Step 1: Determine the level of care needed
The three largest categories of senior living communities are independent living, assisted living, and residential care homes. Each is unique and caters to different needs.
Independent living options (also known as retirement living communities) are for those who can fully care for themselves, but prefer living in a community setting designed for those age 55+.
Assisted living facilities generally have 20-200 residents and are best suited for seniors who want to remain socially active, but need assistance with daily living activities, such as bathing, dressing, grooming, meals, medication, and/or housekeeping. Meals are typically prepared restaurant style by a chef. Most residents live in a private studio, one bedroom or two bedroom apartment.
Residential care homes (also known as adult family homes) generally have 4-6 residents and are best suited for seniors who would benefit from more individualized care or for those preferring to live in a home-like setting, instead of an assisted living facility. In these homes meals are home cooked and rooms are either shared or private.
Step 2: Create a senior living communities short list
This can be done through your own research or by using a free referral service that will provide you with a list of senior living communities that best match your loved one's needs.
If you live in a distant city, try to choose a senior living facility as close as possible to where your loved one currently lives. This will make the transition to a new home much smoother, as your loved one will still have familiarity with the area.
Step 3: Setting Up Tours
Once you have a list of senior living communities you'd like to explore, you can set up tours by contacting the facilities directly or, if you are using a referral service, they can set up the tours for you.
Many communities will offer you a lunch with your tour, which is great in that it gives you insight into the food that they serve their residents.
Step 4: Taking Tours
A facility may look beautiful from the outside, but that does not guarantee that maintenance and care will be top notch. A place that looks simple and plain from the outside could be one that provides the high level of care you are seeking.
Pay close attention to the details.
Are the carpets clean? Is the furniture clean and in good condition? If a facility doesn't care about upkeep of its interior space, it may be an unspoken indicator that its care for residents is less than ideal.
Staying active keeps people happy and healthy at any age. Pay attention to what activities are offered. Is there an exercise program? Are there activities that enable socializing?
Talk to residents
Ask them questions about living there, such as their opinion of the meals, housekeeping, care, and activities. Ask them what their favorite and least favorite thing is about the facility.
If you are provided with a lunch on your tour, again pay close attention to the detail. How are the residents treated? Are meals preset or are they given choices? How are the interactions between residents and staff?
Most states regulate senior living communities and check facilities for violations on a yearly basis. If there are any deficiencies found the facility is cited, fined, and must also provide a plan to correct the situation.
You can also ask the facility for its state report. Some facilities may not want to provide you with this report. If they are hesitant to provide this report to you, keep in mind it may be because of something they are trying to hide.
Do a search online for "(name of facility) reviews" and "(name of facility) ratings" to see what reviews and ratings exist online about the facility. You can also contact your local Better Business Bureau to see if anything negative has been reported about the facility.
Step 5: Taking Tours (Again)
Once you've toured the facilities you are considering, it's a good idea to go back unannounced to the facilities that you are still considering. This will provide you with insight into how the facility operates and how people act when they are not expecting a visit from a potential client. Try doing your unexpected visit on the weekend, when most administrative staff will not be there.
Step 6: Documents
Don't hesitate to ask detailed questions. Make sure you understand everything that you are signing. Ask to take home any contracts so that you can thoroughly read them.
Make sure you know if a lease is required or if it is month-to-month. If there is a lease, how long is it? Is a deposit required? If so, how much and is it refundable? Are there any move-in fees? Are phone, cable, internet, and utilities included or is there an extra charge for any of those items? Ask for a rate sheet so that you know exactly what is included in the monthly fee and what the additional charges may be. Another important question to ask when moving into a senior living community is what happens if your loved one's money runs out? Are residents forced to move out or are they allowed to stay with government aid covering their expenses?
Service Plan (also known as Scope of Service)
This is a legal document outlining the type of care that your loved one will receive, including details such as the frequency of bathing that the community will provide.
Step 7: Decision Time & Assessment
Once you've selected a home for your loved one, the next step will be for that senior living community to do an assessment. This is done so that the facility can determine the level of care that will be needed and an overall cost.
After cost is determined and you've thoroughly reviewed and signed the documents, all that's left is to move in!