Choosing the right assisted living community for yourself or a loved one is one of the most important decisions you will make.
If you're looking for help, you'll find boundless resources on the internet — or you might ask a friend who has been through the process. You'll find some good advice on the subjects of choosing the right location, level of care, amenities, value — all the things you should be considering.
But what else is important? How can you be sure not to make the wrong choice, or just an acceptable choice, but to make the best possible choice? After all, you're not buying car insurance — you're deciding where and how to spend the next years of your life. And it is ultimately up to you to determine both the quality of the community and whether it meets your needs.
Let's find out what an assisted living insider has to say about it.
Peder Johnsen is CEO of Concordis Senior Living, a company that develops, owns and operates senior living communities. After taking everything else into consideration, Johnsen recommends that you do these three things to see if a home has a truly caring atmosphere and well-trained staff before making your final decision.
- Ask to see the home's state licensing survey, an assessment that usually includes inspections, audits, interviews with residents, etc.
Every state has an ALF licensing agency and all have some form of survey system for ensuring that certain standards of quality are met, according to the Assisted Living Federation of America. “Requirements vary from state to state about how often the surveys are conducted and how the public can access the reports, but no matter what state you live in, you should be able to ask the ALF for its most recent report, or obtain it from the licensing agency,” Johnsen said. The surveys will tell you if problems were found — or not — and what the ALF did to address them.
- Visit the community during non-business hours.
Go before breakfast or after dinner - times when the administrators aren't around. What's the atmosphere? How do employees behave with the residents? “That's a good time to talk to residents, too,” Johnsen said. “Be a “mystery shopper,” He suggests pretending you're just visiting the community — not scouting it out as a prospective customer.
- Ascertain how truly “homelike” the community is.
In your own home, if you don't feel like eating breakfast at 7:30 a.m., you don't have to. You can have breakfast at 10. You can get snacks when you want them. “Depending on what's important to your loved one, there are potentially many rules that can affect how 'at home' a person feels,” Johnsen said. “Some communities allow residents to have pets, others don't. Some provide lots of activities. At some, residents can quickly and easily arrange for transportation or a service like hair styling.”
Not every community can offer everything, he notes. That's why it's important to look for those features that are especially important to you and your loved one.