Senior Beat

No worries. What to look for when we need some extra assistance

By Carol Higgins Taylor

Special to The Weekly

We all need a little help now and then. And as we age, we may find (I certainly have) that some things are just better left to someone else and asking for help is not a sign of weakness but instead an indication of maturity and self-acceptance. I have friends who basically kill themselves with yard work and household chores on weekends after working all week. I pulled the ripcord on that scenario years ago and now hire help for things I can’t, or don’t want to, do anymore, such as yard work and snow shoveling. Life’s too short.

For seniors, the idea of needing help can come with fears and complications. Sometimes when some assistance is required, family can slip into panic mode and automatically think “nursing home” which may not be the right solution.

Needs vary and can range from help with simple cleaning to taking medications. There are several ways for seniors to get the assistance they need.

An option is independent housing with some services included. Typically, these buildings consist of individual apartments, each with a large handicapped accessible private bathroom and kitchen, and include light housekeeping and laundry services. A meal or two may be provided in a common dining area. Transportation to medical appointments or errands may be available.

Independent housing facilities do vary in services. Some consist of just apartment living with no services at all. Other are not apartments but one room with a private bathroom. There is no kitchen, but they may provide three meals a day, housekeeping, laundry and transportation.

For seniors who need more support than housekeeping, assisted living may be the best choice. This model provides similar types of services as the independent housing, such as housekeeping, laundry and meals but also includes help with personal care and medication administration, which requires licensing. There is 24-hour staffing and emergency call systems.

Nursing homes are for those who need more than just a little help with activities of daily living. Discuss the need for a nursing home with the person’s health care provider.

All of these facilities vary in size and price. Some have subsidies, some are private pay. Eligibility guidelines for occupancy vary as well.

With all these choices, it is sometimes hard to know what to do or what questions to ask. Here are some suggestions:

— What types of services are provided?

— Is this apartment living or single room?

— What is the cost of the service package and what is included?

— Is there subsidy or MaineCare coverage for some or all of the cost?

— Is the facility licensed? (Remember, if personal care or medication administration is part of the service, licensing is required.)

— What level of supervision or security is provided? (This is important if wandering or dementia is an issue.)

— Is there staff on duty around the clock?

— Are there planned activities?

— What are the meals like and how many are there?

It is also a good idea to request a copy of the program description and admission criteria to better determine the limitations of the service. Also ask to see the menu plan and activity calendar.

Visit and tour the facility and discuss philosophy of care with the director and staff. Make note of the interaction between staff and residents. Is it friendly and warm or does it seem strained? Do the residents seem happy?

Sometimes there is no need for the older person to relocate at all. There are home- based care agencies that will come to the person’s house. These agencies provide a wide range of services, like those offered in an assisted living setting.

For more information on these options and on payment criteria, visit and type “assisted living” in the search bar. You can also contact Eastern Area Agency on Aging at 941-2865 for help.

Carol Higgins Taylor is an advocate for seniors and owns Bryant Street Public Relations in Bangor. Email her at

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