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Top 3 Considerations When Searching for an Assisted Living Facility

If you’re a caregiver for a parent, relative, or friend for whom it’s time to transition to assisted living, you’re likely in the process of researching care facilities. It may seem like a world of new and overwhelming information, but, ultimately, choosing a senior care community comes down to the care your loved one will receive and the level of comfort he or she experiences day to day.

To get you started on this list of questions to ask and factors to ponder as you research, tour, and choose a senior care community, here are three major considerations you should reflect on prior to committing.

1. Current & Future Needs

Your parent or loved one has a unique profile of needs, so a good starting place is knowing what kind of care he or she needs today and may need in the next year as well as an idea of what kinds of tasks they will need help with in the long-term. Having a handle on current and future needs can help you pick a care facility that will suit your loved one years down the road and prevent them having to move again when their needs become more complex.

Start by researching a given facility’s continuum of care, which is the levels of care offered. If a care community follows a defined continuum of care or a spectrum of some kind, it’s a good sign that it understands that needs change over time and that it knows how to care for seniors of various ages and abilities.

When touring a facility, be sure to ask if there are plans in place for transitioning seniors to additional levels of care and the details of what those plans looks like. It’s also important to remember some health conditions require an extra level of care and therefore a different kind of facility, such as a specialized memory care facility.

When viewing a private room or suite, try to evaluate whether this room will suit your loved one’s needs in one month, six months, and one year from now. It’s key both the community and the private room itself are designed in such a way that your loved one can “age in place” as they move through the continuum.

2. Location, Environment, & Atmosphere

You’ve heard the real estate cliché “location, location, location,” and it applies to senior care communities as much as it does houses and businesses!

In terms of the building’s location, it is of course desirable to have your parent or relative live near you or other relatives/friends, but don’t let a facility’s proximity to home over-influence your decision to the point you select a sub-par community due to its nearness to your home. Once you identify a few high-quality communities in the area, choose the one that’s within a suitable driving distance.

Next, thoroughly review the facility’s interiors and common areas. Take stock of your first impressions and check in with your senior to learn his or her gut instincts about a place—and trust those instincts. It’s imperative a resident is comfortable with a facility’s energy and atmosphere on a visceral level.

It’s also key to ensure the facility is properly accredited, accommodations (especially kitchens and restrooms) are clean and tidy, staff specialize or are at least trained in senior care, staff members are available 24/7 to assist residents, and interactions between staff and residents are positive. Each of these items indicates a community is high quality and demonstrates organizational care, compassion, and attention to detail.

Finally, as imperative as it is to find a community with common spaces that feel warm and comforting, it is even more crucial a person’s individual room or suite feels like home. Even the most social people can spend up to 70% of their time in his or her room.

Ask yourself: does the room feel comfy? Can your loved one personalize it with furniture, art, and personal items? Can they bring a beloved pet? Does the person want to live there, or do they feel cornered into making a choice? Can you imagine living here, if you were in your loved one’s shoes?

If the answer to one or more of these is “no,” really consider if the community is right for the resident and weigh these answers against other priorities.

3. Quality of Life

When it comes to living at a senior care community, the quality of life—the real moment-to-moment experience of living there—is paramount.

Quality of life in this context includes such concerns as food and nutrition, activities and socialization, exercise and wellness, opportunities for learning and growth, and religious or spiritual practice.

  • Food & Nutrition
    It may seem obvious but be sure to ask questions about meals and nutrition, especially if the person moving in has specific dietary needs.

    It’s a good idea to enjoy a meal in the cafeteria or dining room when touring a facility. This will give you insight into what meals are like on an average day and also allows you to observe interactions between staff and residents. Food should of course be relatively hearty and healthy, but it’s easy to overlook that it should genuinely taste good and be emotionally satisfying.

  • Activities & Socialization
    Most senior communities offer at least some structured daily activities, but the more the better!

    For example, each day, Regency Senior Communities offers a variety of activities ranging from guided stretching and tai chi to computer classes and walking clubs to bingo, bunco, and other favorite group games. No matter the scenario, just be sure there’s plenty of both structured and unstructured time for chatting and socializing.

  • Exercise & Wellness
    Ensuring a senior is getting enough daily movement—even if that just means walking around campus a few times a day—is important for both physical and mental health. Inquire if a senior community offers organized physical activities and what they are and be sure your parent or relative feels comfortable participating in them.

    Many communities offer a slate of activities designed for residents of varying activity and movement levels, so if a Zumba or dance class feel a little too intimidating, alternatives like Wii Bowling or seated arm exercises might be good options.

  • Learning & Growth
    Learning and growth are important no matter one’s age, background, or condition, so be sure there are ample opportunities to learn new knowledge and skills, such as classes, seminars, presentations, hands-on demonstrations and field trips that allow residents to explore the world outside their new home. Regency regularly offers cooking classes, computer classes, biking safety, gardening courses, cultural and historical lessons, virtual travel “tours,” and more.

  • Religion & Spirituality
    Few things are more personal than religion and spirituality, and the ability to practice, explore, and share in one’s spirituality is key to a happy and balanced life for many seniors.

    Fortunately, many communities offer onsite worship services, trips to places of worship, bible study programs, and/or opportunities to discuss spiritual matters with like-minded people. If your loved one is religious in some way, be sure they will have opportunities to connect with their spiritual side in a way that feels right to them.

There are many ways to evaluate a facility, and, of course, every person has a unique set of requirements and preferences.

The key to finding the best community for your needs is preparing and asking pointed questions specific to your loved one’s medical, dietary, social, psychological, and physical needs so you can be sure he or she is getting everything they need, every day.