10 Things to Look for When Touring a Senior Living Facility

You probably wouldn’t buy a house sight unseen if you knew you would spend the majority of your golden years there. Similarly, don’t commit to a senior living facility until you’ve researched and toured several options and found the right fit for you or your loved one.

To help you narrow down your choices, here are 10 things to look for when touring a senior living community.

1. How Do You Feel When You Enter a Facility?

“The first thing to note is the feeling you get as soon as you walk in the door,” says Tina Sadarangani, an NYU professor who holds a doctorate in nursing science with a concentration in aging. She’s also a board-certified adult and geriatric nurse practitioner in New York City.

A sinking gut feeling is a red flag, she warns.

Ensure your loved one will be placed in a positive environment with staff and residents who look engaged and content.

[READ: What Is Assisted Living: Services, Levels of Care and Costs]

2. Are Common Areas Inviting?

Residents of senior living

facilities spend time in common areas almost as much as in their individual rooms. When these spaces are lively and welcoming, seniors feel more at home. Common areas in senior living facilities may feature:

— Outdoor patios and walkways

— Living room areas with inviting fireplaces and comfortable seating

— Areas to watch television

— Spaces to play music, games and participate in activities

Watch for whether residents are sitting and watching TV or if staff are able to lead them in activities that maximize their function and potential, Sadarangani suggests. Ask to speak with the activities director or view the activities calendar to determine if there are pastimes your loved one would enjoy.

[READ: Best At-Home Chair Exercises and Balance Exercises for Older Adults]

3. How Do the Resident Rooms Feel?

Resident rooms need some safety safeguards, such as:

— Non-slip flooring

— Grab bars in the bathrooms

— Raised toilet seats

Sadarangani adds that the resident rooms should feel like a bedroom, not like a hospital or institutional setting.

Ask if the facility furnishes the rooms or if you will be required to bring in any furniture, advises Stacey Eisenberg, senior care expert and owner of A Place At Home of North Austin in Texas. She also suggests asking about pricing differences between shared and private rooms.

[READ: Home Safety Checklist for Seniors]

4. Do Staff Appear Overworked?

Ask about staffing in the facility, including:

— How often do the physicians make their rounds?

— How many residents are assigned to each nurse? Nurses are responsible for administering medications, monitoring your loved one’s care plan and performing nursing care such as catheter changes, infusions and wound dressings.

— How many residents are assigned to each nursing assistant? Nursing assistants help with the majority of your loved one’s day-to-day activities, such as getting dressed, walking, eating and bathing.

— How often do therapy services meet with residents? This may include physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech-language therapy.

Sadarangani says to pay attention to whether the staff look overworked. Ideally, staff should be dispersed helping residents and not huddled around the nursing station.

5. Does the Dining Hall Feel Like a Restaurant or a Cafeteria?

A restaurant feel is important to make a senior living facility feel like home. A restaurant-feel includes:

— Natural or soft lighting

— Proper dishes rather than plastic silverware and plates

— A menu for residents to choose from, though options may be limited depending on their dietary restrictions or health conditions. Residents with chewing or swallowing difficulty or kidney failure, for example, may not have full menu access.

— A pleasant aroma that smells like appetizing food

All these elements are important to stimulate appetite, Sadarangani explains. Proper nutrition is the key to proper health, especially for older adults.

6. Is There Outdoor Space?

Outdoor spaces might include:

— Outdoor seating for mealtimes or for visiting and relaxing

— Pavilions

— Walking paths

— Gardens

Outdoor space is important to give the senior living facility more of a welcoming, community feel.

7. Have You Visited at Different Times of the Day and Made a Surprise Visit?

Ask for scheduled tours at different times of day, suggests Kate Granigan, a Boston-based licensed medical social worker, the board president of the Aging Life Care Association and CEO of LifeCare Advocates.

She adds that during the COVID pandemic, there were more restrictions on visiting hours, but this shouldn’t be the case at this time.

She also recommends an unscheduled visit, if you can. When pursuing this, Granigan suggests checking the general visiting hours, which are usually late morning until evening. This is to respect resident privacy during bedtime and morning routines.

“In an unscheduled scenario, be prepared you may need to wait for someone to be available to give you a tour,” she adds.

8. Do You Notice Signs of Elder Abuse or Mistreatment?

According to the World Health Organization, nearly one-third of nursing home staff members report emotionally abusing residents.

Even if the staff responds to you with respect, spending time observing their behavior may reveal occasional abusive interactions.

You may also observe slow responses to resident requests, another common complaint, says Dr. Gary Small, the chair of psychiatry at Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, New Jersey.

Some red flags, according to Small, include:

— Understaffing

— Residents who are socially isolated

— Poor food quality

— Unsanitary conditions

— Bedsores

Small explains that many nursing home residents suffer from dementia, a cognitive impairment that makes them dependent on others for care and can cause agitation and aggression. However, he says, “these individuals deserve humane, respectful treatment, which leads to more effective and greater quality of care.”

9. What Sounds Do You Hear Throughout the Facility?

Eisenberg suggests using your senses when on a tour of a senior living facility.

Pay attention to:

Resident activity: Do you hear residents chatting and laughing? Or are there sounds of yelling and distress from residents or staff?

Staff communication: Staff need to be communicating with residents and visitors in a welcoming and respectful tone.

Noise levels: “Some noise is expected, but excessive noise can be a red flag,” Eisenberg says. “A balance of quiet and activity is ideal.”

Announcements and alarms: Frequent alarms can be disruptive and stressful.

Music and entertainment: Soft background music and sounds of entertaining activities create an enjoyable and lively atmosphere.

10. What Smells Do You Notice Throughout the Facility?

Also pay attention to smells in the facility, Eisenberg advises.

This includes smells throughout:

Common areas: The facility should smell clean and fresh, Eisenberg says. Strong odors, such as chemicals, should not mask unpleasant smells. A fresh smell or a welcoming smell, like popcorn, is a green flag.

Dining areas: Do meals smell fresh and appetizing? Do you smell garbage?

Laundry areas: Does the facility do laundry on a consistent basis?

Pet areas: Is there a space for pets, such as a dog park? If the community allows pets, check that these areas are well-maintained and odor-free.

“Every part of the building should smell good,” Eisenberg adds.

The Bottom Line

Be sure to tour a senior living facility to ensure it’s the right environment for your loved one. Ask questions to various staff members to get perspectives on everyone who could come in contact with your loved one. Check online reviews and ratings for additional insights, and take your tour with those positives or potential negatives in mind.

More from U.S. News

11 Signs Your Aging Parent Needs Senior Care

The Best Gift Ideas for Nursing Home Residents

Pros and Cons of Assisted Living

10 Things to Look for When Touring a Senior Living Facility originally appeared on usnews.com

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