When you or your loved one are ready to begin looking at assisted living communities, the process can feel overwhelming at first. Trying to choose a community means knowing the questions to ask and observations to make so you won’t overlook any detail that could be important in the decision-making process.
When considering senior living communities, the first step is to determine what services and support are needed to keep your loved one healthy, happy, and safe now and in the future. Next, you can begin searching for assisted living communities in your area to add to your “to-tour” list.
Begin by looking for Arbor Company communities near you, as well as asking your healthcare provider which assisted living communities they recommend. Next, if you have friends or family members who have experience with a local assisted living community, ask them about their experience and recommendations. Finally, you can enlist the assistance of your local Area Agency on Aging.
When Is It Time for Assisted Living?
Before you can begin looking for the right assisted living community, you need to determine if assisted living is the best option for you or your loved one right now. Assisted living communities are designed to offer around-the-clock personalized support from caregivers in an environment that promotes socialization and wellness.
Some seniors move to assisted living or other senior care communities because they need some assistance with activities of daily living. Below are some additional red flags that could indicate that assisted living is the best next step for your loved one.
Worsening Medical Problems or Chronic Health Conditions
Older adults living with chronic pain or progressive health conditions can find the assistance they need in a senior living community. Caregivers are there to offer support with tasks like bathing, dressing, and medication management. Further, nursing team members can assist with communicating with physicians and following up with any new treatment plans.
Feelings of loneliness and isolation can have serious physical and mental health consequences for older adults, including an increased risk for depression and anxiety, more rapid cognitive decline, and even premature death. Even the most active senior can still feel the effects of a shrinking social circle and end up feeling lonely or isolated. Fortunately, assisted living communities are designed to increase peer-to-peer connections, which decrease feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Inability To Keep Up With Household Chores
If your loved one is skipping chores such as tidying up, dusting, or vacuuming, it could indicate the tasks are simply too difficult for them to do. This can lead to an unsafe living environment. In an assisted living community, residents live a maintenance-free lifestyle that includes regular housekeeping visits.
Seniors who are not thriving at home can often struggle with activities of daily living, including showering, bathing, and grooming tasks. If your loved one is wearing the same clothes from day to day, missing showers, or looking unkempt, it could be time to get support from an assisted living community.
Keeping up with monthly bills, a household budget, and other financial responsibilities can become more difficult in the face of cognitive decline or decreased energy due to a chronic health condition. If your loved one is falling behind on their financial responsibilities, or if they have fallen victim to a financial scam, it could be time to look into senior living. Family members might not always realize financial troubles until it is too late, so be sure you are paying attention to your loved one’s bills and budget.
How To Choose an Assisted Living Community
There are a lot of factors associated with choosing the right assisted living community for you or your loved one. For example, you’ll want to ensure that any assisted living community you are looking at is licensed and in good standing with the state that regulates them. You’ll also want to ask about personal property insurance, medical emergency protocols, and visitation policies.
You can generally look at two major categories of questions or observations: health and safety, and quality of life.
Health and Safety Considerations
In many cases, older adults move to senior living communities for the extra assistance that can contribute to better health and safety. Assisted living communities are staffed by caregivers who are available to offer support and encouragement throughout the day and night, including during emergencies such as falls or medical events. This often gives residents and their family members peace of mind.
However, there are other health considerations to think about when touring or researching assisted living communities.
Diet and Nutrition
It is common for older adults to struggle with planning, prepping, and eating a healthy diet at home alone. Assisted living communities offer robust dining programs for residents that include three meals a day served in a social dining room setting.
Check to see if the communities you are looking at can support your loved one’s preferred and prescribed diet, including any allergies they may have. Look at the community menu to ensure there are multiple choices per meal and that the food is delicious and nutritious.
Assisted living communities offer support with activities of daily living. Double-check that the communities you are looking at will be able to offer personalized assistance that your loved one needs, including any medication management or chronic disease support they may require.
Though assisted living residents can drive, most choose not to and instead use their community’s transportation program to get from point A to point B. Look to see if the community offers transportation to and from local grocery stores, banks, and medical offices.
Medication and Healthcare Needs
Assisted living communities can offer assistance with medication and certain healthcare services that are not considered skilled. You can ask communities you are looking at what their medication management program entails, including if residents keep medications in their homes or if they are kept in a centralized location. It’s also wise to see who coordinates refills (the community or the family?) and if the community requires residents to use a specific pharmacy.
Finally, determine if the communities you are looking at offer on-site physical, occupational, and speech therapy. This can come in handy if your loved one struggles with balance, gait, or mobility.
Quality of Life and Happiness Considerations
Assisted living communities offer more than caregiver assistance and nursing oversight. Many seniors move to an assisted living community to pursue social well-being and overall happiness. Here are a few ways to gauge those factors while touring communities near you.
Just as when you look for a single-family home, location matters. In fact, the location of the assisted living community you choose may matter even more than in a typical house hunt. When finding an ideal location for an assisted living community, consider how close it is to family members and friends. Is a 30-minute drive going to deter a family visit, or is 50 miles too far for a family member to quickly get to the assisted living community in case of an emergency? These are important questions to ask yourself when picking where your assisted living community should be.
Beyond proximity to family members and friends, consider how close the assisted living community is to your or your senior loved one’s hospital of choice or other medical providers. An emergency call to 911 can end up taking you or your loved one to a new hospital if the assisted living community is not in the general vicinity of the hospital of choice.
A community’s culture is important to many potential residents. For example, you might want to find a community that is affiliated with a specific religion, language, or educational institution. Some residents want to live among others with a shared bond, such as veterans or a specific ethnic group.
Recreation and Social Life
Life enrichment is a key department in many senior living communities. These team members spend their days planning events, programs, and excursions that will give residents the chance to connect, pursue a favorite hobby, or learn something new. Ask to see a copy of the program calendar at each community you tour to see if events are offered daily and if events are diverse and interesting.
Family members are often invited to community events, so be sure to look at that as well. This is also a good time to ask about any pet-friendly accommodations that the community may have if that is important for your loved one.
Questions to Ask an Assisted Living Community
Researching senior living communities means knowing what to observe and what questions to ask. Asking the right questions can give you insight into how the community operates and if it will be a good fit for your loved one.
Here are a few examples of questions to ask during your research process:
- What floor plans are available, and what homes are available now?
- Do homes feature kitchens or kitchenettes?
- Do homes feature accessible and private bathrooms?
- Do you offer transportation services? Where does the bus go, and how often?
- What types of programs and events are offered, and when?
- Do residents have the chance to suggest new program ideas?
- Is there specialized care available for residents with cognitive decline?
- Does each resident have a personalized care plan? Who is involved in writing it?
- When can I come for a visit? Can we entertain large groups of family here?
- Are there additional services available if needs change? What is the cost?
- What training and experience do the team members have?
Assisted Living Contracts and Finances
Be sure to speak candidly about finances and budget as you make your assisted living choice. Here are a few questions you might consider asking during your touring and research phase:
- Does your contract include all accommodations, personal care services, healthcare services, and other support?
- When can a contract be terminated? What is the refund policy?
- What are the additional costs if my loved one needs additional support?
- How can I offset monthly costs?
- What are your billing, payment, and credit policies?
- Do residents handle their finances independently, or can a family member assist?
Assisted Living Staff
Caregivers and other team members will quickly get to know your loved one and become a part of their extended family. It’s important to find a community that employs dedicated team members and offers them ongoing education in senior care best practices. Here are some questions to ask as you determine which community is best for you:
- Are staff members personable, caring, and outgoing?
- Do staff members greet residents by their first names and interact genuinely with them?
- Are staff members available to meet scheduled and unscheduled needs?
- Are staff members available to assist residents with cognitive challenges?
Other Factors to Consider
Beyond health, safety, staff, and quality of life, you can also consider the community itself. Be sure to choose a community that is accessible and welcoming and that will be a home your loved one will be proud to live in.
Assisted Living Community Design
Senior living communities are designed to meet the needs of the residents who live there. Here are a few observations to make when touring:
- Is the community welcoming and beautiful? Does it feel like home?
- Is the campus easy to navigate?
- Are doorways, hallways, and homes accessible to wheelchairs, walkers, and other mobility aids?
- Are there handrails available throughout hallways and apartments?
- Is there plenty of natural and artificial lighting in the community and homes?
- Is the residence clean?
Features of Individual Homes
In addition to looking at the community at large, you will also want to look at the individual homes.
- Is the kitchen accessible? Are the shelves and cabinets easy to reach?
- Are there multiple floor plans available?
- Do homes feature lockable doors?
- Is there a 24-hour emergency response system in the home?
- Can residents bring furniture and decorations?
- Do homes have hookups for telephone and cable? Are these fees included?
- Can residents smoke in their homes?
- Can residents bring pets?
- Can spouses move into the same home together even if they have different needs?
- Do kitchens come with a refrigerator? Microwave? Stove?
- Is the home easy to navigate? Is there plenty of room to move about with a mobility aid?
- Is there a call button to press in case help is required?
- What safety features are included for assisted living residents?
Group Spaces and Amenities
Assisted living communities offer much more than just delicious meals, friendly neighbors, and extra assistance. Exceptional communities feature amenities that will impress even the most staunch critic. Discover which amenities are most interesting when touring communities in your ideal location range.
- Are there engaging activities and trips planned regularly?
- Is weekly housekeeping complimentary?
- Are there on-site doctor office hours or medical screenings available?
- Is there a partnership with a local community college for continuing education opportunities?
Don’t Go At It Alone
Finding an assisted living community doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Now, you have a list of questions and observations to make that will help you make a confident decision. Looking for more information from our experts? Download our guide, “Finding a Safe and Comfortable Senior Living Community.”