Finding an assisted living facility may seem overwhelming, but breaking down the process into small steps will help simplify the task.
One crucial step before beginning research about facilities is learning how your loved one feels about such a move, says Niki Barr, PhD, a psychotherapist for the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders in Fort Worth, Texas and author of “Emotional Wellness: The Other Half of Treating Cancer.”
“Is she willing, even excited to go, or is she being forced to go because you can no longer look after her? If the latter is true, you will have to use a lot of empathy, and say, ‘I know this is hard, but I also know that we both want the best possible care for you.’”
Make sure your loved one is content to move into an assisted living facility by including her in the process.
One way to offer your loved one a sense of partnership in the move is to brainstorm what she would most like in a facility, says Barr. “Build a list together of the top things then rank the items. Ask her, ‘What three things must you absolutely have?’ And take that list to each facility you visit.”
Some assisted living communities, for example, offer advantages for those who want to continue with particular hobbies or interests such as gardening, cooking, woodworking or quilting.
Tips for Finding the Right Facility
- Scout potential facilities by yourself.
Once you’ve gathered a list of recommended spots, visit them alone first, then pick the top two or three and return with your loved one. Dragging her to all of them may be tiring and confusing, says Barr. In addition to a scheduled interview with the facility, go there unannounced and at different times of the day.
- Agree on the results.
“After you’ve checked each out, share the results with your loved one,” says Barr. “Say, ‘I think you will really like this one.’ Or, ‘I’m not sure this one is the best choice, but tomorrow I’m looking at one that sounds terrific.’ Be upbeat but honest so that your care recipient feels this is a good choice for her and for you together.”
- Ask more questions.
The Consumer Consortium on Assisted Living offers a checklist on its website, www.seniorhomes.com, to use when visiting assisted living homes. In addition to staff friendliness and residents’ happiness, other issues to consider are its home-like comfort, leisure activities, daily nutrition plans and compliance with state and local licensing requirements.
“The worst thing would be for your loved one to be bored or to give up her freedom. An assisted living facility should enhance life, not diminish it,” says Barr.
What you can expect from assisted living varies quite a bit, and real differences between facilities may be important. For example, you may want an assisted living facility with an Alzheimer's Special Care Unit, and not all communities have them.
- Meet key people.
Make sure you meet the residence administrator, who often sets the tone of the facility. Find out who would be your go-to person if you have a concern, suggests Barr. Ask too if there is a licensed nurse on call at all times. Watch how people interact with residents and whether they call residents by name.
- Look for safety.
Make sure there are emergency call systems, grab bars on the walls and in the bathrooms and nonslip flooring. Is the building well lit? Is it in a low-traffic area with sidewalks, patios, and nice landscaping where your loved one could walk safely? Consider the size of the rooms; smaller rooms may be better when the risk for falling is great.
- Address health issues.
Ask what kind of access your loved one will have to health and medical services? Does the facility offer medication management? Is there 24-hour emergency care? And find out what medical services you will have to pay extra for.
- Vet the facility contract.
Ask for a copy of the admissions contract and the residence rules and have an eldercare attorney review it. You can find an eldercare attorney through the National Elder Law Foundation, www.nelf.org, or the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, www.naela.org. For Caregivers: Check with this resource center, www.ltcombudsman.org, to determine if your assisted living choices have any registered complaints against them.
You’ll likely have lots of questions. Gather suggestions and recommendations from your family doctor, from local senior centers, and from a geriatric care manager. You can find one of those through the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers, www.caremanagers.org.
As you visit recommended places, what you notice first is appearance. Of course, cleanliness and tidiness are important, but expensive furnishings are not as essential as your sense of the staff’s warmth and expertise, and the engagement and happiness of the residents.
“The goal is to free yourself up as a caregiver and your loved one has to be happy for that to happen,” says Barr. It’s important to take your time to choose well and make sure everything lines up.