All Assisted Living Communities Are Not Created Equal

There are two ways to look for a senior living community, aka assisted living. It can either be done while under extremely stressful conditions when your family member has been hospitalized for a major medical event or a functional decline, which often is characterized by a fall or inability to do basic activities of daily living, such as bathing or dressing. The second way to look for an assisted living community is in advance of an emergency in an exploratory sense.

Let’s look at it this way. Your mom or dad just had a heart attack, a stroke or has fallen and fractured their hip or pelvis. You are in total shock, because now they will have an extended hospital stay as well as a stint in a nursing and rehabilitation center. You are still in shock and are not only exhausted, but you absolutely don’t even know what you don’t know. Therefore, you are in charge of a situation that you are completely helpless in defining how to navigate through. If you had the conversation with your parents before, in a more thoughtful, quiet way, you may have already addressed many of the issues surrounding finances, selling the house, renting the house, moving to a senior living community and whether or not mom or dad wants to stay in the neighborhood; not to mention having a durable power of attorney and a living will in place. In an emergency, it often becomes an issue of making these decisions without your parents input.

Now, let’s talk about what you don’t know. There are five or six senior living communities in the neighborhood. They all look the same and have the same basic framework and they all have a State issued standard license. How does each community differentiate themselves?

Here are some things to look for when you visit each community:

• How many residents do they have?

• Do any of the communities have an add-on license, such as limited nursing, extended care, or limited mental health? There are certain regulations governing standard licensed assisted living communities and to provide certain medical services, they may need an LNS or ECC license which means that they will have a registered nurse on premises.

• How do you feel when you enter the community? Do you feel warm and fuzzy or does the environment feel institutional?

• Are there ample activities for physical and social stimulation?

• Is the building well-kept and clean?

• Is there variety in the food and is it served restaurant style?

• Ask what makes the community special and why it would be a good fit for your parent.

• Try the food.

• Did the staff welcome you? Did they take the time to learn about your parent, their likes and dislikes as well as their interests?

These are just a sampling of things you should be aware of in the early days of researching the best community for yourself or your parents. There are many more. If you work with a professional placement person, they are sometimes able to negotiate the monthly fee and act as a buffer between you and the community. They can also take the stress off of you and walk you through the process by eliminating unnecessary steps in what can quite often be a very daunting task of navigating through your newfound role as caregiver.