
  • Visiting hours: Adhering to set visiting hours and the community's guest policies.
  • Smoking and alcohol: Abiding by the community's standards on the use of alcohol or the smoking of tobacco, if they're allowed at all.
  • Medication management: Following protocols for medication management if applicable.
  • Pets: Complying with any pet policies the community may have, which could include restrictions on types of pets or their sizes, and following behavioral standards.

These rules are meant to create a harmonious living environment for everyone in the community. It's always recommended to review the guidelines thoroughly prior to moving in.

Your assisted living assessment: what's involved?

Most assisted living facilities have a defined admissions process. While each assisted living facility will have their own version, most assisted living communities will cover the following in their intake assessment:

  • Health assessment: This is a comprehensive look at the individual's overall health completed by healthcare professionals. It covers their medical history, any diagnoses, current medications, allergies, and other relevant health aspects. This informs the level and type of healthcare they may need.
  • Daily living skills: This assessment determines the applicant's capabilities related to Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) which include tasks like eating, bathing, dressing, toileting, transference, and continence. This helps to understand the level of assistance needed on a day-to-day basis.
  • Cognitive assessment: This is an evaluation of the individual's cognitive functions such as memory, perceptual skills, attention and concentration, and overall mental status. This is important when identifying potential memory issues like dementia, which would require specialized care.
  • Lifestyle preferences: This involves looking at an individual's personal lifestyle and preferences, including the type of food they enjoy, physical activities they can or want to actively participate in, any hobbies, and personal habits. If they have pets, for example, the facility would need to be pet-friendly. All these aspects ensure the resident feels comfortable and engaged.
  • Social needs: Understanding a person's social habits and preferences helps ensure a good fit within the community's social dynamics. Whether they prefer large group activities or more intimate interactions, or if they need quiet, more private spaces - these things are considered so that their social well-being is catered to.

Remember the goal is to thoroughly understand the individual's personal, social, and medical history to ensure that the assisted living community can provide an environment that feels like home while also meeting their care needs effectively.

Elder care criteria: on assessing acuity levels

Acuity levels are a critical aspect of determining the type and level of care a resident needs in an assisted living community, and therefore whether or not someone will qualify for assisted living.

Acuity essentially relates to the level of severity of a resident's health conditions and the amount of assistance they need. Typically, assisted living communities use a functional assessment process to determine these acuity levels, which usually fall into three broad categories:

  • Low acuity: These residents usually require minimal assistance with activities of everyday life. They are generally mobile, have mild health conditions, and can manage most of their personal care needs independently. They often move to assisted living for the social aspects, safety, and convenience rather than high level care needs.
  • Moderate acuity: Residents within this category might require assistance with personal care tasks and medication management, or have mild cognitive impairment. They may also have moderate health conditions that require some monitoring by care staff.
  • High acuity: High acuity residents usually need significant assistance with personal care or mobility, need medication administration or have serious health conditions. They may also exhibit more pronounced cognitive impairments and might require help with tasks such as eating, bathing, dressing, and navigating the facility.

Each assisted living community may use slightly different criteria, but the overarching theme is assessing the degree of care the person requires. This majorly influences the services provided as well as the cost of care. It is necessary to note that not all communities are equipped to handle high acuity residents, especially those needing advanced or specialized care.

What if you need special supportive services in assisted living?

When it comes to making sure your loved one is well-cared for in an assisted living community, it's handy to know that you can tap into some extra support. Even if the community provides a range of services, sometimes you might need a bit more. Here are some of the additional services that can often be brought in to help meet special needs or circumstances.

  • Physical therapy: Some residents may require regular sessions with a physical therapist for rehabilitation or maintenance therapy. These services can often be arranged within the community.
  • Nursing care: For those needing specialized nursing care such as wound dressing or regular injections, a visiting nurse can be brought into the community as required.
  • Dietitian services: If a resident has specific dietary needs, consultation with a dietitian can be arranged for personalized meal planning and dietary advice.
  • Hospice care: In some cases, hospice services can be coordinated within the assisted living community, making end-of-life care more comfortable and convenient for the resident and their family.

It's important to note that the availability of these services can vary, so always check with the specific community about their policy on utilizing external support services.

Senior living admissions paperwork

When it comes to moving into an assisted living facility, the paperwork can feel a little daunting, but don’t worry, it’s all pretty standard stuff. Here's what you can expect:

  • Application form: This includes personal details like name, contact information, medical history, and insurance details.
  • Medical documentation: Here you'd need the results of a recent physical examination and a doctor’s statement. This gives insight into the health status of the prospective resident and lists any current treatments or medications.
  • Assessment by the facility: The facility will conduct its own assessment to ensure staff can meet the specific needs and requirements of the individual.
  • Resident agreement or contract: This document outlines the terms of stay, what services are provided, the cost, and other important details. Always read this thoroughly and ask for clarification if something doesn’t seem clear.
  • Care plan: Care plans outline a resident's specific needs, preferences, and the corresponding care services they require. The care plan provides clear instructions to staff, highlights personal care goals, and is regularly updated to adapt to the resident's evolving needs and ensure optimal, person-centered care.

In a nutshell, moving into an assisted living community means meeting certain eligibility requirements. These criteria often revolve around a senior’s ability to perform daily activities, mobility, cognitive status, behavioral tendencies, and financial ability. Individuals struggling with Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) are traditionally good candidates, while those requiring advanced healthcare are not. Additionally, a comprehensive assessment process helps to determine a resident's acuity level and craft an individualized care plan that best meets their needs. To ensure a good fit, it's essential for future residents and their families to understand the rules of the community, the details included in the resident agreement, and the services that can be offered. Above all, the goal is to create a safe, secure, and comfortable home for seniors.

Start your search today!
written by:
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Arthur Bretschneider is CEO and Co-Founder of Seniorly. As a third generation leader in the senior living industry, Arthur brings both deep compassion and a wealth of practical experience to his work at Seniorly. Arthur holds an MBA from Haas School of Business and has been featured in the New York Times and Forbes Magazine as a thought leader in the senior living space. Arthur is a passionate and vocal advocate for improving the lives of older adults through community, and believes strongly that structured senior living environments can positively impact the aging experience.

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