how to choose an assisted living program

Is Assisted Living For Me? What Are My Options?

Choosing an Assisted Living community can be a stressful and rushed decision for some people. Others take the time to pro-actively research their options prior to a crisis and actually find the process to be educational, enlightening and rewarding.

We suggest you go the later route if at all possible... either way, here’s some tips to help you navigate the process.

What is Assisted Living?

First, it’s important to know what Assisted Living is and is not.

Assisted Living is a long-term care option that offers seniors a comprehensive combination of housing, support services, social opportunities, health care and access to around-the-clock staffing. Assisted Living addresses the needs of those who require help with daily activities, but unlike other more institutional care settings, assisted living offers these services in a residential, home-like environment. It is often considered to be a less expensive choice with a more residential, life-enriching focus.

The goal is to help residents maintain as much choice and independence as possible while providing assistance with the basics--like meals, housekeeping, laundry, medications bathing and dressing.

The Residences

Assisted Living communities typically offer private studio, one-bedroom or two-bedroom apartment homes that residents can furnish and decorate according to their own personal taste. Each residence typically features some form of emergency call system that links residents to staff in the case of an emergency. It may or may not have a kitchenette. It should be wheelchair accessible. The cost of utilities, groundskeeping and maintenance as well as other services, amenities and lifestyle opportunities are most often included in the price of the residence.

Personalized Care

Assisted Living communities pride themselves on offering personalized service to their residents. Prior to moving in, residents receive assessments that helps caregivers create individualized care plans to address a resident’s individual needs and, ideally, cater to their personal preferences.

The Lifestyle

Beyond addressing resident’s care needs, Assisted Living offers social, educational and wellness activities to help promote engagement and interaction. The breadth and depth of assisted living communities’ lifestyle offerings can vary dramatically among communities. This key aspect to assisted living is often overlooked by families and residents who are in the process of considering various supportive living options.

In the long term, having robust, diverse and engaging lifestyle options is vitally important for many seniors.

The Differences

In addition to the great deal of variation as it relates to lifestyle programming and activities, Assisted Living communities vary in:

  • ownership structure
  • level of service and amenities offered
  • the degree to which medical care and support is provided conveniently on-campus
  • pricing structures
  • overall costs
  • operating philosophies and
  • pervading culture

These key points of variation are where potential residents and their families should pay particular attention when comparing one assisted living community to another.

Pay particular attention to these key points of variation when comparing assisted living communities.

Services

Assisted Living offers help and support with the “activities of daily living” (they call them ADLs). These services could include:

Three daily meals and snacks Housekeeping and laundry service Access to health care and various medical services Assistance with eating, bathing, dressing and walking Medication management.

Amenities

Pathway Senior Living's amenities vary among communities and may include:

Dining and community rooms Beauty and barber salon Exercise/physical therapy gym Outdoor patio, garden and walking path Library/computer space Billiard/game room

In addition, utilities, grounds keeping and maintenance are typically included as a part of the amenities package.

Lifestyle

As stated previously, this key aspect to assisted living is often overlooked by families and residents who are in the process of considering various supportive living options. At a minimum, key lifestyle offerings should include:

Exercise and wellness programs Social and recreational activities Scheduled transportation

Beyond these lifestyle basics, be sure to ask what else they offer. In this case, more is usually better.

How to Evaluate Assisted Living

When comparing Assisted Living providers for you or a loved one, keep in mind these three criteria:

  • Quality of life
  • Standard of care
  • Cost and value

Always Visit

The best way to determine if an Assisted Living community is right for you is to take a personal tour. You will get to meet staff members and likely some of the community’s residents. You want to pay close attention and evaluate the community’s environment, physical features, process for conducting initial and ongoing needs assessments, access to health care, services and amenities, apartment features, dining program, lifestyle offerings, and costs and finance options. These factors will help you form an overall impression of the community.

Take good notes. And trust your judgment.

Ask Lots of Questions

While touring, here are some questions you can ask that will help you get to know the community and the people who live and work there better. The goal is to leave with a good understanding of what daily life is like at the community.

Administrative

  • Who will be my main contact at the community?
  • How do you keep family members updated on mom’s care and condition?
  • How do you keep family members updated on the community’s activities and events?
  • Who makes up the team of caregivers at the community?
  • Does your staff have any special training and/or certification?
  • How will I be billed for mom’s apartment and care?
  • Is there any financial assistance available?
  • What is your community’s philosophy of care?
  • What happens if mom has a medical emergency?
  • How long do most residents live at the community?
  • When and why would my loved one have to leave the community?

Services

  • How will you conduct my mom’s initial assessment to determine her care needs? How many minutes a day will mom receive hands-on care?
  • How would you proactively care for my loved ones needs?
  • What exactly do you mean by housekeeping and laundry services? What is include and what is an additional charge?
  • What menu options are available in the dining room?
    Be sure to taste the food when you visit an assisted living community!
  • Can family members share a meal with mom in the dining room?
  • What level of care service is included in the base rate, and when would I be charged additional for services?

Amenities

  • What is the security system at the community?
  • What amenities do residents use most often and for what activities?
  • Is there a private place for our family to host small events?
  • What amenities do visiting grandchildren enjoy?
  • What key medical services are conveniently available on-site? Doctor’s office? Wellness Center? Therapy? Pharmacy services? Hospice? Ancillary physicians?

Lifestyle

  • How will you help my mom transition to the community?
  • What does a typical resident day look like?
  • What are the guidelines regarding resident attire?
  • Can mom keep her own sleeping and waking schedule?
  • What are some of the residents’ favorite things to do?
  • Are pets allowed at the community? If so, who is responsible for the pet care?
  • How is the community’s lifestyle program different from other lifestyle programs?
  • What is your activity department’s programming philosophy and how do they come up with new ideas?
Ask to see a photo album of past activities or a newsletter that describes lifestyle highlights.

Excellent Resource

A comprehensive Community Checklist is available in the Assisted Living Federation of America’s “Guide to Choosing an Assisted Living Community.” (PDF)

The Cost of Assisted Living

Assisted Living costs are determined by each community and are usually based on apartment size and level of care needed. Some providers may charge a monthly rent for the apartment and bill the care separately while others bundle the housing and care. An entrance fee or security deposit (refundable or non-refundable) may also be charged.

Some states, like Illinois, offer affordable assisted living options for seniors with moderate to modest means. Illinois Supportive Living provides residents who qualify with Medicaid-funded financial assistance to make the cost of these assisted living-type services more reasonable within a Supportive Living community.