Assisted living: The pros and cons

Is assisted living better than a care home? There are pros and cons to both assisted living and care homes. Before deciding whether assisted living accommodation is more suitable for an elderly parent than a care home, you’ll need to take all of these into account. You may also find this article informative if you’re considering assisted living for yourself because you have no family or they live too far away to visit you on a regular basis.

It’s fair to say, care homes received a lot of bad publicity during the COVID-19 pandemic for high death rates among the residents and the restrictions put in place to control visiting. The pandemic was a period that changed our lives in extraordinary and unexpected ways. It’s now over. Moving forward, the most important thing to take into consideration when you’re trying to decide between assisted living and a care home are the individual needs of the person who will be staying there.

Difference between assisted living and a care home

To be able to decide which is the best option, assisted living or a care home, either for yourself or your elderly parent then you need to know what the differences are between the two. And they are very different.

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What is a care home?

A care home is usually a large building with multiple individual rooms. It may be a single level structure or have several floors. Each resident has their own room with an en suite bathroom. Furnishings are often minimal and consist of a bed, a reclining chair, a TV, a wardrobe and a cupboard for storing personal belongings. There will usually be common rooms on the premises that are used for mealtimes and socialising.

Not all care homes offer the same services. It’s important to know exactly what services a care home provides for their residents and whether those services can be adapted if the needs of a resident changes in later life. There are also more specialised care homes that provide twenty-four seven care for those with serious medical problems or for people suffering with dementia.

What is assisted living?

Assisted living is, in essence, a way of ageing in place, but a way of ageing in place that’s done in a location different to what has been the person’s long term home. And it’s done in a location where the elderly person has professional help on hand if and when it’s needed.

Assisted living allows an elderly person to continue to live in a more homely environment and have more of their personal belongings around them. While the assisted living accommodation may be smaller than their previous home it allows an elderly person to maintain a higher level of independence and privacy. They can also keep to their own daily routines while being within their own four walls without the fear of becoming institutionalised by the care system.

What care an elderly person receives while in assisted living is decided by them. They can organise assistance with bathing, taking medication or get help with cleaning, shopping and cooking if they need it. If they manage very well on their own and don’t need help with daily tasks, they have the security of knowing there’s someone at the end of a call button or personal alarm that can be with them in minutes if something’s not right. 

Types of assisted living accommodation in the UK

The UK is catching up quickly with countries like The Netherlands and the US where assisted living communities or retirement villages are common. As the elderly population of the UK is on the increase so are the facilities that are becoming available to them.

There are now several types of assisted living accommodation in the UK, but not all are available all over the country. Once you have an idea of what each type of assisted living accommodation offers you’ll be able to check if there’s a similar one in your area.

Retirement villages – Retirement villages are exactly what the name suggests, a village built especially for people of retirement age. Properties in retirement villages can range in size and may even have three bedrooms. All properties in the village are connected to a twenty-four hour emergency response centre and have on-site home care services. Many retirement villages also offer:

  • Housekeeping services
  • An on-site restaurant
  • Community rooms for socialising
  • An indoor swimming pool
  • Gym and spa facilities
  • A hairdresser
  • A schedule of indoor and outdoor activities

Housing with care – Previously more well known as sheltered housing, housing with care properties mostly consist of individual flats in a large block. They are either centrally located in towns and cities or in the surrounding suburbs close to facilities such as shops and libraries. There is twenty-four hour support available from on-site care staff, but not nursing care.

Many, but not all, have communal dining rooms where meals are served, for an additional charge, as well as hobby rooms and, on occasion, communal gardens. Most housing with care facilities charge a monthly service fee. The fee includes:

  • A daily wellbeing check
  • A few hours of housekeeping every week
  • Window cleaning
  • A handyman if needed for small jobs

Close care housing – Close care housing is a relatively new type of assisted living accommodation in the UK. Close care housing consists of sheltered housing properties built in the grounds of a residential care home. This type of assisted living is often recommended for elderly people who are in the early stages of dementia or have another medical condition that’s expected to worsen over time. While they are able to maintain their independence for as long as possible, they also have support and the option of transferring to the care home when they can no longer look after themselves.

Most close care housing arrangements will include:

  • Basic housekeeping services
  • Laundry service
  • A daily hot meal
  • An emergency response alarm
  • Inclusion in social activities conducted in the care home

Advantages of assisted living for the elderly

One of the main advantages of assisted living for an elderly person is, without a doubt, being able to maintain their independence longer. Knowing that there’s someone nearby who can help if they take a fall or are feeling unwell, no matter what time of the day or night, helps to alleviate the anxiety that might otherwise accompany living alone.

In assisted living accommodation elderly people will be with other people of their own age group and have easy access to a variety of services to help them carry out daily tasks they may find difficult. The level of support is tailored to a person’s individual needs, but can include:

  • Wellbeing checks
  • Assistance with cleaning
  • Help with laundry
  • Support with bathing, dressing and toileting
  • Meals prepared in a restaurant or dining room if they don’t want to cook
  • Being able to join in social and community events

There are assisted living properties both for rent and for purchase. Keep in mind that, if an elderly person wants to move to assisted living accommodation, the investment made in a leasehold won’t disappear into a bottomless black hole the same way it would if they were paying for a long term stay in a residential care home.

On a more general level, a study known as the Mayhew Review has noted that when elderly people live in an assisted living community, it eases the strain on the NHS and associated social care services. It also makes more regular housing available for younger families who otherwise might struggle to find a home.

Disadvantages of assisted living

There is still a shortage of sufficient assisted living accommodation in the UK so finding the right place can be a lengthy process.

Finding assisted living accommodation to rent is even more difficult. While some local councils and housing associations do have sheltered housing, there’s often a long waiting list for it. Assisted living accommodation managed by council care services is often used just as a stepping stone for people being discharged from hospital that need extra support for a short period of time.

Because they require a large amount of land, retirement villages are often built in rural areas away from town and city centres. Unless an elderly person can still drive or the village provides a chauffeur service, getting out and about easily can be problem.

The upheaval of packing and moving home is always stressful and becomes even more so the older you get.

Buying an assisted living property, or the leasehold to one, can prove to be quite costly and there are usually monthly service charges to take into account. The monthly service fee doesn’t include regular bills like water, electricity and council tax.

The majority of assisted living companies will charge a fee when the property or leasehold to the property is sold after the occupant’s death. This is on top of any usual fees like stamp duty and can be as high as five percent.

How to choose the right assisted living accommodation

You can’t rush choosing assisted living accommodation. Take it slowly and find out exactly what services the assisted living company is offering and what services are included in the monthly charges and what’s not.

If you’re considering purchasing an assisted living property or the leasehold to one, always get legal advice from a solicitor the same as you would if you were buying any other property.

Organisations like the EAC, the Elderly Accommodation Counsel, provide information and advice on their website, HousingCare.Org. The website also has a directory listing assisted living properties all over the UK as well in sunnier locations like Spain. You will also be able to obtain additional information from AgeUK.

In summary

There’s a lot to think about when you’re considering assisted living whether it’s for yourself or for an elderly parent. If it’s for an elderly parent then it’s a major move they have to be prepared to make because they will be leaving their old home for a new one. Not everyone is prepared to make that move so you may need to consider alternatives such as daily home care, making adaptations to their current home or making use of the technology available for remote monitoring.

Common questions

  • How much does assisted living cost in the UK?

Costs vary depending on the type of property and the services provided at them by the accommodation management companies. You can get an idea of the cost of assisted living in your area by taking a look at available properties on the HousingCare.Org website.

  • What is the best age for assisted living?

The best age to go into assisted living depends on the individual person and their capabilities. But keep in mind that most assisted living facilities require a person to be sixty or over before they can be considered for a property.

  • How long do most people live in assisted living?

There are currently no UK statistics published that answer this question.

  • How can I find a reputable and trustworthy assisted living facility in my area?

Do a property search in the directory on the HousingCare.Org website and ask for recommendations from your local council.

  • How can I ensure that my ageing parent receives quality care in an assisted living facility?

You can check the ratings of all assisted living facilities on the CQC website. Once your parent is living in an assisted living facility, maintain ongoing communication, get to know and seek feedback from other residents and their families and be prepared to advocate for your parent if necessary. If you can’t visit often, use a video calling device for frequent calls and observe their physical state and demeanor.

  • How can I prepare my ageing parent for the transition to an assisted living facility?

The best way to prepare an elderly parent for the transition to an assisted living facility is by talking to them, being there to help them organize and pack for the move, and then assisting them to settle in to their new home.

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