Whether you’re looking for yourself or for a loved one, looking for assisted living can be hard.
Still, the process doesn’t have to be intimidating or overwhelming. Here are some steps you can follow to help narrow down the choices to the perfect community. Do your research online and by phone, then tour each community. Finally, for the communities you like best, follow up for more in-depth information.
Start with online research and word-of-mouth recommendations to find facilities near you or your loved one. The Departments of Health and Human Services for each state are also good resources for finding facilities.
Narrow down the options before you even tour:
- Is the location close to shops, doctor’s offices, pharmacy, and other important places?
- Is the location convenient for family and friends to visit?
- If the facility is not in your town, are there hotels nearby for when you visit the area?
- Is the neighborhood generally considered safe?
- Can you find any information about the provider through the Better Business Bureau or your local Area Agency on Aging?
The first time you speak to providers on the phone, find out whether they’re currently accepting new residents. If not, ask about their waiting lists.
Families often put their names on waiting lists at several facilities, so the list may be shorter than it seems. don’t hesitate to put your name on a list just because the waiting time is significant.
You also want to ask general questions about costs. Pricing for assisted living can vary significantly based on your loved one’s needs.
- What types of payment are accepted, and/or do they have programs to help residents afford care?
- When do they offer tours, and how long do tours last?
- What will they show you when you tour – will you have a chance to try the meals or meet with residents?
Experts say that the most important part of making a decision is listening to your gut instincts. Going for a visit – or several – can help you determine if the community will be right for you or your loved one.
It may be worthwhile to tour several facilities before bringing your loved one to see the two or three facilities you think might be best. Or ask a friend or family member to tour facilities (and take copious notes and photos). Geriatric care managers can also help find the best assisted living facilities for older adults if you require assistance.
Review Your Checklist Prior to Your Visit
- Is the neighborhood quiet and pleasant? Is there easy parking outside, including handicapped spaces?
- If your family member will be bringing a car, is parking provided?
- Is the building’s exterior clean and attractive?
- Are the grounds attractive with plants and trees?
- Is there a safe, enclosed area where residents can walk and socialize?
Most tours start in someone’s office or in the lobby – the Director of Marketing or another staff member will spend time talking to you about the community in general. They should be asking you questions about your needs and what you want to see so the tour can be tailored for you.
Some questions to consider while on the tour:
- Do you like your tour guide?
- Do you feel that they’re listening to your needs and questions?
- Do you feel pressured in any way, or like someone is “selling” you?
- Does the tour guide speak only to you (the adult child) or do they make an effort to include your elderly loved one?
- Are you able to talk to staff members other than the tour guide, either in a formal fashion or informally during or after the tour?
While you’re walking around, pay attention to what you’re seeing, hearing, smelling, and feeling in each of the spaces. Try to talk to different residents and staff members. This will help you get a fuller idea of what the community is really like.
Your loved one won’t want to spend all of their time in their private room, so find out what the common social areas are like. Do they seem like spaces your loved one will enjoy spending their time? Are they good spots for family members and friends to visit?
- Are the common spaces in the community pleasant and appealing?
- How many rooms are there where the residents can spend time with each other and with visiting family members, and can you imagine your loved one using these common spaces?
- Are hallways well-lit and easy to navigate with handrails for safety and plenty of room for wheelchairs and walkers?
- Are there shared pets in the community such as dogs, cats, miniature horses, fish, or birds?
- Are there plants and do they look well cared for (free of dust and well-watered)?
Residents’ Living Spaces
The living space is just as important as the common areas, if not more. Does it seem like a comfortable place to live and can they bring in personal items to make it seem more like home? Are there private rooms available or must they share?
- Do most residents have a private room or share a room?
- Is it possible to view all the different types of rooms available?
- Does each room have a private, handicapped-equipped bathroom, or is there one shared bathroom?
- Are residents’ rooms personalized with photos, mementos, or other possessions?
- Is there adequate closet and storage space?
- Is there good lighting and are there attractive views in each room?
If food is provided by the facility – it likely is – see if you can try it for yourself. It isn’t enough to just take the word of the facility manager that it’s good. You and your loved one should ask to try a meal so you can determine whether or not they would enjoy eating there every day.
- Are the dining rooms clean and attractive?
- How many meals per day are provided?
- Are there snacks, and if so, how and when do residents get them?
- Can the community cater to specific dietary needs or special requests?
- Can the residents bring food back to their rooms, and/or are there kitchens in the rooms?
- Can visiting family members join the residents for meals?
- Do the residents seem to like the food?
- Can you taste the food or come for a meal to try it yourself?
- Is there a private room available for family celebrations or private family dinners?
Is the residence a fun place to live? Is there a schedule of activities that your loved one would enjoy participating in? Do the other residents participate and seem to enjoy the activities? See if you can sit in on one of them and interact with the current residents to get a feel for it.
- Is there a posted, varied schedule of activities, and are there any activities that you think your loved one would participate in?
- Do the residents have any scheduled interaction with the outside local community, whether because volunteers come into the community or residents go on regular outings?
Starting a conversation about the cost of assisted living can be uncomfortable, so use the following checklist to start the conversation. Some services are included and some aren’t, so be sure to get a list and prices for them. Don’t be afraid to ask these questions, because the answers will play into your decision.
- How much will assisted living care cost for your loved one? The answer will be different depending on your loved one’s needs, so allow ample time for this conversation. Be sure you feel the staff understands your needs and is communicating the answers clearly.
- Does the cost include any special move-in fees or fees for services such as laundry?
- Are residents required to have renter’s insurance for their units?
- Is the housekeeping for units provided and included in the price?
- Are barber and beauty services provided and included in the price?
- Is there an extra charge for transportation to doctor’s appointments or outings?
- Under what circumstances might costs go up?
- How is the community funded and is the funding stable?
- Will the community help with the paperwork involved with getting Medicare, Medicaid, V.A., and other sources to pay for care?
The staff is a huge part of the living conditions at the assisted living facility since they provide the assistance. If there’s a lot of turnover, it could be chaotic and uncomfortable for your loved one. Find out the ratio of staff per shift to the number of residents. You don’t want your loved one to be waiting a long time if they need help getting in and out of bed or to the bathroom.
- What’s the ratio of staff to residents?
- What’s the staff turnover rate?
- Are background checks performed before hiring staff?
- How much training do staff members have?
- What does the facility do to avoid staff burnout and/or retain great staff members?
- Is there an RN, LVN, or CNA on staff?
Typically for an assisted living facility, a care plan is put into place for your loved one. Find out how that care plan is developed and who is involved in making it. What kind of care specifically is available and what are the costs of it?
- Is an initial assessment of needs conducted and a written care plan developed? Who’s involved in developing the care plan? How often are the needs reassessed?
- What specific care is available from doctors, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and others?
Documents to Request
To help make your decision easier, ask for the following documents from each facility you’re considering. It can make a difference if you know all of this informantion ahead of time rather than down the road when your loved one is already settled in a residence.
- Sample admission contract
- A copy of the Resident Bill of Rights
- A copy of the most recent survey results from state regulatory inspectors
- List of weekly activities and events
- Weekly menu of meals and snacks
Other Questions to Ask
At the end of the tour, you might have additional questions. The tour guide will be promoting their community as the best choice for your loved one.
If possible, review your checklist before or just after this conversation. Check off all the items that were addressed and all the questions that you’ve already had answered.
If you’re interested in the community, plan a follow-up phone call or visit to ask these more detailed questions about costs, care, and services.
- Are pets allowed?
- Are there religious services on the property or nearby?
- Are visits to the residents allowed at any time, or are there set visiting hours?
- Are residents allowed to have overnight guests, such as a family member from out of town?
- How does the community accommodate private time for couple if only one spouse is living in the community?
- What is the facility’s emergency preparedness strategy? Do they have a backup generator or evacuation plan?
- Does the facility have an adult day program? Sometimes older adults are more comfortable moving into a facility if they’ve already spent hours having fun with some of the residents.
If you liked the facility, drop in for an unannounced visit in the next week or so, potentially in the evenings or on a weekend. If everything looks just as pleasant as it did during the tour, that’s good.
If the atmosphere is completely different, it might be worth considering other facilities. If the staff won’t let you in other than during a tour, it might be a signal that you should look elsewhere.
If you aren’t completely sure about the facility, ask if your loved one can try a temporary stay for a weekend or even a week. Many assisted living facilities offer temporary stays as part of a respite program, so doing a short trial should be possible too. This trial stay is the most accurate way to tell what living there would be like.