How to Find Assisted Living for Adults With Mental Illness

Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

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The term “mentally ill” continues to have a stigma attached to it. Years of poor treatment of people with mental health problems have created a lot of shame, and some family caregivers may have probably experienced this.

Remember that there can be a more acceptable way to express the issue, invoking the person-first idea. That is, a “Person living with a mental health issue,” or “person with a mental illness.” These terms are more respectful and honor the person first who is much more than their diagnosis. 

Jump ahead to these sections: 

Mental health problems cover a wide range of illnesses, some more serious and difficult to treat than others. Making a distinction is helpful because if you are looking for an assisted living facility for a loved one with a mental health problem, understanding the illness can help you find the most appropriate place.

For example, depression can be quite different than schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, and not everyone experiences the same symptoms.

But how do you know when you or your loved one are prepared to move to an assisted living facility? What kinds of facilities are out there, and can they meet your needs? Below, we aim to provide information for those curious about the options out there or who are starting their search.

What Is an Assisted Living Facility For Adults With a Mental Illness?

Group homes and board and care homes that serve persons living with a mental illness do exist. The problem is that most of these are assisted living facilities for young adults, leaving older adults to look for a suitable assisted living to meet their needs. As the number of aging adults increases over time, the number of older adults with mental health issues also grows. 

Some families end up facing the extremely challenging task of finding an assisted living facility that will accept their loved one. Most assisted living facilities have age restrictions meaning that unless you are 55 years of age or older, traditional assisted living will not be an option.

Assisted living communities have a vested interest in keeping their residents happy and comfortable. The fact is, many of these communities do not want any kind of behavioral disruption and have every right to decline accepting someone with a mental health problem. 

The search can be very frustrating, especially when you hear the plight of other families in a similar situation. Senior living communities acknowledge that this is a societal dilemma, but so far, no one has made a concerted nationwide effort to address the problem for any age group. Most senior living communities focus on developing memory care units that are not appropriate for people living with mental illness.

However, if you arm yourself with research and keep your eye out, you can find a great assisted living community for you or your loved one. 

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How Do You Know If an Adult With a Mental Illness Is Ready for Assisted Living?

Many of the common medical conditions that affect any older adults also affect persons with mental health problems. Self-care needs may coexist with mental health problems and can be the motivation for a move. In other situations, mental health instability due to loneliness, family conflict, or other issues results in the need for assisted living.

Signs they might be ready

Many of these signs will be familiar because they are common conditions that can affect anyone who needs more care. Mental health problems complicate matters depending on the type of illness your loved one may have. The ultimate deciding factor might be the family’s inability to be able to continue caregiving.

Caregiver burnout

Some families have the means and availability to do full-time caregiving for a loved one. Taking care of someone with a persistent mental health problem can be overwhelming and draining. When caregiving affects your health, employment, and family life, you may need to think about assisted living as a viable option for care.

Activities of daily living (ADLs) 

Self-care is a big category that indicates someone needs more and more help with activities that allow them to function. Medical problems can take their toll, and mental health issues can interfere with carrying out tasks. Many of these tasks include daily help with bathing, dressing, hygiene, and toileting. For example, it is not uncommon for someone with severe depression to struggle with routine activities. 

Mobility issues

If someone needs help or supervision with their mobility, it might be time to consider assisted living. Assisted living offers assistance for those who need help with getting up in the morning and walking to meals and activities.

Isolation

Over time, people with mental health illnesses may start to avoid social situations because they feel uncomfortable or simply don’t feel like interacting. Mental health illnesses such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia may experience things like delusions, hallucinations, and difficulty discerning reality.

The mental anguish caused and the stigma some people confront as a result of their symptoms can be crushing. It is easier to self-isolate than cope with people’s stares, comments, and judgment.

Take great care in introducing someone to assisted living. The bustle and activity level might seem very chaotic and disruptive to someone with mental health problems. That said, assisted living can be a healthy environment to reconnect with people if approached with compassion.

Inability to manage household duties

Living alone in an apartment or house involves household tasks that most of us take for granted. Simple duties like changing light bulbs, taking care of the yard, managing home repairs, and general upkeep can become unmanageable.

All of these responsibilities can become alleviated by a move to assisted living. It can be relieving for families and individuals to have someone else taking care of these tasks.

IADLs (Instrumental activities of daily living)

The acronym IADLs refers to the higher-level cognitive ability to manage finances, shopping, planning and cooking meals, budgeting, paying bills, using a computer, and managing transportation.

Mental health issues can interfere with the ability to be able to execute some of these activities. The frustration and demoralizing consequences of being unable to handle these tasks start to impact everyone.

Signs they might not be ready

The goals of assisted living should be to improve mental and physical health. Anyone moving into assisted living can expect a transition period, but the stakes can be even higher for someone with mental health problems.

For the best chance at success, use caution when deciding and follow your instincts if you think it isn’t time. Look to other support services like private duty home care to help you manage your loved one if they aren’t ready to move.

Mental instability

Treatment of mental illness can be a lifelong journey complicated by periods of stability and instability. If your loved one is in a period where treatment is changing or not effective, then it may not be the best time for a move. Added stress is the last thing everyone needs, and it is worth waiting until you feel like their mental health is under control.

Behavioral problems

Some behavioral problems can include aggressiveness, anger, sexual acting out, psychotic symptoms, and socially inappropriate behavior. Although an assisted living community may overlook these problems, you should be honest in your appraisal of how your loved one is doing. The last thing you want to do is set them up for failure.

Assisted living facilities will accept some unusual behaviors since they are used to residents with dementia. However, they will draw the line at behaviors that threaten their staff or other residents.

Refusal to go to assisted living

If your loved one refuses to go to assisted living, there is no point in pushing the issue. Getting into a protracted conflict will only make things worse. Take your time and revisit the idea at a later time. Suggest visiting a couple of communities to alleviate anxiety. You can’t legally or ethically force someone into assisted living if they refuse to go. Only the courts can do that.

Approach the idea of assisted living with respect and an effort toward reaching consensus. If you feel it would help, expand the discussion to involve your loved one’s treatment team. Accentuate the positive aspects of assisted living while acknowledging the stress it might cause.

What Should You Look for in an Assisted Living Facility For an Adult With a Mental Illness?

Here’s where you can make a significant difference in assuring success, although nothing is guaranteed. If you are under duress to decide, you may overlook some crucial steps in the process. Ideally, you’ll want to start this process before you need it. Make a list of at least three potential places after you have done a thorough investigation by following these steps.

Experience working with persons who have mental health problems

You might have the option of an assisted living facility that works exclusively with people who have a mental illness. If not, you will want to know if the community has had experience in this area. If so, what types of mental illnesses have they dealt with? What kind of accommodations are made in terms of activities and other events?

Staff expertise

Staff expertise has to do with sensitivity as well as skill level. Many people with mental health conditions have experienced bias and stigma before, but those attitudes shouldn’t come from the staff. Are there training protocols for staff that review the different symptoms of various illnesses? Make it a point to ask about their guidance regarding communications with residents.

Discharge criteria

An assisted living community may gladly accept someone with a mental illness but may also be less tolerant of what they view as disruptive or inappropriate behaviors. You have a right to know what the discharge criteria are so that you can start early to make the transition and the following days go as smooth as possible. 

Tips for Finding Assisted Living for Adults Living With a Mental Health Issue

Finding an assisted living community for someone living with mental illness may not be possible. But, you may want to exhaust that option first before moving on to traditional assisted living communities that will accept a diversity of residents.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Every state has a local division of SAMHSA. Calling your local office is a good start to getting information on housing for your loved one. The local mental health authority is a resource for treatment and information related to mental illness and substance abuse.

Psychiatrist or therapist

Assuming your loved one has a psychiatrist and/or therapist, they may have information on assisted living communities that work well with individuals who have mental health problems. As a client’s relative, you will need permission to speak with them about this or any other topic.

Senior housing specialist

An experienced local senior housing specialist can be an excellent resource for finding an appropriate assisted living option. These professionals deal with challenging placements and can make recommendations based on the type of community where your loved one has the best chance of fitting in.

Finding Assisted Living for Adults With a Mental Health Issue

Finding care for your loved one who has a mental illness is both a labor of love and a challenge. Approach the idea with a resolve to advocate for the best assisted living environment that you can find. Maintaining an open mind during your research can help you discover places that you may not have considered before.


Sources:

  1. “Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.” SAMHSA, www.samhsa.gov/

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