What Is the Best Way to Research Assisted Living Facilities?

Your aging mom is finding it harder to do the laundry or cook dinner. Dad is more forgetful, and he really shouldn’t be raking the leaves out in the front yard anymore. The time is coming when your parents are going to need help with daily living. That means you need to start looking for the right place for them to live.

But if you’ve never done so before, you will find this to be a daunting task. There are different types of facilities to care for aging loved ones. They offer different services and accept different payment sources. How do you begin to research the right facility for your loved one — and for you? What questions should you ask? What are the important things to know?

It may seem overwhelming, but there are lots of resources to assist in your search.

[READ: What Is Assisted Living?]

Start Your Search Early

The most important thing to know, experts say, is that the sooner you begin the process, the better. Conducting research before you need to choose is crucial, “because you can really separate the good from the bad places when you dig,” says Anthony Cirillo, a health, aging and caregiving expert and president of The Aging Experience. “Too often, we are in a crisis situation so we have no time to evaluate and (have to) go on the words of others. That can be dangerous. That is why preparing for these situations sooner is important. If you see Mom or Dad starting to decline but they can still live fine on their own, that is the time to start looking.”

“No one ever wants to move during a crisis,” agrees Dr. Nora O’Brien, executive director of Willow Gardens Memory Care in New Rochelle, New York, an assisted living facility for those with memory impairment. “You want to pick the forever home for your loved one. Their health care needs can change through the rest of their years. If the loved on can age in place, that’s very important, because once you decide to make this move, you want to make sure you don’t have to make a different move again.”

[READ: Assisted Living Checklist.]

Make a List

According to AARP, the first step is to make a list of assisted living facilities in your area that you might want to visit. AARP recommends the following sources:

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 you 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.

Other organizations, such as A Place for Mom, can help “do the legwork to find what facility might be appropriate for you in your geographic location,” 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. However, Krooks warns, sometimes these organizations are paid by the facilities they recommend, so they may not be contracted with other facilities that might be worth visiting.

A geriatric care manager, who you can hire directly to help with your aging loved one’s needs, is another good source of information. “They will take you to facilities they are familiar with, and know the ones that meet special needs,” Krooks says, such as a memory care facility for someone with dementia.

Finally, an elder care attorney might be able to help, though Krooks thinks this should be as an adjunct to other legal services you might need, such as creating trusts, living wills and powers of attorney. Krooks explains: “I don’t know if you would reach out to an attorney specifically for placement, but if you had another reason to work with an attorney, many that I know are like me, they know facilities, so this could be an ancillary service they provide. It can be helpful, I’m just not so sure it works as a model to just call for placement.”

[See: How Assisted Living Improves Quality of Life.]

Questions to Ask

The AARP offers a free online Caregiving Checklist with basic questions to ask each facility, including:

— What types and sizes of units are available?

— Do units include kitchens or kitchenettes?

— Are the rooms and bathrooms private?

— Is special care available for residents with dementia or other health conditions?

— Does each resident have a personalized care plan, and is the person involved in writing it?

— Can you supply a contract that explains fees, services and admission and discharge policies?

— Are additional services available if a resident’s needs change?

The AARP warns that you will most likely be speaking with a marketing or sales rep first, who will be presenting the best possible view of the facility, so keep that in mind.

O’Brien adds a few more things to inquire about. “The first thing I recommend is to review the facility’s licensure and accreditation,” she says. Be sure it is licensed and, if needed, has enhanced special needs certification to provide specialized health care for complex conditions and dementia. Also, ask about staff tenure. High turnover is a red flag that the facility is poorly run, and it also means your loved one will be meeting new people constantly, which can be distressing. “Pay attention to see who tries to skate around it,” she says. “Most of our staff has been here for many years.”

Also find out if residents are able to actively participate in the things that affect their lives, such as what they get to eat and what activities are available. “Residents should still be able to make choices and be part of their own destiny,” O’Brien says. “The assisted living model was built on choice.” Finally, ask what makes this facility stand out. “Assisted living facilities have varying degrees of quality, so ask about awards they have won, recognition of quality, ratings,” she says. “I don’t care how beautiful the dining room is, I want excellent, quality care.”

More from U.S. News

9 Rewards of Caregiving

Types of Rooms in Assisted Living Communities

Decorating Tips for Assisted Living

What Is the Best Way to Research Assisted Living Facilities? originally appeared on usnews.com

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