So the time has come for you or a loved one to make a move out of home and into a senior living facility. That’s a big life changing step, and one not to be taken lightly. There are lots of factors to consider, from the practical (how much will it cost?) to the social (what activities do they offer?). It can be a little overwhelming to sort and compare all the various options out there when you start touring places. While each person has different needs, preferences, wish-lists and budgets, there are some basic factors that everyone should consider.
Here are ten steps for evaluating a senior living facility to help you narrow down the options and make a good decision for your or your loved one.
1. Location, Location, Location
Like with any real estate decision, location is a key factor in determining if you or your loved one wants to live there. Maybe you want a facility close to friends or relatives. Perhaps you want something within walking distance to shops or a park. Some might prefer to be in the vicinity of familiar doctors. Whatever is most convenient and important to you should be a top deciding factor in whether a particular senior living facility should make the short list.
2. Give it the White Glove Inspection
Cleaning, maintenance and hygiene standards at senior communities vary greatly, so you’ll want to look around carefully to see if the place meets your with approval. You don’t have to take out a literal white glove and stroke around the window sills, but keep your eyes – and noses – peeled for any excessive dirt, dust, grime or funky smells. These facilities require constant repairs and housekeeping, so if you don’t see a staff member cleaning or maintaining something during your tour, that could be a bad sign. Just because the model apartment is spotless, don’t assume the rest of the community is the same. Peak into the kitchen and back rooms and keep a look out for red flags.
3. Meet the Staff
More than ambience or amenities, it’s the staff that make or break a place. The receptionist and sales director will probably be your first points of contact, but see if you can meet other key personnel like the executive director or registered nurse. Meet with several care associates if you can, and notice how they engage with the other residents. Do they seem patient? Are they friendly? Do they actively listen to them, or are they aloof or dismissive? Is there sufficient staff on hand to meet the workload, or does the place seem short-handed? Find out about the night shift staff, too.
4. Tour the Space, Inside and Out
You’ll want to do a thorough inspection of the individual units, common areas and grounds of each senior living facility you are considering. Does it seem clean? Do the walls need painting or the carpet need replacing? Check the the plumbing, does it work well? Can you independently adjust the temperature in your unit? Check the views out the window to see if you’ll be happy with that. Do you see gardens or a parking lot? Will the community fix things that need to be repaired? Get a feel for the common areas. Do they seem warm and comfortable, or will you feel like a visitor? Figure out if you prefer a small, cozy environment, or would you rather a large, lively place with lots of activities? After you’ve seen the inside, stroll around the outside campus too. Are there areas with places to sit in the sun or go for a walk? Are these outside areas safe and secure? Are they filled with smokers or staff on a break? Think about how the environment will be in all seasons.
5. Break Bread
Food is of the highest priority when evaluating a senior living facility. You want to look forward to meals, not dread them. Ideally, the community will allow prospective residents to have a meal or two in the dining room so you can taste for yourself rather than rely on brochure descriptions. Meals should be nutritious and appealing, and should cater to a range of dietary requirements and tastes. Make sure the wait staff seems congenial, and are willing to honor special requests. Do they know the residents by name? Ask about dining hours and room service options, and see if there is an onsite cafe offering snacks and beverages too.
6. Safety and Security
Senior living communities should have controlled access, with a staffed front desk during the day and locked doors with key card access at night. Visitors should be welcome, but not free to roam without signing in and out. Find out what security procedures are in place and how strictly they are enforced. Make sure that bathrooms are accessible and have safety grab bars in strategic places. See if there are emergency call buttons at easy access. Evaluate hallways to ensure they are wide enough for wheelchairs and walkers.
7. Chat With the Residents
Talking with people who live there is the best way to get the real story behind the sales pitch. And don’t just chat with somebody the staff sets you up with. They are no doubt a resident evangelist who has nothing but good things to say about the place. Find other residents and their families to chat with, and ask them about the pros and cons. Don’t necessarily cross a place off your list because one or two people had something negative to say about it, but if there’s a consensus of negativity from multiple sources, take that as a bad sign.
8. Understand the Services, Amenities and Activities
Make sure you understand what each facility offers in terms of services, amenities and activities. These vary greatly from place to place, from those that provide nursing care and assisted living custodial care, to those that are more for independent retiree living. Is there a memory care service on site, should you need it at some point? Do the staff help coordinate medical care if you fall ill? Do the various social, recreational or fitness activities on offer appeal to you? Do enough other people show up for them? Are pets allowed? Are there scheduled outings, or transportation to appointments, shopping and concerts?
9. Get the Full Lowdown on Costs
Hopefully you have some idea of the price range before taking a tour of the community. Note, Medicare does not cover assisted living facilities, but in some cases Medicaid can pitch in if you demonstrate financial need. You want to understand all the bottom line expenses, optional service charges and potential cost increases down the road before moving in – no hidden surprises. The last thing you want to do is move in, then have to move out a year or two later because of a misunderstanding of costs. Make sure you understand how much notice you need to give before leaving.
10. Have a Sleepover
Some senior facilities will allow you to spend a night or two in a model apartment to fully evaluate the experience. There may be a small charge for this, but it is an invaluable opportunity to really try the place on for size. It’s in everyone’s best interest that you make the right decision, so don’t act like a visitor on vacation. Dig in like you live there, trying out different activities, meals, chatting with staff and residents. This is the time to check your gut if the community feels like home or not.