10 Things to Look for in Assisted Living for Cancer Patients

Updated

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

Life is an emotional roller coaster for you or a loved one living with cancer. You may either be at the beginning of your treatment or near the end, or in the middle.

Other medical problems associated with aging complicate matters and make a recovery much harder. At some point, relying on family members to take care of you might no longer be sustainable.

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Searching for and choosing an assisted living for a cancer patient will require a careful look at amenities, medical support, and cost.

How Does Assisted Living Work for Cancer Patients?

Assisted living works the same for cancer patients as it does for other residents, but with the possibility of additional care.

Older adults come to assisted living with a wide range of physical problems that cannot be managed safely at home. Family and/or private caregivers may have reached the limits of the care they can provide.

There are certain restrictions on the care that assisted living can offer. Assisted living communities are not nursing homes and have state-mandated restraints on the level and kind of care they can provide.

These restrictions apply to all residents whether they have cancer or not. Part of your job is to ensure that the assisted living you choose can take care of you or your loved one now and for the future. 

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How to Tell If a Cancer Patient May Be Ready for Assisted Living

Knowing when a cancer patient may be ready for an assisted living depends on several factors. One family might be able to take care of a cancer patient until recovery or the end of life.

Another family doesn’t have the resources to continue to provide care at home. Each situation will be very different, but there are typical scenarios where someone might consider assisted living as a viable and safe option for care.

Help with bathing and dressing

If someone needs help daily with bathing and dressing, they may do better in assisted living. Cancer treatment and other medical conditions can cause weakness and mobility issues. In an assisted living community, there is staff available to help with these activities.

Meal preparation

If it is challenging to prepare meals, there are ways to get meals delivered, but some people prefer the convenience of having all their dietary needs taken care of. However, if you have particular nutritional concerns like mechanical soft, make sure those can be accommodated. If you require a feeding tube, it is unlikely assisted living will permit admission under those circumstances. 

Help with transferring

Your cancer treatment or other physical impairments might make it challenging to get up out of bed or from a chair. If you need help transferring, it can strain a family caregiver and might not be safe. Assisted living will provide an aide to help you. Many assisted living communities will not allow a mechanical lift device or a two-person transfer.

Transportation

Multiple doctor’s visits are a part of cancer treatment. In assisted living, arranging transportation to medical appointments is easy. Many communities have a lift van for wheelchairs. Having transportation available is a big relief for the patient and family.

Housekeeping and laundry

Daily household tasks like housekeeping, laundry, and maintenance can become overwhelming and exhausting for anyone. You don’t have the strength or mobility to accomplish these tasks. Assisted living facilities provide weekly apartment cleaning and laundry services, which can be a support in and of itself.

Medication management

Keeping track of medications can become challenging. If you get to a point where you are missing or misplacing medications, you may need some help. Assisted living has nurses and medication technicians who will manage, set up, and dispense your prescriptions. This ensures that you take what you need and when you need it.

Isolation and loneliness

For someone who has cancer, things can get lonely. The inability to access friends and social events can increase isolation, which is not good for your mental health. In an assisted living community, you will have access to activities and people. 

Tips for Finding the Best Assisted Living Facility for a Cancer Patient

When finding the best assisted living for a cancer patient, doing your homework will pay off. The last thing you want is to make the wrong choice and have to start all over. You may have to compromise and recognize that you may not get everything you want. But following our tips will give you the best shot at finding a great place to get the care you want and need.

1. Know your prognosis

Talk with your cancer doctor about your expected course of recovery and treatment. Knowing your current and future needs is critical to long-range planning. As you and your family consider your comfort and care, you also need to think about the ability to pay for that care for the long term.

2. Find out the age limit

If you are in your early 50s and considering assisted living, you may have a challenge. Most assisted living communities require that their residents be 55 years of age or older, or at least one spouse must be if you and your partner are moving in together. If you are close to the necessary age, it can’t hurt to ask for an exception. If the answer is no, try one of the alternatives we list later.

3. Identify your needs

Identify your needs by examining what you need help with each day. By doing this you can find out if the assisted living staff has available staff to help you with these tasks or if you will have to hire someone privately.

4. Nursing availability

Ask about how often a nurse is available to assist with healthcare coordination. Also, is the nurse on call 24-7, or are you on your own during times the nurse is not there?

5. Experience with cancer care

When considering which assisted living is best for you, inquire about their experience in taking care of cancer patients. If you need IV medications or hydration, will this be allowed in assisted living? Some assisted living locations may not have the type of nursing assistance needed, so you may have to supplement it with home health or another type of care.

6. Cost of care

Many assisted living communities charge a base rate that doesn’t cover any care needs. While the rate can cover your rent, room, activities, meals, housekeeping, and other amenities, you may be left wondering how to pay for assisted living especially when you need additional care. If you need help, there will be additional costs depending on the level of care you need.

7. Activities schedule

Activities and social connections are an important part of being in assisted living. If you or your loved one has preferred activities, ask if those are available. For someone who isn’t as mobile and may have difficulty getting to an activity, are there accommodations?

8. Nutritional need

If you have special dietary preferences or constraints, make sure that those are available. Specific dietary options might not be provided on an ongoing basis, so you will want to figure out how to supplement that if you need to do so.

9. Discharge criteria

The states designate and govern assisted living rules and regulations. There are occasions when someone has to move to a higher level of care, which is usually a nursing home. Knowing what those discharge criteria are will help you plan for the kind of care you need.

Many assisted living communities draw the line at a two-person transfer since this requires too many staff and it is a safety issue.

10. Hospice

If you need hospice, either temporarily or long-term, make sure that a hospice team is permitted in the building. Most people don’t think about care coordination between hospice and assisted living staff. If you are paying for additional care in assisted living and hospice provides some of that care, how does coordination occur? And, does it affect your cost?

What Are the Alternatives to Assisted Living for Cancer Patients?

There are alternatives to assisted living for cancer patients, but choosing will require careful thought and cost considerations. Let’s take a look at the primary options for assisted living.

Home

Most people prefer to stay home if they can, but this may not be possible based on the care needs we identified. For home to be an alternative, there are several considerations. The first has to do with the amount of help you need to function each day.

Time-limited home health can help, but you may need to pay privately for home care aides. Home accessibility is the other thing to think about. Is your home equipped with lifts, a walk-in bathroom, wheelchair accessibility, and other features to keep you safe?

Board and care

Board and care homes are residential homes that can accommodate three to ten people. This option provides a more intimate environment with more staff contact due to the small physical space. But you will want to examine the availability of accessibility features and staffing closely. 

Independent senior living

Independent senior living is often housed in the same building as assisted living. The advantage in those situations is the availability of more amenities and a more seamless transition to assisted living if needed.

Independent living, however, does not have any nursing availability or aide service. Those supports are reserved for assisted living residents. Independent living might offer housekeeping, all meals, and transportation, which can help people who don’t need a lot of care but want to be free of household responsibilities. 

Assisted Living for Cancer Patients

Assisted living can be a viable and safe option for cancer patients. Your goal in choosing the best place is to identify what you want and need, then plan to find an assisted living that will meet those needs. Again, by doing research and asking questions, you can find out what facilities exist out there that can help.

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