Finding The Right Assisted Living Center

Assisted living centers are residential communities that fill the gap between maintaining a private home and moving to a nursing facility. The choice must be careful and informed; this article asks and answers many of the questions about finding the best assisted living center you can afford.

As we pass through the ages of our lives, changes, both beginnings and endings, are inevitable. One of the most difficult can be leaving the place that has been home for many years, once when we're young and setting off on our own, and again in later years when joining an assisted living community becomes necessary. In the first case, we're sacrificing security for independence. In the second, it may seem that the exact opposite is the case; this is not necessarily true.

Over 25% of new assisted living residents are quite capable of caring for themselves; their health is still good and their minds, still sharp. The burdens of maintaining a private residence, shoveling snow, cutting grass, heavy cleaning, repairing furnaces, dealing with all the minutia of home ownership may have become overwhelming or simply more than they choose to bother with. What they seek and, hopefully, what they find in their new residence is freedom from all that plus the security of knowing that, if they do need help, it will be readily available.

A major roadblock to many seniors can be, curiously, the love of their children. Upon announcing their decision to move a assisted living facility, elderly moms and dads may find themselves engulfed by a flood of guilt and remorse from grown children. The kids have the space, and would like nothing better than to have their parents move in with them. Whether or not this is exactly true is not the issue; to see their parents "go to a home" just doesn't seem right. Good intentions aside, taking them up on this offer is, in most cases, not the best thing to do. If a drastic change is inevitable, better that it should be made when a senior is still spry enough to find a residence where they'll be comfortable, able to settle in, and make new friends.

Before the search for the best community begins, two areas must be examined thoroughly and with a practical eye. The first is the health and energy level of the prospective resident. Is it reasonable to expect them to maintain their own living quarters and to cook for themselves? Does he/she require help with bathing, dressing, or eating? Is there an incontinence problem; do visits to the toilet require assistance? How mobile is he/she, fully mobile, using a cane, walker, or wheelchair? Are there any speech, vision, or hearing difficulties? What about mental status, still sharp, becoming a bit forgetful, or in need of constant vigilant supervision? The answers to these questions will point the way to the type of facility to be considered.

The other all-important preliminary that must be covered is finances. Assisted living residences can be extremely expensive, ranging from an average of slightly less than two thousand dollars a month to over twice that amount. Having certain knowledge of available income is crucial. Social Security, IRA's, bank accounts, stocks, bonds, moneys owed to the person, real estate that can be liquidated or managed, valuable personal effects such as antiques and jewelry must all be added up. If some family members can reliably contribute (best to get this in writing with no need for hurt feelings), this is a definite plus. Medicare and Medicaid can help only if the person will be entering into a skilled nursing facility; Supplemental Security Income may be available for extremely low income people, but only for short intervals (check with the welfare office in your area). Check on any union or veterans' benefits that may have accrued.

Keep in mind the difference between present and future income; a stay in an assisted living residence will, hopefully, be a long one. After arriving at an income figure, check for any debts or financial obligations that might eat away at that figure.



Once you're quite sure of what is needed and how much can be spent, start checking out the facilities in your area. As I mentioned, there is a range of cost; don't be looking for bargains. As in so many things, you get what you pay for and settling for third or fourth best is not an option here.

Try to find something in relatively close proximity to the rest of the family. It can be difficult for even the most well-meaning to make regular visits; the necessity for a long and inconvenient journey should not an available excuse. Make sure that the level of care offered is in sync with both current and future needs. If medical services are in-house, both the nursing supervisors and head nurses should be RNs, the rest of the staff well-trained CNAs. Many residential communities are affiliated with hospitals and other medical facilities, thus allowing a transfer when and if illness occurs, with a seamless return when health improves.

Is the home state licensed and supervised? Does the director have a current license? How many residents does the home serve? Larger accommodations usually have a greater range of services. Are there studios, one bedroom, two bedroom apartments or simply rooms? Are the rooms private or shared with a roommate? A roommate can work well as a cure for loneliness if they hit it off; if they don't, can a change be easily made? Are pets allowed?

When you visit the centers (as you must), don't be overly-impressed with elaborate new buildings. They won't count for a thing if the care is substandard. Of course, give a immediate thumbs down to any place that seems shoddy or poorly maintained. Not only would life there be depressing, but also dangerous if floors and walkways aren't clean and in good repair. Check for handrails, hallways wide enough for two wheelchairs, smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, call buttons, and non-slip surfaces in tubs and showers. Does the staff look neat and alert; do the residents look neat and alert? Do you see smiles and hear laughter, or do the residents look a little down? Is transportation to shopping, the movies or the library available? Are outings arranged and participation encouraged? Are there gardens and lawns that are wheelchair accessible? Are there cozy nooks where residents can visit with family and friends?

Be alert to heavy perfumes; if they permeate the air, it could be a sign that residents are more ill than one would expect in an assisted living center, and/or that hygienic practices are less than meticulous.

Food and nutrition are extremely important for continued health. Make sure that registered dietitians are in charge of the kitchens. If dining is communal, is the dining room clean and fresh-smelling? Ask to see a menu for the previous month; make sure there is variety in the meal planning. Invite yourself for a meal; make sure the food is served pleasantly and not only looks but tastes good. Ask if the residents meet regularly with a nutritionist to determine any changing dietary needs and preferences.

Vivian Nichols, a highly qualified CNA, knowledgeable in assisted living centers, says that a well-run assisted living center should have the warmth and congeniality of an extended family for both the staff and the residents. Finding that caliber of assisted living center must be your goal.

Examine carefully and be discriminating when choosing the perfect new home. Opt for dignity and independence, and be well.

© High Speed Ventures 2011