Steps for Choosing the Right Senior Living Facility

Moving an elderly parent or other loved one into a senior living center is a major event in anyone’s life. Emotions are often high, arguments among older children and the loved one may be heated and the decisions that need to be made can be overwhelming.

The best way to ensure for a smooth transition, experts say, is to start the process early, before a crisis forces action. It also helps to have a plan. Here are five steps you can take now to find the right place for your loved one, if and when the time comes for them to move.

[See: 8 Questions to Ask When Selecting an Assisted Living Facility]

Understand the Different Options

According to the National Institute on Aging, long-term care residences include:

Assisted living facilities.

— Nursing homes.

— Board and care homes.

— Continuing care retirement communities.

The main difference among these is in the level of care each can provide. Assisted living facilities, the NIA says, can provide some help with daily living requirements, such as cleaning, cooking, medication management and transportation. This is suitable for those adults who are still able to take good care of themselves but need the occasional help with some daily activities.

Nursing homes, also known as skilled nursing facilities, are licensed to offer a higher level of daily care, including medical care such as:

— Nursing care.

— Rehabilitation services, such as physical, occupational and speech therapy.

— Aid getting dressed or in and out of bed.

— Frequent or daily medical management for chronic conditions.

— Memory care for patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.

Board and care homes are small assisted living homes of 20 or fewer residents living in private or shared rooms. Continuing care retirement communities comprise multiple levels of service — independent housing, assisted living and a skilled nursing facility — all on one campus. Residents can move into higher care as their needs change.

Choose the Best Option

Which facility is best for you or your senior? Experts in elder care measure each individual according to his or her ability to perform Activities of Daily Living. lists the following ADL:

Medication management. Assisted living facilities can help manage medication, but usually at an additional charge. Nursing homes generally manage all medications.

Eating. Most assisted living residents can do so easily. Nursing homes provide more help when necessary.

Personal hygiene. Assisted living facilities can help with showering and grooming, generally at an added cost. Nursing homes provide more hygiene help as basic care.

Continence. Assisted living facilities charge for assistance with toileting. Nursing homes assist most residents with using the restroom.

Mobility. Assisted living residents typically can get around easily, even if a cane or walker is needed. Nursing homes provide more constant help with moving around.

The elder loved one’s physicians can help determine the level of care needed. And the facility will also examine the prospective resident to ensure it can meet his or her needs.

[READ: Assisted Living Checklist.]

Select Facilities to Visit

AARP recommends using the following sources of information to find facilities in your region:

Your local or state agency on aging. These agencies can tell you if your state has a searchable database of assisted living facilities. To find your nearest aging agency, use the federal government’s Eldercare Locator website or call 1-800-677-1116.

LeadingAge. An association of aging-related organizations, LeadingAge has an online Aging Services Directory to search for facilities in your area.

Argentum. A trade association for senior living communities, Argentum also has an online directory to search by ZIP code.

Word of mouth. Relatives, friends, neighbors and your loved one’s doctors are also good sources of information.

U.S. News also offers details of services and patient and family reviews to help you find the best assisted living choice for your loved one.

Don’t choose based solely on location, suggests Dr. Nora O’Brien, executive director of Willow Gardens Memory Care and Willow Towers Assisted Living at United Hebrew in New Rochelle, New York. “The closest facility is not necessarily the best one. I’d rather drive 10 minutes farther to a better facility,” she says.

Make Your Visit

During the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person visits are not allowed. But most facilities offer virtual visits over Zoom or another videoconferencing application. You can get a good sense of the facility, AARP says, if you make note of the following:

— Is it clean?

— Are there comfortable common areas, such as dens and living rooms?

— Is the floor plan easy for a senior to follow?

— Are the rooms large enough for your loved one?

— Are their safety handrails, call buttons and safety locks on doors and windows?

— Are the hallways and stairways well lit, the exits well-marked and security and fire safety systems clearly in place?

If you are able to, observe how the staff treats residents and each other. “That’s a real indicative factor in how the facility runs,” says Howard S. Krooks, an elder law attorney practicing in Florida and New York and past president of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.

You should also trust your instincts, O’Brien says. Does the facility “feel” right? Ask yourself, “Will my loved one be happy here, and will their quality of life be improved?” she says. Similarly, if you tour the facility “and you can’t get out of there fast enough,” trust in the process of elimination, Krooks adds.

[READ: What Is Assisted Living?]

Check the Fine Print

Get, in writing, a clear list of what services are provided, what costs extra, how billing and payments are managed, and any other detail that impacts your decision. Also verify that the facility is up to date with its state licensing and whether there have been any reported violations or fines in recent audits. Any facility that fails to provide that information should be avoided.

More from U.S. News

9 Rewards of Caregiving

Types of Rooms in Assisted Living Communities

How Assisted Living Improves Quality of Life

Steps for Choosing the Right Senior Living Facility originally appeared on

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