You Should Never Believe These Myths About Assisted Living

In a world gone crazy with “fake news,” it’s hard not to believe at least a few myths. Recent scrutiny of the fate of America’s health care system has put our services under the microscope — for better or worse. We know the baby boomers are about to invade our nursing home facilities and hospitals as they age. A study by the Department of Health and Human Services found 70% of people over age 65 will require long-term care at some point.
With that, America gasps in fear. The rumors about assisted living, or “death traps,” are frightening. Yes, they are expensive. And no, forgoing parts of your independence is not always a pleasant experience. But that’s a tough pill to swallow at any age.
Luckily, there’s a silver lining to this eventuality. We’re setting the record straight and debunking the 15 most common myths about assisted living.

1. The standard of care is abysmal

man holding finger up to mouth
Most myths about assisted living are exaggerated or completely untrue. | Universal Pictures

Although we certainly can’t vouch for every assisted-living facility in the country, we can confirm each state mandates inspectors to monitor the quality of care in each place. These surveyors often make unscheduled visits to ensure each facility is following the proper care standards.
Licensed nurses are trained to provide better care than you would receive on your own and work with you to develop a care plan you’re comfortable with. According to a survey of Customer and Employee Satisfaction in Nursing Homes, 88% of residents were satisfied with their quality of care, and 87% of families would recommend their skilled nursing care or rehabilitation center to others.
Next: A unhealthy fear of medications

2. Residents often receive improper medications

pharmacy technician
Medication is reviewed before being administered to patients. |

The rumor mill runs rampant with horror stories about assisted-living staff administering the wrong medications to patients. However, every effort is made to ensure that’s not the case. All medication is reviewed by a consulting pharmacist, and residents have the right to refuse as desired. Care-planning meetings give patients an opportunity to consult with doctors and nurses about concerns pertaining to medication schedules, and they’re encouraged to actively participate in their treatment plans.
Next: The retirement community that ruined it for everybody

3. Disease runs rampant

retirees dancing
Not all assisted-living facilities are like The Villages. | Rhona Wise/AFP/Getty Images

Contrary to what you’ve been led to believe, diseases do not spread uncontrollably in nursing homes. At one time, the largest gated retirement community in America, known as The Villages, made national news about its STD epidemic. The Villages residents saw an increased number of sexually transmitted diseases due to unsafe practices.
But not every facility can be compared to this community. Minor infections are to be expected in such close quarters, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines strict guidelines for patient health and safety.
Next: Here’s why you think the food sucks.

4. The food sucks

sandwich on whole wheat bread
You probably hate the food because it’s healthy. |

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services established guidelines that monitor the food prepared in each facility. It must be rich in flavor, nutritious, and served at a proper temperature.
Part of the reason you could be dealing with health issues is your supreme affection for not-so-healthy meals. And dietary managers have to incorporate limitations, such as sugar-free, low-salt, or low-cholesterol meals. So to be fair, you’re probably rebelling against predominately healthy foods otherwise foreign to your preferred pallet.
Next: It’s not a hospital.

5. It’s a glorified hospital

nurse and patient
You have much more flexibility in assisted living than in hospitals. | Mike Simons/Getty Images

It’s a myth that a nursing home is just another word for hospital. Both do offer the same type of medical, rehabilitative, and nursing care. But residents have much more autonomy and choice in assisted-living environments than they would in hospitals. Staff promotes independence and active lifestyles for those who are able. Most facilities allow for flexible visiting hours, and residents are encouraged to socialize with others. Anyone who’s spent extended periods of time recovering in a hospital knows that’s not always the case.
Next: You can still make your own decisions.

6. You surrender the right to make your own decisions

Patient tells the doctor about her health
A patient tells the doctor about her health. |

Yes, there is a bit of give and take here, as the primary reason for seeking living assistance is to receive professional help from health care workers who know best. Entering into these accommodations means you are requesting assistance for routine activities you can no longer perform independently.
But it’s a resident’s legal right to make their own choices regarding health care, schedules, and treatment plans. At any time, you can allocate decision responsibility to other family members listed in your care plan, and resident councils provide opportunities for residents and their families to address concerns to staff.
Next: We address the cleanliness myth.

7. The whole place is dirty and gross

David Spade is in a mullet and side burns as Joe Dirt.
That smell is otherwise known as bleach. | Columbia Pictures Corporation

Nursing homes smell like hospitals. And while no one’s rushing to the dollar store to buy hospital-scented car trees, the smell of cleaning supplies and lunch trays are signs of fully operational health care facilities. All functional and licensed centers are judged on cleanliness procedures, and failure to comply can lead to strict consequences. But keep in mind standard care for incontinent patients could carry a slight odor.
Next: The truth about resident sanity

8. All residents are crazy

Nicolas Cage looking wide eyed in Vampire's Kiss
Not all residents are crazy. | Magellan Pictures

There’s a difference between psychiatric hospitals and long-term care facilities. Those outdated images you’ve conjured in your mind about staff physically restraining wild patients are better left to the movie screen. Many residents are simply gaining better access to proper nutrition, exercise, and social stimulation. Others enter nursing homes due to illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other limiting conditions, which can make caring for themselves nearly impossible. Moving into a more supportive environment ensures they get the specialized care they need and keeps them from wandering off in confusion.
Furthermore, not all residents are sick and dying. Although many facilities do care for terminally ill patients, many people are in recovery and will move back home once healed.
Next: What about privacy?

9. No privacy

nurse, doctor, and patient
Staff does its best to respect patient privacy. | David McNew/Getty Images

There’s a fine line between privacy and safety. And any independent resident who’s adjusting to assisted living is bound to feel pressured by some methods of professional care. However, it’s your choice to stay in either a private or shared room. Communal living will have both common and private areas, similar to college kids who live in a dorm room. Staff members respect patient privacy and show courtesy, such as knocking before entering a room.
Next: Not all residents are lonely.

10. Residents are lonely

nurse talks to patient
Assisted-living facilities make efforts to keep patients from getting lonely. |

The unfortunate truth is residents in assisted-living facilities often have few people left to care for them, which will undoubtedly lead to loneliness. But most nursing homes make every effort to ensure your long-term stay is as engaging as possible. In fact, it’s common to build close relationships with your personal nurses, as they become integral to your daily living habits. Also, friends and family are encouraged to visit and get to know the staff.
Also, there’s a widespread initiative to improve the assisted-living culture for consumer benefit. Nurses and staff are expected to brainstorm creative ideas that promote a better quality of life and engagement among residents.
Next: Assisted living is not prison.

11. Once you enter, you’ll never leave

two women in prison
Unlike prison, you can leave assisted living whenever you want. | Netflix

Choosing to reside in assisted living is not a prison sentence. The primary goal in these instances is to give patients more independence and eventually return home if the situation warrants. Each patient arrives with different needs, thus requiring stays of various lengths.
Stereotypes of barren hallways filled with stagnant, wheelchair-bound residents are a thing of the past. To improve the quality of life, assisted-living facilities implement ongoing activity programs that meet the physical, mental, and social needs of the residents. Therefore, many places schedule activities and off-site trips that encourage socialization and engagement.
Next: A common misconception about cost

12. Medicare or health insurance will cover the cost

Medical bill and health insurance
Medicare won’t cover all long-term care costs. |

According to Genworth’s 2016 Cost of Care Survey, the average assisted-living facility costs $43,536 per year, and the average nursing home costs $82,128 per year for a semi-private room. Many people mistakenly assume private insurance and Medicare will cover long-term care costs. But coverage doesn’t include custodial or personal care services, which usually represent a significant proportion of long-term care expenses.
Medicare will cover skilled nursing, short-term care, and medically necessary care. But not everyone qualifies for it. And considering many require these services after almost depleting retirement savings, you can’t count on those funds to cover all long-term care expenses.
Next: No one is breaking up your marriage.

13. You must separate from your spouse

married couple
You actually do have the option of living with your spouse. |

A common misconception about assisted-living facilities is married couples may not live together once admitted. But the truth is the patient’s bill of rights protects married couples from forced separation, allowing you and your spouse to share a room. In those instances, nursing staff will respect the privacy of couples living together.
Next: Yes, your nursing home is operating under a license.

14. The facilities aren’t licensed

happy members of a medical team
If a facility didn’t have a license, regulators would shut it down. |

Uneducated staff haphazardly treating patients in an unlicensed facility is what many people’s nightmares are made of. Luckily, there are strict state and federal regulations to administer licensure. Applicable licenses, permits, inspections, and approvals must be available to you for clarification upon request.
Furthermore, only licensed health professionals may provide patient services. Additional competency clarification can be found from the  Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Also, if you or your family ever question these protocols, it’s perfectly acceptable to verify adherence with the appropriate agency.
Next: Available services

15. You’ll have to fend for yourself

Senior woman in hospital
Contrary to popular belief, there is an array of services available to you in nursing homes. |

Residents have access to social services. Not only do you have ample opportunity to receive visitors from family and friends, you are able to confide in the staff. The reality is the social circles for elderly patients get increasingly smaller over time. And the opportunity to talk with others gets harder. Also, counseling and other professional services are available should you need assistance with finances, legal agreements, or a chance to voice concerns about other residents.
Follow Lauren on Twitter @la_hamer.