A metro Atlanta assisted-living facility. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Opinion: My family’s assisted living experience

The AJC’s investigation of Georgia’s large senior living facilities will surely help families seeking care for their loved ones. I’d like readers to know there are long-term care facilities in our region that truly “care” about the residents/patients. Our family has greatly benefited from one. Please allow me to share our story.

Moving my mother from her home against her will was more difficult than losing my father. Mom’s life-long anxiety disorder, combined with her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, required us to begin our search for alternative living solutions. My brother and I were in agreement, and I began the search for a new “home” for mom in the Marietta area. Armed with information on what to look for and input from trusted friends who traveled this road before me, I began the search for a facility, an institution, to move my mother into. I dropped in unannounced for a clear picture of a typical day at each one.

I visited 3 assisted living facilities in the desired area. All were very nice with friendly professional staff and lots of special amenities, like a fine hotel. However, Mom would never be comfortable in a fine hotel. The fourth assisted living facility I visited, and had heard the most positive comments about, seemed more like a home rather than an institution. No fancy chandeliers, plush upholstery, grand piano or coffee bar, but a friendly and welcoming atmosphere. Why did this location stand out from the rest?

The facility was owned and operated by a family who were actually on site. Unlike most long-term care facilities, quite a few of their employees had worked there many years, indicating they must treat their staff very well. The facility was smaller than others I visited, allowing for more personal care and meaningful relationships. Group activities provided entertainment and enrichment most days. I was pleasantly surprised to learn it was the most affordable as well.

After discussing with my brother, I signed the documents and mom was added to the waiting list, and none too soon! We were determined to move mom before an emergency found us without a plan. Thankfully an apartment became available in a few months. That was in November, 2013.

Throughout the 6 years Mom resided there, I never addressed a complaint with management. Again, this is very rare in the industry. I had heard the horror stories. Even though she visited her parents almost daily, an acquaintance sued for negligence the assisted living where her parents resided.

» SEARCHABLE DATABASE: Details on every facility studied by the AJC

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The resident care manager worked very closely with me over the years as mom declined and her care level increased. I visited mom frequently and was never surprised or disappointed by her condition, the cleanliness of her clothing, her apartment, etc. If mom could not remain at home or live with us, we were happy to have found the next best thing for her and our family.

During fall 2018, mom’s dementia dramatically progressed. My greatest fear was moving her to a nursing home or memory care facility where the care might be lacking. Again, the horror stories of these types of long-term care facilities abound.

Thankfully, the resident care manager and owner worked with me to find a solution so mom could remain there. I hired resident aides for additional hours until mom qualified for hospice care. Mom suffered a stroke on July 15th of last year and was comatose until she passed away July 27th. She remained in her apartment with hospice care.

The assisted living staff were extremely kind and helpful to me as I “waited” while mom lingered. I’d never experienced a bedside vigil for a loved one, anyone, and was emotionally and physically drained. They treated mom with tender love and care. I saw the sadness they too were experiencing as she faded away. I was holding mom’s hand when she took her last breath. We are comforted she did not suffer the final stage of Alzheimer’s and remained in her “home” until the end.

We lost mom at the age of 87 under optimal circumstances in which her assisted living played an active role. We are so grateful.

Families who find themselves in our situation should take heart. Not all senior living facilities or institutions are stereotypical. When working as your loved one’s health care advocate, don’t settle. Press on until you find the care your loved one needs and deserves. God bless all the caregivers.

Vicki E. Davis and her family live near Acworth.

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