Finding a new home can be daunting, especially when caregiving is part of the equation. However, there are ways to find the best assisted living community to meet your family’s needs.
“In general, you should look for outstanding care, accessible community design and vibrant community life,” says Rhonda Glyman, executive director of NewBridge on the Charles Assisted Living, a facility of Hebrew SeniorLife in the Boston area.
She encourages seniors and their loved ones to visit multiple facilities and pay attention to what they see.
“Go take a look,” she says. “Are staff and residents smiling? Do they look happy? What does the environment look like?”
As you visit different communities, here are specific factors to consider.
Assisted living facilities offer a variety of services that can include:
- Up to three meals a day
- Assistance with personal care
- Help with medications and housekeeping
- 24-hour supervision and on-site staff
- Social activities
You might notice something missing from that list.
“Medical care isn’t part of the usual portfolio of care,” says Helen Chen, M.D., chief medical officer at Hebrew SeniorLife.
However, assisted living staff can monitor residents and help coordinate services with outside health care providers. It’s important to explore how the facility handles these interactions.
“Ask the caregivers, ‘What are your relationships with the health care community?’” advises Dr. Chen. “Do you have clinicians who come here and do office visits? What is provided within the facility?”
Find out if the assisted living community is associated with a specific medical facility. Sometimes residents are required to go to that practice. Additionally, investigate what policies are in place should emergency care be needed.
Accommodations vary among assisted living facilities. Different options may be available within one community as well. Kitchenettes, private rooms and larger apartments are common, and residents typically choose one over the other based on their lifestyle preferences and budget. It’s also important to consider:
- Utilities. Are telephone, cable and internet services available in personal spaces? If so, what is the billing model?
- Bathrooms. Are bathrooms designed to accommodate mobility devices? Are there safety features like grab bars?
- Furnishings. Do residents bring their own furniture or do the living spaces come furnished?
- Guests. Are loved ones allowed to stay overnight? If so, is there any related cost?
No matter what personal living space meets your needs, pay attention to the common areas and ease of getting around. Good lighting, clear areas to walk both indoors and outdoors, and comfortable places to sit help keep residents safe and engaged.
“Accessibility is a key element to be looking for,” says Dr. Chen. “You want amenities that are centrally located so residents can easily come to programs and dining and it’s easy to get back and forth and meet with their friends. That social engagement helps improve their quality of life.”
Amenities and Activities
Assisted living is designed to meet both the physical and emotional needs of residents. Most facilities create a care plan for each resident based on their individual needs, interests and desires.
“We focus on the person, so the care plan isn’t just clinical,” says Glyman. “It’s how we can help you learn, grow and find purpose.”
When you’re searching for assisted living, consider what life-enhancing services and activities are available. Amenities can include:
- Housekeeping services
- Recreational activities
- Salon services
- Fitness or wellness centers
- Spiritual resources or services
- Regularly scheduled activities like volunteer work or lifelong learning
- Transportation to events
- Pet-friendly policies
Examine dining services as well. Do menus vary, and can residents make requests? What hours are dining facilities open? The path to a person’s heart is often through the stomach.
Caregivers and Staff
People and personalities make a community, so ask about staff training, policies and background checks. It’s also important to trust your gut.
“Come and see and decide for yourself. You get a vibe,” says Dr. Chen. “Ask a lot of questions. Facilities that aren’t transparent about policies make me nervous. If you’re entrusting your loved one to this place, you need to make sure they answer your questions, because that’s the relationship you’ll be having with the director, leadership and frontline staff for many years.”
Don’t overlook the agencies that register, license or certify assisted living communities. A department of the state will issue and renew licenses for these facilities. Make sure the community you select is in good standing and properly accredited.
Assisted living doesn’t come cheap. Most residents use some form of private pay—like long-term care insurance or their personal savings—to cover assisted living expenses. Medicare doesn’t cover long-term care services, so it doesn’t pay for assisted living.
People in lower income brackets may be able to use Medicaid to help pay for assisted living, though state Medicaid programs vary. Medicaid can also cover certain home and community-based services like personal care and supportive services. Since this care is provided in assisted living communities, Medicaid may help pay for part of the cost. However, Medicaid doesn’t pay for room and board.
Long-term care insurance can help cover the daunting costs associated with assisted living. Specific benefits vary depending on the policy and policyholder, so if you already have long-term care insurance, review your benefits carefully before attempting to apply them to assisted living costs. If you don’t already have a plan, compare how coverage differs from one provider to another as you shop around.
Veterans should connect with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to see if they’re eligible for Aid & Attendance (A&A) benefits. This monthly stipend can be used toward the cost of a long-term care or assisted living facility.
If you’re trying to determine how to pay for assisted living care, talk to your financial advisor or state Medicaid board. Assisted living employees can share resources to help you make smart choices, too.