Last Updated: October 17, 2018
If you’re looking for assisted living, you know that there’s no time to make a poor decision and that you need to get it right the first time.
Get a leg up on the average senior living consumer by learning from the mistakes other families have made in their search for the right senior care.
When families and seniors select an assisted living community, it’s a life-changing decision. So life-changing, in fact, that many families postpone a decision out of fear of making the wrong choice.
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Our advisors help 300,000 families each year find the right senior care for their loved ones.
Fortunately, as you expand your knowledge, the decision becomes easier. Our “Planning and Advice” guides outline what to do and what steps to take when researching senior living, but it can be equally helpful to know what not to do.
Learn more about eight common mistakes families make when searching for assisted living and how to avoid them:
A Place for Mom’s Senior Living Advisors tell us about common pitfall families should avoid. “Often the adult child chooses the place that they like most instead of thinking about what their parent or senior loved one likes. For example, new chandeliers and a wonderful heated pool when Mom’s house is homey and she never liked swimming.”
Obviously, we encourage families to get their loved ones as involved as possible in the decision-making process, but if Dad or Mom cannot visit communities with you, carefully consider his or her personality and preferences rather than your own as you weigh the options.
In her book for caregivers, A Place for Mom’s spokesperson, Joan Lunden, described a mistake that she made as she searched for care for her mother with advanced dementia, “I first moved my mom into a fancy-schmancy assisted living community. In my mind, it was a beautiful place where my mom belonged. I thought she would be able to go downstairs to the dining room and be a social butterfly with other Sacramento seniors and then retreat to a beautifully decorated apartment where she could entertain friends. The problem with my well-meaning plan was that I was making arrangements for the mom that I used to know, and not who she had become. My mom now couldn’t remember who people were, would get frightened when taken downstairs to the dining hall and was afraid of being left alone in an apartment.”
It might be similarly misguided for a family to choose a golf-oriented assisted living community for a father who loved the game when he was younger, but now has Alzheimer’s or arthritis and hasn’t played the game in years.
When making a decision this big, it’s usually wise to gather multiple perspectives on your senior living options. Get feedback from as many people as possible: family and friends who have gone through the process, your loved one’s care team, a geriatric care manager and a Senior Living Advisor.
In Lunden’s account of her search for care for her mother, she relates how, after initially choosing an inappropriate community, she found the perfect home with the help of an advisor. “I was fortunate to secure the help of a ‘senior advocate,’ a knowledgeable professional who could answer all my questions and who could show me the assisted living communities in the area. This made all the difference in the world. I highly recommend obtaining the services of a senior advocate or advisor to help you navigate this journey. This kind of professional can help save you hours of time and stress by narrowing your choices to the places that meet your specific needs. They help families evaluate issues such as amenity preferences, care requirements and finances.”
Sometimes families assume a community is right for their parent or senior loved one because it has a high price or lavish features, but later realize that these are not telltale indicators of quality care. They often find that they need to move their loved one to another community, one that’s, perhaps, more appropriate in terms of care. Luxury senior living does not necessarily equate to quality senior care. A beautiful, modern and upscale facility is just as prone to oversights and errors as a community that looks a little dated. Quality of care is not something you can discern just by driving past a community.
Longtime A Place for Mom Advisor, Dovid Grossman, who assists families in Chicago, says, “Remember to trust your intuition. After doing all the analysis and comparison you can, trust your gut instinct about which option is right.” Experts also suggest that you take time during your visits, if you have the opportunity, to speak privately with residents and staff about their level of satisfaction. Happy staff are caring staff and a community full of cheerful residents is always a good sign.
Earlier we noted that some families become so overwhelmed with the choice that they need to make, that they don’t make a decision at all. But sometimes, families do the opposite. They are in such a rush to resolve a difficult crisis that they choose the very first open room they find in the very first community they visit, which is probably even less effective than choosing randomly.
We recommend that families visit at least three communities before making a decision so that they can form a clear picture of the options that are available. Take note of how communities differ from one another and what makes each community unique. After all, in order to make a good choice, you need options.
It’s important to balance optimism with a dose of realism. Be realistic about your parent or senior loved one’s current care needs as well as their anticipated needs. Ideally, you will choose a community that is equipped to provide care now and in the future, as loved ones age.
Too often, families come to us for assistance after initially choosing a community that was not capable of offering the level of services required. An A Place for Mom Senior Living Advisor, Melissa Pratt, in Boise, Idaho, says, “Take a look at the health issues that your parent has and ask the doctor what support they will need in the future. It’s better to have a community that can handle those future needs rather than having to move your parent to another community in the near future.”
Assisted living contracts are relatively straightforward, at least compared to other legal documents, but they still can contain confusing legalese or involve fees that aren’t completely apparent. Some families are caught unprepared by price increases that they would have been aware of had they reviewed their contract.
Assisted living communities have many different types of pricing structures. Make sure you understand yours. Some communities charge one fee for room and board and a separate fee for care. A community might charge $2,500 per month for the apartment and the meals, and an additional $1,500 per month for personal care. Other communities charge individually for each service or they may rank the level of care that a resident needs on a scale, with care costs based on the level of care the nursing staff determines is needed. Some communities don’t charge a care fee at all, but instead, provide an “all-inclusive” pricing model whereby resident’s fees are not dependent on the care needed. At a community with all-inclusive pricing, a frail resident who requires a high level of care has the same fees as a resident who is mostly or even entirely independent. If there is anything about the contract that concerns you, consider reviewing it with an elder attorney.
Another mistake that our Senior Living Advisors have seen families make, is overemphasizing the importance of finding the closest community possible.
“Sometimes the adult child chooses the nearest community based on the intention of visiting their parent every day, even though another community one mile further away may be a much better fit. Remember that your parent will be engaged in many activities at the community and that visiting every day is usually an unrealistic expectation to put on yourself. Go with the best fit.”
If you do find that your parent or senior loved one is living in an inappropriate community, don’t be afraid to admit that you may have made the wrong decision. It’s better to make a change rather than stick with a situation that isn’t going to work out in the long run.
Have you participated in an assisted living search? What mistakes did you make that other families might be able to learn from? We’d like to hear your stories in the comments below.