How to Choose an Assisted Living Facility
May 13, 2021Retirement Communities
Choosing an assisted living facility is hard. You want to pick the best facility possible, and we’ve all heard horror stories about cheap facilities.
When picking an assisted living facility, you must be realistic about your needs and your budget. Read as many reviews as you can, consider the location, and be sure to tour it in person. In fact, it’s a good idea to visit without scheduling a tour to get a feel for what life there is really like.
Having a clear understanding of what your needs and your budget really are will set the basic parameters for your search. Knowing these two things will let you rule out a lot of facilities that simply won’t be suitable for you, narrowing your search. Touring the facility in person is, perhaps, the most important thing you can do. The gut feeling you have when you’re actually inside the facility is valuable, and seeing everything in person helps clarify your choice. While you certainly want to get an official tour, it’s also a good idea to visit again without scheduling a tour. That way you can see what a regular day is like in that facility, instead only seeing what they want you to see.
We understand that this is a big and difficult decision. It’s a decision we’ve had to make ourselves, and we’ve spent a lot of our own time researching assisted living facilities and looking for tips on how to choose. What you see here is advice born out of our experience- we’ve done a lot of the hard work, so that you don’t have to.
Table of contents
What Should I Look For in an Assisted Living Facility?
There are some parts of this that are simple and straightforward. You want a facility that’s clean, friendly, and within your price range, for example. But, beyond that, it can get a bit trickier.
For instance, if you find five assisted living facilities that all meet those simple standards, how would you choose between them? Or, how do you know for sure that a facility that looks clean and friendly isn’t simply putting on a show during tour hours?
Do your research
The internet is your friend here. It’s very difficult these days for a business to get away with shady practices, and that includes assisted living facilities. If the place is really awful, it’s likely that a quick online search will reveal that.
Read reviews of the facilities you’re looking at. There will be reviews on Google, as well as social media sites, as well as websites dedicated to senior living. Reviews by people who live in the facility or their relatives may not always be reliable; everyone has different experiences and one bad incident may color their review.
Does the location of an Assisted Living Facility matter?
The location of the assisted living facility is something that often isn’t given enough attention. It’s easy to assume that location is less important for an assisted living facility than for a house or an apartment, but that’s simply not true.
First, you want to make sure that the facility is in a safe neighborhood. If the crime rate in the area is high, the assisted living facility is not going to be immune to that. Next you should look at the hospitals in the area- and that includes looking at reviews of the hospitals and the doctors. It’s important to know how quickly you or your loved ones can get to quality medical care. You’d be surprised how often an assisted living facility isn’t located within easy reach of quality hospitals.
Finally, if you’re looking for a home for a parent or relative, and you don’t live in the same city, you’ll want to pay attention to nearby hotels and restaurants. It’s unlikely you would be able to stay with them in the facility when you visit, and so having decent places to stay nearby is actually a pretty important factor in your decision.
If there are quality hotels close by, you’re more likely to visit frequently. And getting regular visits from family is an important factor in the long-term mental and emotional health of seniors, so this isn’t as trivial as it may seem.
What Does the Better Business Bureau Say?
Believe it or not, it’s always worth checking the Better Business Bureau. They may not have any information about the facilities you’re looking at, but if they do, you’re going to want to see it. There may be official complaints filed against them, which would be a major red flag.
You can also check with the local Area Agency on Aging. They’ll almost certainly have some information on every assisted living facility in the area. They can probably tell you if there are any major problems with the facilities you’re looking at.
What to Ask About Assisted Living Facilities
Once you’ve narrowed down your search to a few assisted living facilities, it’s time to start calling them and asking questions. You definitely want to do this before you tour the facility because the answers they give may help you narrow down your search even further. Here are the best questions for you to ask over the phone:
Are you accepting new residents?
This should always be the first question you ask. There’s a chance that the facility you’re looking at doesn’t have any openings, and they may also have a long waiting list. If that’s the case, you may want to move on.
However, it’s also worth remembering that families tend to put their names on the waiting list at multiple facilities. That means that the waiting lists might not be as long as they seem, so it’s a good idea to at least keep asking questions.
How much does this facility cost?
It’s difficult to pin down exactly how much the facility will cost, since that tends to vary based on the needs of each resident. That said, you should still be able to get a ballpark figure. This will at least give you a solid idea of whether or not the facility is in your price range.
Do you have any programs to help residents afford their care?
It’s not uncommon for assisted living facilities to participate in both external and internal programs to help residents afford the cost of care. This is something you’ll want to figure out early in the process, as it might make the cost of care significantly more affordable.
Can you explain the negative reviews?
If you’ve found negative reviews of the facility online, ask them about those reviews. They might have a very good explanation for them, or they might not. It’s possible they simply haven’t seen them, but if they’re unwilling to discuss negative reviews at all, that should be cause for concern.
What will you see on the tour?
Find out if you’ll have a chance to try the food or meet the residents. If they’re not willing to allow you to do those things, walk away. There’s no reason why a quality assisted living facility shouldn’t want you to sample the food or talk to the residents.
What to Look At When Touring an Assisted Living Facility
The tour is, for most people, the most important factor in their final decision. When you’re touring the facilities, you’ll probably experience a gut feeling about the place. More often than not, that gut feeling is hugely influential in making the decision.
That’s because you can sense the atmosphere of the place; it’s a cold, dreary atmosphere you’ll sense it, and likewise with a warm, cheerful one. This is why tours are so important: a brand new, state of the art facility can be a terrible place to live, while older facilities might be much happier places.
Before you ever arrive for your tour, have a clear idea of what you want to see and what you want to ask. This should be influenced by your research, so the specifics will vary a bit for each facility. In general, though, here’s what you want to look at and ask about.
What’s the neighborhood like?
As you arrive for your tour, pay attention to the neighborhood around the facility. It’s one thing to look the neighborhood up online, but it’s quite another to actually drive through it and see it in person. Is it quiet? Do the houses look well-cared for?
What’s the building like?
The exterior of the facility will tell you a lot about it. If the exterior of the building is clean and attractive, that’s generally a good sing. If it’s dirty or poorly maintained that’s a bad sign. If it’s unattractive that will factor in to the overall experience of living there.
The same applies to the grounds. If the landscaping is attractive and well-maintained, that’s a very good sign.
What’s your tour guide like?
If you dislike the person giving the tour, that’s telling. They are, after all, the person chosen to represent the staff and the facility to potential residents. They should be tailoring the tour to your needs, answering any and all questions you have, and generally making you feel comfortable.
If you feel pressured at all, or feel like they’re trying too hard to sell you on their facility, that’s often a bad sign. It means they don’t feel like their facility can sell itself.
They should also be willing to let you talk with other staff members and ask them questions. In addition, if you’ve brought your parent or relative who’ll be moving to the facility with you, they should be talking to them at least as much as they talk to you. If they only address you when they talk, it’s likely that residents in that facility are not treated well.
What are the common spaces like?
The common spaces should be pleasant, with plenty of seating areas. They should be warm, inviting spaces that the residents enjoy being in. Try and imagine your loved one using that space.
You’ll also want to know how many common rooms there are. And pay attention to how many people are in them as you tour. Do they look crowded or abandoned? If there are plants in the common spaces, how healthy do they look? Are the hallways well lit?
What are the private spaces like?
Look at the closet and storage spaces, bathrooms, and the overall living space. Do they have private living rooms, or just a bedroom? Do the residents have a truly private room, or do they have roommates?
Make sure you look out the windows to see what kind of view they would have, and get a feel for how well lit- both with natural light and overhead lighting- the room is. If you can look in the rooms of current residents, look for family pictures, mementos, and other things that personalize the space. This tells you if they’ve been able to make their room into a home.
What about meals?
They should have no qualms about taking you into the dining areas and letting you try the food. While you’re in there, look around and take not of how clean the room is. Ask if you can see the kitchens. And, of course, eat the food. If it’s not good, do you really want your loved one living there?
Ask if there are private rooms available if you want to host a family event, like a birthday party, there.
What activities are available?
Look to see if they have regularly scheduled activities, and particularly if they have activities your loved one would enjoy. There should be a publicly available list somewhere, and if you can’t find it, ask your tour guide.
What’s the staff like?
Observe the staff as you tour. Do they seem happy? How do they interact with the residents? Does it look like the residents enjoy the staff? Ask your tour guide what the staff to resident ratio is, and what the staff turnover is like.
You should also ask about the training the staff received, and if there’s an RN, LVN, or CNA on staff.
Does the facility utilize care plans?
A good facility should be able to develop individualized, written care plans for the residents who need them. Find out how they make their plans and who on staff is responsible for them.
How much will assisted living cost?
Your tour should include a clear breakdown of the costs, including the individualized price for your loved one. This should be given to you writing. If it isn’t, ask for it. If they won’t give you a written estimate of the costs, walk away.
Tour the Facility a Second Time, Without Scheduling a Tour
A great way to make sure you really like an assisted living facility is to show up unannounced and ask for a tour. When you schedule a tour in advance, they have time to prepare.
If you show up unannounced and ask for a second tour, you’ll be seeing the facility as it really is on a daily basis. It should be more or less exactly as it was during your scheduled tour. If you show up unannounced and the building is visibly less clean or bright, if the residents or staff have a noticeably different attitude, then you don’t want your loved one in that facility.
About THE AUTHOR
With multiple family members currently in senior living facilities, David is in the trenches every week, learning the ins and outs of nursing homes, assisted living, memory care, and general senior living.Read more about David Bolton
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