The following is Part 2 of our assisted living series:
How to evaluate senior assisted living options…
Placing a parent or other loved one into assisted living can be a tough, even painful decision. It’s a decision that you need to really think about. It’s definitely not a decision that you can afford to make in a hurry.
After all, it’s a matter of your parent’s life and happiness and you wouldn’t want to put that at stake by making a less than informed decision. So how can you ensure that you choose correctly and wisely when it comes to assisted living for someone you love and care for?
You can do that by properly evaluating the various senior assisted living options available for your loved one. A studied evaluation will help you choose the perfect assisted living facility to help ease the last few years of their life.
If many families are fearful of making the big decision of shifting a loved one to an assisted living facility, it’s probably out of fear of making a mistake. The physical and emotional impact of transitioning into assisted living can be very serious.
What are the different options available to you?
Independent Living: This is an option if your loved one can still take care of themselves. Their living space is an apartment equipped for senior living (for example, sit down showers, grab bars on the bathtub, etc…). They even have in-unit washing machines and full kitchens.
2 meals a day are provided in a dining room and there are plenty of activities for socialization. I know of some seniors who hire an aide to help them at certain points in the day. For my family, we found the aide option was not cost effective for the long term and it was very difficult to get qualified overnight aides.
Assisted Living: This is the option that my mother took. She has a small studio apartment, including a tiny kitchenette and living room. She needs help showering, dressing and cleaning up. Mom does her own medication management. Please note that there is an extra daily fee for those residents needing medication management.
The caregivers pop in for a visit frequently to check on her or to just say “hi”. She is provided with a special watch that she can press if she needs anything. Her little apartment also includes emergency buttons in 3-4 places around the apartment. They do have onsite activities and go out to lunch or a movie 3x a week. This past Sunday, they had a family brunch and it was lovely. I was glad to be in town for it!
In theory, assisted living is meant for seniors who are unable to physically take care of themselves. It is not meant to be a memory care facility. As often happens, residents of assisted living can begin to also show signs of dementia.
In my mother’s facility, there is also a memory care wing for these residents to transition to. This type of assisted living is for seniors that have Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia and require assistance around the clock.
What questions should you ask when evaluating assisted living communities?
- What is your staff-to-resident ratio?
- What kind of experience and training does your staff possess?
- How many staffers are on duty overnight?
- Can staff administer medications?
- Do you have a nurse on staff 24/7?
- Do you do an initial assessment prior to admission?
- Do you have any outdoor space?
- What are the activities like?
- Are your facilities equipped to handle a scooter.
- Do you have a full kitchen on site or do you bring the food in from somewhere else?
- How do you handle special diets (heart healthy, diabetic, kosher, etc…?
- What additional services are available if the needs of a resident change?
- Is there a doctor who is affiliated with the facility and how often do they come?
- Are all services/amenities included in the monthly fee? If not, what and how much are additional services? For example, bathing and medication management are a la carte services.
What else should you consider?
- During the tour, see if you can talk to a few residents to get an insider’s perspective
- If possible, take your loved one with you on the tour to make sure they feel comfortable.
- Visit a few different times of day to observe resident interaction. Even better would be to come during the activities time.
- Arrange to have a meal there with your loved one so you can evaluate the quality and nutrition.
- If applicable, see how much long term insurance will pay vs. paying 100% out of pocket. There are also companies that offer financing.
- Review assisted living payment options thoroughly.
What’s included in the monthly costs?
While location is an important factor in assisted living costs, there are several other considerations that can play a big role in the bottom line:
- Apartment Size: A 400-square-foot studio apartment will obviously cost less than a 1,200-square-foot two-bedroom in the same community. Would you like a furnished apartment or unfurnished?
- Level of Care Required: Not all assisted living residents require the same level of care. Those who need help with fewer aspects of daily life will often pay less than those who need extensive services.
- Additional Fees: Assisted living communities typically charge a non-refundable administrative fee upon move-in. This fee covers everything from getting the new resident enrolled in services to renovating his or her apartment.
How does assisted living compare to home care?
When comparing assisted living to home care, it’s important to remember how many expenses are included in the price. Assisted living fees replace typical expenses associated with living at home, including:
- Mortgage or rent: Current homeowners will additionally eliminate property tax and insurance expenses by moving to assisted living.
- Utilities: Assisted living fees generally cover all utilities outside of phone and cable, including garbage/water/sewer, heat and air-conditioning, and electricity.
- Maintenance: Not only will you not be on the hook for emergency repairs, you’ll no longer have to hire out yard work or housekeeping services. Many assisted living facilities even offer linen service and help with laundry.
- Meals: Food is a major-line item in most people’s budgets, accounting for up to a third of total monthly expenditures. Two or three hot meals per day are included in most assisted living plans.
- Household assistance or personal care: At $10-25+ per hour, hiring this type of help can add up quickly. At-home medical care can cost even more.
My Advice: Plan Ahead…
To begin with, you need to be sure that the facility you’re choosing is fully-equipped to handle not only the present needs of your loved ones but also their expected future needs. A common mistake that people generally make while choosing a senior assisted living facility is that they only look at the present needs of the elderly. It would be criminal to have to shift your loved ones to another facility in a few years, just when they’ve comfortably settled into the present facility.
With a little bit of forethought and farsightedness, you can avoid making this mistake which can cost you heavily in the long run. However, while thinking ahead, remember not to forget that today’s parents aren’t the same as yesterday’s parents and your parents belong to the latter category. So while choosing the facility for them, look for a place that is built for them and their future needs and not what you would want a community for yourself.
Choose care over luxury
Among the various assisted living options, there’ll be some that will, on the face of it, be high-end. But keep in mind, the costly and luxurious kind of facilities may not necessarily be ideal for your parents in terms of care and environment. A facility that’s lavish but can’t provide adequate care for your parents is clearly not a good fit.
Nor can you really gauge the quality and level of a facility’s care and service in a short visit or two. Instinct and intuition are the keys to assessing this aspect of an assisted living facility. Some facilities also offer a free trial, which can help you make a more informed decision.
Find the best fit
What you need to look for is an assisted living facility that fits your parent’s tastes and needs. It really doesn’t matter if it’s not as near your home as you’d want it to be. After all, an extra mile or two of traveling can’t be such a burden for you as a bad facility would be for your parents.
Remember, what matters is not whether you like the facility but whether your loved ones will like it, too. Keep your parent’s personality and interest in mind before checking out the available assisted living options. Ideally, and if their health permits, let your loved ones be a part of the selection process.
Don’t rush your decision
An assisted living facility isn’t a hospital. It’s not a place you’d ever need to take your loved one in an emergency. It’s a new home you’re trying to give your parents, where you can be assured of their complete care, safety and protection. A quick decision made in a rush can be as bad as a delayed one. Check out as many options as you reasonably can, without endlessly dragging on the process.
As in all legal documents, do be careful to read the fine print when entering into a contract for your loved one’s assisted living facility. Check out the financials in particular, to ensure that you don’t end up with frequent fee hikes or other additional costs that you may not have factored in. Cost, after all, is always going to be a major factor in the selection of an assisted living community.
It’s a good idea to take suggestions from friends or others who may be in the know. Caregivers are also usually clued into the quality of care and service provided by the communities in the neighborhood. So there’s no harm in taking their help when choosing an assisted living facility for your loved one. You can also let yourself be guided by a senior living advisor in the matter.
Thanks for reading our blog! If you have suggestions for an article topic, please let us know.
Related Article: Recognizing the Signs that it’s Time for Assisted Living