Making the switch to assisted living, nursing homes

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SHERIDAN, Wyoming — It was not an easy decision.

Shirley Miller and her husband built their life in New Mexico. There, they had a beautiful home and many good friends.

But an extended trip to the hospital changed all of that.

After spending several weeks in the hospital, Miller and her husband moved to Sheridan to live with their children. Eventually the pair made their way into an assisted living facility.

It was a strange transition for Miller, a woman who prides herself on being independent, but she knew it was best for both her family and herself.

Miller's story is not uncommon. It's one of the toughest decisions aging families have to make: whether to keep living independently in the house you spent your entire life in or move into an assisted living facility or even a nursing home. It's a decision that can have significant consequences on finances and emotions.

But what do you need to consider when moving into a senior care community? And when is it time to make that transition?

It's different for everyone, Tammy Yelton-Boone said.

Yelton-Boone is the communications director for Brookdale Sugarland Ridge, an assisted living facility located in Sheridan.

She said the decision to move into an assisted living facility should ultimately depend on safety. Those battling dementia or who struggle with mobility may be in danger of hurting themselves or others and require part-time help.

"When you get to the point where you are turning the stove on and forgetting, or if you are in a walker, it's tough to do things on your own," she said. "But also, there are people who don't necessarily need full-time help."

Yelton-Boone said around half of the people who arrive at the assisted living facility move in after an incident like a fall or an illness, but there are a variety of reasons why people decide to move into an assisted living facility that don't always have to deal with safety.

Many just want a better quality of life as they get older and they feel as if they can get that at an assisted living facility more than they could at their own home. Miller said that she and her husband could still live in their New Mexico home or remain living with her children in Sheridan, but with their health issues, caring for the home is more of a burden then they want to take on.

"We just decided that (Brookdale Sugarland Ridge) would be the answer and I wouldn't have to worry about meals or anything like that," Miller said.

Socialization is also something to keep in mind when deciding to move into an assisted living facility. In many cases, being at home and having little contact with others can lead to depression and decreased mental stimulation.

"Just because you can't live at home doesn't mean you can't have a great quality of life," Miller said. "For lots of people, especially around that age, just because they are at home and living by themselves doesn't mean their quality of life is all that great."

Eventually, an assisted living facility cannot fulfill all the health needs of a senior, in which case many will eventually end up at a nursing home like Sheridan Manor.

A nursing home is a place generally nobody seems to want to end up, Sheridan Manor Administrator Bruce Allison admitted. But more often than not, it's better than the alternative of paying for in-home care or having family care for a loved one themselves. Allison said the financial and emotional stress it takes to care for a loved one at home can often be too much and can sometimes tear families apart.

"I think people care for their parents themselves for too long because they think it's the noble thing to do," Allison said. ". But the care is often just too much. People don't realize it's a 24/7 job."

But there are burdens to assisted living and nursing homes too, primarily the cost. With the cost of medical care on the rise, an average month stay at Sheridan Manor will cost around $250 per day for 24-hour care. This adds up to more than $90,000 per year.

When looking for a nursing home, or any senior care center for that matter, Allison suggested going into the facility at night to examine the conditions of the facility when the administration isn't there. That way, he said, you can get a better picture of what type of home it is.

For Miller and her husband, they hope they never have to end up at a nursing home. While the transition is still a work in process, they are both enjoying life in their new home.

"I feel like I've been transplanted from one planet to another, but I feel like the new planet is growing on me," Miller said.

Information from: The Sheridan (Wyo.) Press,

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