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6 Essential Steps to Take When Your Parent Needs Assisted Living

14 minute readLast updated September 15, 2023
Written by Rebecca Schier-Akamelu, assisted living writer
Reviewed by Maureen Bradley, senior care expert and former community directorMaureen Bradley, a specialist with A Place for Mom, has advised families on senior care for 20 years.
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The search for assisted living usually begins when an elderly person needs more help than a caregiver can provide. Many families look to assisted living communities to provide essential care and peace of mind for aging parents. However, finding the right community requires matching your parents’ needs, lifestyle, and budget with locations in their desired area. The process is easiest and results in success most often when all parties involved prepare, ask the right questions, and participate in frank, open conversations. Take these six steps to learn more about assisted living and find the right fit for your parents.

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Have a conversation with your family

The decision to relocate to an assisted living community is a big one, and it’s one your parents should be involved in for the move to be successful. The earlier you get everyone on the same page, the better the final result will be.

While some families may plan for assisted living in advance, in many cases something happens that sparks a conversation around the need for assisted living. This may be something large, such as a hospitalization, or a series of smaller incidents that cause concern.

“I found when families started talking to one another about what they have observed or overheard, there’s more than one example of why assisted living should be considered,” says Sarah Mitchell, MSW, a senior manager who has been with A Place for Mom for almost 20 years. “For example, a fridge with expired food, missing or mixing medication, displaced items in the home that aren’t making sense.”

If possible, involving your parent or senior loved one in the conversation can be extremely helpful.

“Being as open and honest as possible usually creates a more favorable outcome as well as participation and cooperation from the senior loved one. I’d also suggest that they help identify two or three things they’re looking for [in a community] to engage them as well,” says Mitchell.

As you make plans to talk with other family members and your loved one, keep these tips in mind:

  • Be honest about your limitations. Caregiving is a challenging job and shouldn’t be performed indefinitely without support, especially if you’re currently a hands-on caregiver.
  • Involve all family members affected by the move. Securing family members’ support can help smooth the transition and reduce your burden. And by inviting their input, you may come up with solutions you might not otherwise have considered.
  • Remember that you can’t force your parents to listen to you. If your parents are in denial about their need for care, pick a quiet moment and share your observations, concerns, and feelings. Listen to your parents, and write down their apprehensions and preferences.
  • Seek outside, experienced help to avoid conflicts. Consider using an elder mediator to help senior loved ones and relatives come to a mutual understanding about each person’s concerns. Their goal is to give everyone a voice in a safe and constructive environment.
  • Compare assisted living and home care. Your loved one’s care environment should depend in part on their personality. Are they an introvert or an extrovert? Do they prefer to engage in activities with others or do they enjoy solitude?

Feel supported and prepared to discuss senior living
All our advice, all in one place. Reference this step-by-step resource for help starting a productive dialogue, getting your family on the same page, and considering next steps.
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Understand how assisted living can help

Many people think of assisted living and picture a clinical setting or nursing home. However, assisted living communities are often quite vibrant, with a range of activities and outings for residents to enjoy.

Instead of an impersonal, hospital-like environment, assisted living communities are homey and softly-lit, with thoughtful decorations and comfortable décor. Quality care, of course, is still a priority, so you should keep in mind what assisted living can and can’t provide.

If you’re unsure about whether assisted living will provide the care your loved one needs, Mitchell recommends that families pay special attention to the following areas:

  • Diabetic management (if applicable)
  • Ambulation assistance, such as transferring from a bed to a wheelchair
  • Medication management

“These three services are often state-regulated and can vary from one community to another. Having an understanding of a community’s maximum assistance level will help identify any roadblocks you may have,” says Mitchell.

Most communities begin with a care assessment to see what level of assistance a new resident will need with activities of daily living (ADLs). Can they bathe, dress, and move about easily? How much help do they already require?

The phrase “assisted living” encompasses far more than people realize, but it’s not the same as nursing homes or memory care — those are two different community types with more daily involvement and specialized care than what’s usually offered in assisted living.

Another aspect of assisted living to consider? The fun. Many communities are rich with amenities, outings, and activities.

“Social amenities are important for many seniors,” says Mitchell. She suggests asking the following questions during your search:

  • What types of visiting activities does the community offer?
  • Does the staff organize any day trips or events away from the community?
  • What type of religious services or activities are offered?

“Off-site outings or activities are often enticing for a senior who is moving from a home environment, [in order to] have the opportunity to leave the community with a group,” Mitchell says.

Let our care assessment guide you

Our free tool provides options, advice, and next steps based on your unique situation.

Make a plan for how to pay for care

Cost can be another important factor when you’re looking for senior living options. Once you’ve decided that assisted living is the right fit, assess what your family can afford on a monthly basis. From there, look for assisted living communities that match your budget. Some people have savings or long-term care insurance to help pay for senior living, while many others explore other avenues.

When looking at finances, keep the following tips in mind.

Talk to your parents about their finances

The best transition plans start from open, supportive conversations about key factors in the move. Given the high costs of senior living, you should discuss finances as soon as possible to avoid surprises and reduce stress.

Understand assisted living prices and costs

Does your loved one need an all-inclusive experience or just help with some ADLs? Your answer will determine the ultimate price of senior living.

According to A Place for Mom’s proprietary data, the median monthly cost of a one-bedroom apartment in an assisted living community is $4,820, or $57,840 a year.[01] However, costs can vary greatly depending on where you live. You may want to compare the prices of different senior care types, such as the costs of assisted living compared to nursing homes.

It’s also helpful to get a breakdown of what’s included in the monthly rent. Many times, the monthly bill includes things such as:

  • Electricity
  • Cable
  • Wi-Fi
  • Food
  • Housekeeping
  • Transportation for shopping and doctor appointments

When you consider what you might pay for all of these services separately, the cost of assisted living may seem more reasonable.

Know your options for paying for care

Most families use private funds to cover the cost of senior care, but private health insurance, Medicare, and VA benefits may also support some or all of the cost.

“Budgeting for senior housing is one of the top factors when researching and touring communities. It’s a good idea to discuss, as a family, what additional assets are available ahead of time,” Mitchell suggests.

It’s also important to understand what certain assets, such as Medicare, will and won’t pay for.

“Unfortunately, some families are quick to assume Medicaid will be a resource, or unknowingly think Medicare will pay for assisted living, which it does not. Understanding the full financial picture is helpful when discussing cost with assisted living communities. It’s also a good idea to research any outside resources, such as the Veteran’s Aid and Attendance benefit,” Mitchell says.

Consult a variety of sources to find the best assisted living community

When making a decision as important as the move to senior living, talk to people in the know to learn as much as you can.

A Place for Mom’s Senior Living Advisors are experts in your local area, and their services are free. With plenty of experience connecting families to all levels of care, they can provide personalized advice and recommendations based on your unique needs. Plus, you can always contact your Senior Living Advisor during the decision-making process to get their input on the communities you’re considering.

Here are some additional search tips:

  • Read reviews of senior living communities to help you make an informed decision.
  • Learn more about your state’s regulatory environment, and check the background of the communities you’re considering with the appropriate licensing agency in your state.
  • Talk to the local long-term care ombudsman, a government official or volunteer who works to resolve issues related to health, safety, and rights of residents in nursing homes or senior living facilities.
  • Meet with an elder law attorney. Care options like continuing care retirement communities sometimes offer new residents confusing contracts, and it’s never a bad idea to have a lawyer review.

Visit or virtually tour a senior living community

No amount of time spent pouring over brochures, photos, reviews, or floor plans can substitute for a trip through an assisted living community — whether in person or via video. Plan to tour at least three communities on your short-list.

Additionally, we recommend the following tips:

  • Schedule visits for you and your parent. “Some families like to ‘pop in’ for a tour, but these visits are often met with frustration when no one is available to guide them or discuss the financial picture of the community,” says Mitchell. If you’re working with one of our Senior Living Advisors, they can help schedule these tours for you.
  • Tour during mealtimes or activities. To make sure you choose the most suitable community, you should interact with staff, meet other residents, and sample the cuisine.
  • Explore the entire community. The goal is to get a good feel for the environment and culture of the community: Participate in an activity, tour the available lodging options, and observe the grounds. Ask about assisted living staff-to-resident ratios.
  • Schedule follow-up visits, if possible. You can use our community touring checklist to ask crucial questions and take thorough notes. Our Senior Living Advisors can help you schedule as many visits as you feel you or your loved one needs.

Feel confident and ready to tour communities
A Place for Mom’s downloadable guide makes space for all your observations and notes and identifies important questions to ask. It’s our simple, step-by-step resource for comparing communities and finding the right fit.
Download the assisted living touring checklist >

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Prepare for the transition to senior living

Moving a parent to assisted living can bring up a lot of emotions for everyone involved, like anxiety and guilt. However, it’s important not to delay the move when an elderly parent needs care right away. Procrastinating is risky and can lead to avoidable accidents and medical problems. Instead, focus on feelings of excitement and ways to make the community feel like home for your loved one.

“Moving to assisted living can be both stressful and exciting,” Mitchell emphasizes. “Encourage your loved one to pick a few cherished items such as a wedding picture, family photos, or a handmade item or two that will help make the apartment feel like home. They’ll also serve as conversation pieces for the staff and other residents they visit with to get to know one another.”

To make everything go smoothly, you may want to consider delegating certain responsibilities to other family members or hiring a professional to help. For more detailed tips, consult our checklist for moving elderly parents.

Whether your parents are choosing a community themselves or you’re helping them make a decision, the above steps should help ensure everyone in your family feels good about the change. Remember: Compassion is key, so have frequent conversations with your parents where you collectively discuss the pros and cons of each community, and always strive to come to a consensus together.

Original article by Haines Eason


  1. A Place for Mom. (2022). A Place for Mom proprietary data.

Meet the Author
Rebecca Schier-Akamelu, assisted living writer

Rebecca Schier-Akamelu is a senior copywriter at A Place for Mom, specializing in topics such as assisted living and payment options. With more than a decade of experience as a content creator, Rebecca brings a person-centered approach to her work and holds a certificate in digital media and marketing from Duke University.

Edited by

Danny Szlauderbach

Reviewed by

Maureen Bradley, senior care expert and former community director

The information contained on this page is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical, legal or financial advice or create a professional relationship between A Place for Mom and the reader. Always seek the advice of your health care provider, attorney or financial advisor with respect to any particular matter, and do not act or refrain from acting on the basis of anything you have read on this site. Links to third-party websites are only for the convenience of the reader; A Place for Mom does not endorse the contents of the third-party sites.

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