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LTC Bullet:

Assisted Living Fills LTC Niche

Wednesday May 19, 1999


In a recent New York Times article, "A Niche for the Elderly, and for the Market," Sara Rimer profiled Trudy Faessler, an 87 year-old widow moving into an assisted living center in Massachusetts. Struggling with osteoporosis, Trudy was no longer able to live on her own. Now, she'll pay $2750 per month for her room, three meals a day, housekeeping, and help with bathing and dressing. Would Trudy have preferred to live with her son, daughter-in-law, and their three daughters? "'That's the last and stupidest thing anyone can do,' she said. 'They have a life too.'"

"Ten years ago, Mrs. Faessler might have ended up spending much more money, only to be in a nursing home," according to Rimer. Not today. Assisted living centers are popping up all over the country to fill the gap in the continuum of care between home care and skilled nursing care. In Massachusetts alone, the number of assisted living centers has grown nearly tenfold in the last five years.

Why are people so enthusiastic about assisted living? Assisted living centers offer welcoming environments that seniors and their adult children find acceptable, even pleasant. In Mrs. Faessler's new home, the living room has a grand piano, lace curtains, and oriental rugs. There are fresh flowers, faux antiques, and comfortable chairs. Meals are served in a dining room on china and linens. None of the staff is in uniform. Other assisted living centers feature trademark Victorian-style architecture, grand staircases, friendly dogs, and "preview windows" to let residents see who is in the next room before they enter...just in case they don't feel like socializing.

Sounds fancy. In fact, Rimer points out that one criticism of assisted living is that it's limited to the affluent because Medicare and Medicaid don't typically cover it. Terry McElhaney, Director of Marketing at Mrs. Faessler's new home, explains to worried families: "'It's private pay. Someone has to come up with the money. It's all a gamble. Old age is a gamble.'"

Old age IS a gamble. That is exactly why people should protect themselves with long-term care insurance. Assisted living would be prohibitively expensive for many people if paying out-of-pocket was the only option. It's not. Most comprehensive long-term care polices now cover assisted living as well as home care and nursing home care as a last resort. Access to assisted living is one more reason long-term care insurance makes sense.

At the end of her first week, Trudy Faessler proclaimed, "'I must say, it's like a good hotel. The food is absolutely delicious. I'm very lucky.'" Of course, other residents of assisted living centers may be less enthusiastic about their surroundings. Terry McElhaney summed it up by stating, "'People want to have all their independence. It's the best of a difficult situation.'"

*source: Sara Rimer, "A Niche for the Elderly, and for the Market," New York Times, May 9, 1999, pg. A-1.