Facilities and Healthcare

Five Things to Consider When Selecting a Senior Living Facility

Elderly parents in a senior living communityFinding the perfect senior living facility for your aging parent requires critical judgment and patience. Based on my experience, there are five important criteria to consider before making a final decision. Prioritizing these areas based on your unique situation will aid decision-making. While trial and error is a great way to learn, I hope these tips from my personal experience will reduce time and stress. 

1. Make sure the senior living facility and its services meet your family’s needs 

Numerous facilities cater to seniors, and they vary significantly in quality. Over the years, I have toured several senior living facilities in my quest to find a suitable place for my mom. The facilities ranged from newly built facilities to converted apartment complexes, government-funded places, private boarding homes, and more. If you’re new to this process, check out this article: Where can I find a place for mom (or dad), and what are the options?

Facilities not meeting your loved one’s essential needs lead to family members having to pick up the slack or hire costly outside help. You may have good intentions when taking on specific responsibilities the facility lacks, but you may set yourself up for more than you bargained for. 

For example, providing support can become inconvenient and overwhelming if a facility has everything you need except adequate transportation. How will your loved one get back and forth to medical appointments or grocery shopping? You might be available initially, but what will happen if they start using a wheelchair or you’re out of town on business? A facility with chef-prepared meals may not be necessary if your loved one is able and prefers to cook their food. If entertainment is a must, facilities with daily social activities and a lively activity director are worth considering. 

You reduce your chances of switching facilities when selecting a facility that already offers everything you need. You can thank me later because moving is a drag! Choosing a facility based on what they plan to offer in the future is very risky. Management turnover is frequent, operations change, and some sales reps will overpromise just to get you to sign a lease. I liken some of these reps to used car salespeople – slick and fast-talking. 

2. Find a location that works for you (this could be close to your home or far)

Deciding where your loved one will live during the golden years of life involves a multifaceted approach. Together, you’ll want to consider the amenities of the location and discuss the things that accommodate your loved one’s lifestyle. For some, it may be near a beach, and for others, it may be within a bustling metropolitan city. 

Some of the newer and most luxurious senior facilities are located in remote locations and resemble resorts. My mother and I were swept away by a newly-built property outside Atlanta. However, after a long discussion, we realized the location was not ideal. It was more than 25 miles from my home and even further from her specialist physicians. Drug and grocery stores were not close to the facility either. When reflecting on my mother’s past medical situations, we agreed that a facility closer to me and critical resources were more important. 

You do not need to feel guilty if the ideal location for your mom or dad is quite a distance from where you live. It could be best for you to be in separate cities or states. If your loved one is adamant about living in a particular location, you may not be willing or able to uproot physically. To increase your peace of mind, establish good communication with the facility staff you can regularly contact to get updates on your loved one. If you have other family members who live in the area, ask them to visit your parent(s) often. These help you keep a pulse on your loved one, putting you at ease.

3. Evaluate staff and operations carefully 

I cannot stress enough how vital it is to evaluate a facility’s management and operations. The people running the facility determine the community’s quality of life and how happy and comfortable your loved one will be. Staff includes management, nursing, housekeeping, maintenance, dining, and others. 

Based on my experience, stable and trustworthy management is hard to find. Facility directors are under pressure to increase occupancy, keep costs low, and retain qualified staff while attempting to live up to the hype in their brochures. Go beyond the sales rep and have a few conversations with the facility director. Ask questions and send emails to gauge their responsiveness and concern for residents.

While touring each facility, you also want to observe how management speaks to staff members. It helps you to detect unhealthy tension or disrespect. I’ve seen environments where everyone acts like a family and others where there is noticeable tension between management and staff. If you identify this behavior, it is safe to assume that your family member will be subjected to this on a weekly basis, which may be uncomfortable.

While you’re touring the facility, be sure to greet and strike up casual conversations with staff members in the halls and on elevators to gauge the sincerity of their friendliness. Disgruntled and non-talkative staff are not likely to interact pleasantly with your family member. 

Ask the same questions repeatedly and look for inconsistent responses. Dramatically different responses from management and staff are a serious red flag. Some individuals are probably telling the truth, but you won’t be able to tell who they are. 

Be mindful of the cleanliness level and areas that need repair throughout the facility. Visiting later lets you know how well the facility is maintained. If necessary, contact regional directors or operations at the corporate office and ask questions as well.

 Finding a facility that feels like home is a big decision for you and your loved one. Do whatever it takes for you to gain peace of mind, unapologetically. 


4. Pre-calculate your affordable price range 

Being realistic about what you can afford turns a wide range of options into a short list of facilities that financially work for you. Prices in the United States are $3,000 -$7,000 per month for assisted living facilities. Skilled nursing and memory care facilities are even higher. There was a bit of sticker shock for me until I understood the trade-offs better.    

To determine affordability, compare the costs you are currently paying to the cost of the facility. Most facilities offer a flat rate inclusive of room, board, utilities, transportation, and possibly other amenities. Take into consideration that costs associated with home maintenance, home insurance, transportation expenses, major groceries, and monthly utilities no longer apply. When you do the math, you may find that the cost of a facility is just slightly more than what your loved one is currently paying living in their home. If your family member requires oversight, the peace of mind from knowing that they are never alone is priceless. 

Financial assistance is available based on certain financial needs. Most facilities will make you aware of the programs that are out there. 

5. Observe residents and family interactions 

In addition to having a watchful eye on the facility’s employees, be equally vigilant when it comes to the residents and their visiting family members. How the residents behave and how well they appear to be taken care of play a part in finding a place that feels like home. 

The social interaction your loved one needs to feel comfortable is essential. Even the nicest facilities may not be a good fit if the residents are not compatible. I recall taking my mother to a smaller facility with a mix of independent, assisted, and memory care residents. After a few months, we learned that most residents had dementia and other cognitive impairments. With very few residents to converse with, she became bored and lonely, leading to us breaking her lease. I felt that the sales representative was not 100% truthful about the breakdown of the status of residents. In hindsight, I should have asked for the actual number of residents in independent, assisted, and memory care.  

Seeing lots of visitors lets you know that the residents have concerned family members. Attentive family members help to keep facilities on their toes. Which I find to be a good thing, given the disturbing cases of elderly abuse and neglect that are reported. Be a little nosey and ask family members how they feel about the facility. Getting the scoop directly from someone in your shoes is invaluable. Your parent is more likely to get better care when they know family members are concerned. Based on my experience, this also applies when it comes to medical care. I go into detail about this in Managing Healthcare of Your Elderly Parent.

Proper due diligence can alleviate a lot of time and stress. While you may want to rush the process so that you can “move on with your life,” acting in haste and believing the hype could be disastrous. Naturally, you want to believe that the website pictures portraying seniors sitting by the pool smiling from ear to ear, living their best lives, are an everyday occurrence. The best that you can do is make an informed decision and hope for the best. 

Enjoy the journey.