Is Advocacy the Answer for Assisted Living?

Is Advocacy the Answer for Assisted Living?

Is Advocacy the Answer for Assisted Living?As a daughter with a mom in skilled nursing care, the PBS documentary entitled “Life and Death in Assisted Living” really upset me.  My mom has vascular dementia and I have been her advocate for the last 7 years in assisted living.  Those of you who follow my blog know that I moved my mom 1000 miles into a skilled nursing care near me – about 10 weeks ago.  This transition happened because I was 100% in tune with my mom’s needs.

We all know someone who had a horror story during a hospital stay.  Last week one of my colleagues was shocked to walk in and find her dad in soft restraints after heart surgery.  He was 82 and not coming out of the anesthesia well.  The nurse said that she did not have enough staff to help him, so she had to use soft arm restraints.  My colleague asked if they could please remove the restraints.  She and her mom each took one arm of her dad and literally held him thrashing around all night with no sleep.

Every senior or human being needs an advocate to make sure that the care they are paying thousands of dollar per month in any level of care is being provided.  Trying to be a good advocate for my mom and living two states away – just about killed me.  You have to have eyes on your loved one or pay someone to come in and be your eyes – particularly when they have dementia.

When a senior has dementia, like my mom, they get to the point where they cannot communicate all their needs, pains or desires to either caregivers or family members.  There needs to be an advocate who truly knows that person and can look for and understand his or her unspoken needs on a regular basis.

If my colleague had not shown up to be an advocate for her dad, he would have been in soft restraints all night.  If I had not flown in every few months to see my mom with my own eyes, areas of concern would not have been addressed.  My mom had good care in assisted living with a caring staff, but she is my mom and I know her best.

It always makes me sad when a future senior resident considering senior housing has no family or only distant relatives.  They may ask a lawyer or a niece in Canada to become their advocate or power of attorney.  Will this remote person advocate properly on his or her behalf – if the senior can no longer communicate verbally?

There are great senior housing options available with loving caring staff, but it is always wise to have an advocate that knows your unspoken needs when you can no longer speak on your own behalf.

Tip:  Future residents and their family members need to do their homework as they explore all senior housing options including assisted living.  Always ask what the longevity of staff is at each retirement community, assisted living, memory care or skilled care nursing that you are considering for yourself or a loved one.  Staff turnover is an indicator of an underlying management or ownership problem in all levels of senior care.  Look for communities with longevity of staff.

Diane Twohy Masson is the best-selling author of “Senior Housing Marketing – How to Increase Your Occupancy and Stay Full,” available at with a 5-star rating.  The book is required reading at George Mason University as a part of its marketing curriculum.  Within this book, the author developed a sales & marketing method with 12 keys to help senior living providers increase their occupancy.   Masson developed this expertise as a marketing consultant, sought-after blogger for senior housing and a regional marketing director of continuing care retirement communities in several markets.  She has also been a corporate director of sales and a mystery shopper for independent living, assisted living, memory care and skilled care nursing communities in multiple states.  Most recently Masson was recruited to consult for two debt-free Continuing Care Retirement Communities in Southern California – Freedom Village in Lake Forest and The Village in Hemet, California.  Interestingly, this career started when she was looking for a place for her own mom and helped her loved one transition through three levels of care.

Moving My Mom 1000 Miles From Assisted Living to Skilled Nursing Care (Part 2)

Moving My Mom 1000 Miles From Assisted Living to Skilled Nursing Care (Part 2)

When my mom asked where we were going - I kept saying to lunch...

Every time she asked where we were going, I said to lunch.

Organizing a move of this magnitude is a pile of paperwork combined with a daughter’s worry of every possible outcome going wrong.

The long story short is it took my husband Chris and I, seven hours to move my mom with vascular dementia 1000 miles.  Is it the best thing for her – yes!  Did it almost kill me – yes!  But there were blessings along the way including moments and memories of complete clarity that I will always treasure. I still see my mom in my minds eyes as her former mentally astute self, but now she can’t remember what she had for breakfast.  Why I am moving my mom is shared in Part 1.

My Mom’s Moving Day

I had a 50/50 chance that she would be having a good day, when we arrived at her assisted living community for the move – it was a BAD day for her.  She was anxious, hungry and wandering around for some attention.  I talked to a caregiver and took her to breakfast in the dining room as my husband packed her suitcases.  The goal was for her not to be stressed out about moving and we accomplished that goal.

Two days before the move, we had organized her entire room and decided what we were taking, what had to be shipped separately and what was going to goodwill.  She never knew, because we took turns with her.

On the way back from breakfast, my mom sensed that something was up.  When four people were outside her door, she asked why.  They scattered and a caregiver gave the morning medications to her.  While she was eating we had gathered all her medications, personal affects and created a special bag to handle incontinence on the way – which was my greatest worry.

She didn’t want to get in the car, but Chris and I coaxed her in.  The drive to the SeaTac Airport was enjoyable for her.  My friend Stephen was the driver and he was wonderful with my mom.  The arrival at the airport with the hustle and bustle created immediate anxiety for her.  She thought that she was seeing Chris and I off and wondered when she would see us again. Chris said, that she was coming with us.  She said that she would not get on a plane.  Oh boy…thank goodness for anti-anxiety medications.

Getting through security was crazy, my mom’s bag beeped because of liquid medications.  So one of us had to be tested for bomb residue on our hands.  We all got separated, bags were being retested for bombs and my mom was all-alone for 3 minutes.  They ended up testing her for bomb residue – seriously!!?!  Then we headed out to the gate.

I ran to get lunch, because I had promised my mom Ivar’s fish and chips.  Every time she asked where we were going, I said to lunch.  She would immediately calm down.

We were wheeling her onto the plane and just as they were transferring her to another wheel chair to take her down the aisle, she announced that she needed to use the restroom.  I just wanted to get her on the plane, but we had to go back to the concourse and use the family restroom.  There was – of course – a wait for it.  We took care of my mom and I thought we would miss the plane, but a security breach had happened and we had to wait another 30 minutes to board.  All our bags, my mom’s medications and the lunch were on the plane.

When we finally got on the plane and I said we were having lunch.  My mom said her first funny, “Are you just saying we are having lunch or are we really having lunch?”  I laughed and pulled out the fish and chips.  We really had a great time on the plane, she knew she was on a plane and said she was having fun.  I brought family pictures for her to look at and a stuffed bear to hold.

My mom slowly processed the move on the plane.   She was excited about going to California and remembered being born there and going to college at UCLA.  She was happy, calm and smiling…

My mom was fantastic and the incontinence was not an issue, even after we landed – whew… The Freedom Village driver picked us up and we took her to her new home at the Freedom Village Healthcare Center.  In a week or two, I will describe the transition…

Please comment to join the conversation and interact with other senior living professionals on what is currently being effective to increase occupancy on a nationwide basis.

Diane Twohy Masson is the author of Senior Housing Marketing – How to Increase Your Occupancy and Stay Full,” available for sale at  Masson’s book will be required reading at George Mason University in the Fall as part of the marketing curriculum.  She is currently consulting with Seniors For Living and two debt-free Continuing Care Retirement Communities in Southern California – Freedom Village in Lake Forest and The Village in Hemet, California. Connection and partnership opportunities: Email: