The Arbor Company Senior Living Blog

5 Mistakes People Make When Looking for an Assisted Living Community

Jan 26, 2016 1:00:00 PM / Shirley Paulk Shirley Paulk


Choosing an assisted living community is one of the most critical decisions a family can make, given that the wrong choice could have far-reaching ramifications for your parent or other elderly loved one. In this blog post we try to shed a little light on some of the pitfalls families fall into when looking for senior living and provide some resources for families who are concerned with making the best possible choice. 

Not Planning Ahead

One of the biggest mistakes a family can make is not planning ahead. Although your parents may be hesitant to talk about moving, you should still try to have a conversation about their future needs well before a medical crisis necessitates a hasty decision. Otherwise, chances are good you will take the first assisted living option that comes up, which may not be the best choice for your mom or dad. You are more likely to be successful if you carefully and thoughtfully explore three or four options. And it would be ideal if your mom or dad tried a temporary visit with one or more residences to really get a feel for the various communities.

Although it can be very difficult to consider, planning ahead before the need becomes acute will make it possible for your parent or loved one to transition comfortably to a place that is sure to be the right fit. Much as you would visit and tour an apartment complex, new home, or university before choosing to become part of its community, assisted living is, at best, a choice that your family considers thoughtfully and not under duress.

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Not Visiting the Community Enough

Another common error is to assume that touring an assisted living community once is enough. It’s far better to visit the community multiple times and at different times of the day. Think about dropping in during a meal time, for instance, and checking out the food firsthand. Also pop by during a recreational activity as this allows you to watch residents socializing with one another and to participate in a representative example of the kind of engagement opportunities your parent will have access to.

During your visits, ask yourself whether residents appear happy and comfortable. Observe how staff members interact with residents. Are they friendly, respectful and engaged, or are they curt, impatient and bored? As well, take careful note of the physical environment. How is the lighting? Is the community clean and odor-free? Does  it have a homey feel?

A final tip: Ask another relative or close friend to tour the premises as well -- you can benefit by hearing their impressions.

Not Digging Deeply Enough

Although there’s nothing wrong with designer landscape and a grand front lobby, finding assisted living requires more than picking the most luxurious-looking option. Remember: Fancy features are just icing on the cake; what’s really important (the cake, if you will) is that your loved one receives the highest quality care possible.

For instance, If your mom needs support with dressing, bathing or and toileting, 24-hour access to excellent personal care assistance is far more important than the pretty gazebo you see from the  parking lot. Likewise, a high patient-staff ratio is probably more meaningful than that stunning Persian carpet in a community living room. By all means, don’t rule out luxury communities if they are in your budget; indeed, many communities offer these in addition to high-quality, responsive care. But be sure to look closely enough that you can be sure you are choosing a community that combines luxury and comfort with a quality of care that will truly give you and your family peace of mind.

Not Being Realistic About the Care Needed

Although you probably want your mother or father to have as much independence as possible, don’t choose freedom over adequate health care. Take an honest look at their health needs now, and try to anticipate what lies down the road. It’s crucial to find a community that can provide them with the support they really need and can deliver a higher level of care as they age.

In particular, if your parent shows cognitive decline, check whether the residence has a memory care wing or a bridge program that will allow eventual transition into more specialized care. And keep in mind that moving a senior from one residence to another can be stressful, especially so if they have dementia. If your parent or loved one has already been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, it will be very important to make sure they are provided with specialized memory care by experts who understand the unique needs that come with cognitive decline of this type.

Not Being Clear About Costs

Some families have been caught off guard by unexpected fees or price increases that should have been no surprise--had they scrupulously read the assisted living’s contract, that is. When meeting with a senior living provider or care counselor, at minimum ask for copies of the community's resident agreement that outlines services, prices, extra charges, move-in and move-out criteria, staffing, and house rules. After carefully reading the document, review it with family members, making note of anything you or they don’t understand. If the community can’t answer your questions, consider reviewing the contract with a lawyer.

We can’t emphasize enough the importance of being crystal clear about the services that are included in the basic fee. If the fee only covers room and board, find out the individual cost for services, such as housekeeping and laundry, personal care assistance, transportation, and telephone, cable TV and Internet services. Make sure to ask about annual increases, and whether the fees go up when someone’s level-of-care needs change.

Understanding the costs in light of a  realistic evaluation of the budget you and your family can afford is critical in ensuring that you are providing your parent or loved one with an opportunity for consistent, long-term care. Know what options you have for financing assisted living so that you can make a decision with confidence for the long term.

We hope we’ve offered some insights on what to avoid when hunting for senior living options. What other pitfalls have you seen in your search for assisted living? Leave a comment below and let us know!

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Topics: Assisted living

Shirley Paulk

Shirley Paulk

Shirley has more than 25 of years experience in health care, including long term care facility administration. Prior to joining The Arbor Company more than ten years ago, she served in key marketing positions for national rehabilitation services and senior living companies.

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