7 Steps to Choosing the Right Assisted Living Facility

Kara Lewis
By Kara LewisMay 10, 2021
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With an increasingly wide and diverse array of assisted living options, figuring out how to find the best assisted living facility for your loved one can take some time. When evaluating your choices, compare factors like staff friendliness, amenities, and overall culture. Be prepared with cost, care plan, and general lifestyle questions to ask assisted living tour guides and staff to help facilitate the process.

Follow these simple steps and use our checklist of questions for assisted living to help make finding a community that fits your senior loved one’s specific needs easier.

1. Pay attention to cleanliness, curb appeal, and design details

The assisted living facility you choose will be your senior loved one’s new home. Details reveal how this home will be maintained, as well as how it may enrich your parent’s physical and mental well-being.

Note your first impression as you observe the community’s outdoor areas and entryways, says Louis Kievit, vice president of customer experience at Enlivant, a senior living provider with communities in 26 states. Porch seating and a garden or courtyard signal a welcoming, social tone, for example.

In addition, when choosing an assisted living facility, pay attention to the following details:

  • Safety features, like handrails, grab bars, and zero-threshold showers
  • Accessibility features, like elevators, widened doors, stairlifts, and wheelchair ramps
  • Decor details, like uplifting colors, comfortable furniture, and opportunities for personalization
  • Social areas, like dining rooms, lounge spaces, and event halls that encourage gathering
  • Cleanliness and upkeep in common areas and facility surroundings

2. Get to know caregivers and staff who provide daily support

“At the end of the day, your decision is going to be driven by, ‘Will this team have my parent’s best interest at heart?’” says Kievit. “Will they take care for them and make them feel special? People are the most vital asset.”

If possible, observe one-on-one interactions between staff and residents to assess staff compassion, friendliness, and patience. Be sure to also ask about staff accreditation, background, and training.

Questions to ask assisted living staff:

  • What is your staff-to-resident ratio? How many staff members are on duty overnight and during the day?
  • What kind of experience and training does your staff have? Do they perform background checks?
  • What is the staff turnover rate?
  • Do you have a registered nurse, licensed vocational nurse, or certified nursing assistant on staff 24/7?
  • Can staff members administer medications? Are staff members available to meet the residents’ scheduled and unscheduled medical needs? If not, are they able to contact a nearby doctor, nurse, or other licensed health care professional in the event of an emergency?
  • Are staff members available to assist with activities of daily living (ADLs) if needed? (ADLs include dressing, eating, mobility, hygiene and grooming, bathing, toileting, using the telephone, shopping, and laundry.)
  • Which organizations audit the facility? How often do they visit? What do they check for?

3. Get a feel for the community’s culture, programming, and amenities

Though many families looking for senior care wonder how to find the best assisted living facility, the ideal fit is different for everyone. Choosing the right assisted living facility depends on your senior loved one’s hobbies and personality, as well as how the community can support and engage them. Seniors who are intellectually engaged generally feel happier and experience lower rates of stress and cognitive decline, according to the National Institute on Aging .

“If Mom loves gardening, I would ask to see the courtyard and meet the gardening club. If it’s reading, I would ask to see the library, where she can curl up on a comfy couch and enjoy a good book,” Kievit says. “If she’s very active, ask to see a copy of the activity calendar. The apartment is mainly for sleeping and bathing. The rest of the community is home.”

Another valuable element of the community’s culture is the people. The other community residents will become your loved one’s friends and daily companions. The best assisted living facilities promote quality of life, resulting in residents who seem engaged, social, and happy. Try to tour during a group activity of interest to your parent to observe interactions among residents.

When searching for your loved one’s new home, evaluate the assisted living services and amenities your family member would enjoy, such as the chapel, fitness center, game room, or bar.

Questions to ask about community culture and activities:

  • What are the residents like?
  • Are residents actively encouraged to participate in activities and events?
  • What types of activities are available to residents? How often do they occur? Is there a posted calendar of events?
  • Is live entertainment provided? If so, what kind, and how often?
  • Do residents often interact with the surrounding community?
  • Do residents go on regular outings or do volunteers come into the community?
  • What common spaces are available to residents?
  • Do you have any outdoor spaces?
  • Are there any shared community animals, such as dogs, cats, birds, or fish?
  • Is there a place where residents can do their own gardening, arts and crafts, or other personal hobbies?
  • Is there a media or TV room?

4. Grab a bite to eat

Incorporating a meal into your tour can provide an opportunity to see available cafeteria options, in addition to the communal benefit. During conversations with other residents, ask questions about their daily routines and honest opinions on the community. In some communities, a volunteer resident ambassador may accompany staff on tours.

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Questions to ask about meals:

  • How many meals are provided per day?
  • Does the menu change daily? Is the food prepared daily?
  • Can meals be tailored to a resident’s specific dietary needs, restrictions, or special requests?
  • Are there set times for meals?
  • Are residents permitted to keep food in their apartments?
  • Are there any dishes that are especially popular with residents? Can you sample them on the tour?
  • Can meals be prepared for specific holidays, birthdays, or other special occasions?

5. Consider accommodations and comfort

Is your aging loved one a social butterfly who would enjoy the company of a roommate or someone who prefers the privacy of their own space? Do they have a four-legged companion they’d like to bring along? There are plenty of pet-friendly assisted living communities to choose from, and it’s common for communities to offer a variety of room sizes and floor plans. You’ll want to take some time asking questions that give you an idea of what accommodations are available to choose the community that best fits their needs.

Questions to ask about resident living spaces:

  • What types of apartments are available? What is the monthly cost per type?
  • Do residents have the option of a private or shared room?
  • Are furnishings provided? If so, what kinds?
  • Can residents personalize and decorate their own apartments?
  • Does each apartment have a private bathroom, or are the bathrooms shared?
  • Is each apartment and bathroom designed to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers?
  • Is a kitchen provided with a refrigerator, sink, and other cooking elements?
  • Are pets allowed? If so, is there a weight and/or breed restriction?
  • Does each room have a 24-hour emergency response system?
  • Is house cleaning for personal living spaces included in the price? If not, what is the additional fee?

6. Come prepared with key cost questions

For some families, the cost of assisted living becomes a major factor in the decision-making process. Determine whether the community you’re touring uses all-inclusive pricing, tiered pricing based on levels of care, a la carte pricing, or another model. Additionally, avoid sticker shock by asking about move-in fees and contract terms. Generally, a business office manager can answer these questions and address related concerns.

Questions to ask about costs and finances:

  • Is a contractual agreement available that discloses health care and supportive services, all fees, as well as admission and discharge provisions? What are the policies for refunds and transfers?
  • What are your billing and payment policies?
  • Are all services included in the monthly fee? If not, what services are not covered and how much extra do they cost?
  • Are there any government, private, or corporate programs available to help cover the cost of services to the resident?

7. Ensure the community will meet both short-term and long-term care needs

Choosing the right assisted living facility means selecting a community that can meet your senior loved one’s needs as they evolve. First, verify the staff has experience managing any health condition your senior loved one may have. Then, look toward the future: Can the community adapt if your loved one’s needs change? Reach an understanding of how often staff members reevaluate care plans.

Lastly, consider what will happen if your senior loved one eventually requires more care than they do now. Ask about the facility’s licensure, as well as the move-out process and any associated fees.

Questions to ask about health care services:

  • Do you perform or require an initial physical or health assessment prior to admission? Does each resident have a written plan of care? If so, how often is it updated?
  • Is there a process for assessing a potential resident’s need for services, and are those needs addressed periodically? If so, does this process include the resident, his or her family and facility staff, along with the resident’s physician?
  • What is your medication management policy? Is self-administration of medication allowed?
  • Are services such as hospice and physical therapy available within the facility? If so, is there an additional charge?
  • Who coordinates home health care visits from a nurses, doctors, physical therapists, etc., if needed?
  • Is there a clear procedure for responding to a resident’s medical emergency?
  • Is transportation offered to residents for doctor’s appointments? If so, is the transportation wheelchair/disabled-friendly? Is there a fee?
  • Are incontinence supplies included in the price? If not, what is the cost?

Keep your checklist of questions for assisted living on hand

Finding the right community can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Download our assisted living comparison checklist to help guide you during visits. Our detailed questions can keep you prepared and organized when it’s time to choose an assisted living facility for your loved one.

Kara Lewis
Author
Kara Lewis

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