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How to Evaluate Assisted Living Facilities

Learn how to evaluate assisted living facilities with tips from Seniorly. We can help you make a list of questions to ask and ratings to check.

By Seniorly Editor · Updated Sep 07, 2021
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When evaluating assisted living communities, following these simple steps can help you determine which one will be the right home for you or your loved one:

  1. Learn what to expect from an assisted living community.
  2. Search online for assisted living options within your desired area.
  3. Tour your prospective communities.
  4. Review your materials and everything you’ve learned to choose the best community for you.

With over 30,000 senior living communities available in the United States, assisted living communities come in many shapes and sizes, from small homes, often called “board and care homes,” to large hotel-like properties. Some focus on luxury services, others focus on high levels of care, and some specialize in Alzheimer’s or dementia care (commonly known as “memory care”). After you decide which care level and services are necessary for you or your loved one, the next step is to figure out which assisted living community is the right fit. With several varying features between different assisted living facilities, it's important to know how to determine which one will be the right home for you or your loved one.

What to expect from assisted living facilities

Before evaluating assisted living facilities near you, knowing what to expect from the average community is crucial. Despite many offering unique features and varied approaches to care, all assisted living communities are intended for senior adults who want to maintain a more independent lifestyle, but need regular assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs). These activities of daily living include:

What is included in an assisted living facility

Beyond offering regular assistance with ADLs, in most assisted living facilities you can expect to find private living units equipped with emergency call systems, communal rooms for socializing, a dining area, and exercise spaces. The goal is to provide an environment where senior residents have everything they need to enjoy daily life. Facility amenities can differ depending on the size, location and style of assisted living community, but can include features such as:

  • On-site wellness center
  • Outdoor spaces with walking paths
  • Barbershop or beauty salon
  • Cafe
  • Library
  • Community kitchen
  • Gardens
  • Movie theater
  • Tennis courts
  • On-site Post Office
  • A place of worship

Who works at assisted living facilities?

Assisted living facilities should always be staffed by reliable managers, trained caregivers, and other personnel needed to comply with state regulations. Here is a full list of regulating agencies and certifications, by state, so you know what to expect. Always ensure the senior living community you’re considering is completely certified.

Beyond what’s required by the state, there might be licensed nurses and therapists on staff, as well as cognitive specialists for residents in need of memory care. Luxury assisted living facilities near you often have concierge staff, professionally trained chefs, and dedicated event coordinators.

Most personnel will work during normal service hours to serve senior residents (for example, 7 a.m.-7 p.m.), but caregivers will always be available. Staff and personnel should be knowledgeable about regulations and willing to answer your questions.

How to find an assisted living facility

To find an assisted living community to consider during your search, you can look online for assisted living facilities near you or your area of interest. Look at star ratings, prices, availability, and how well each property meets your budget and basic requirements. Also, note any extra features a community might offer that isn’t required, but that catches your interest. You should also consider what type of lifestyle you want to enjoy. For example, are you an avid gardener? Love to swim? Want to take continuing education classes?

You can also talk with a local senior living expert who knows all of the communities in their designated region and can help point you in the right direction to finding a home that matches your or your loved ones needs. The regulating agencies of many states provide facility ratings and reports for public view, and third-party review sites like Google and Yelp can be a good source of knowledge. A discussion with your healthcare provider can also ensure that you know what services are required for your continued health and which ones are optional. 

Narrow down your options by touring communities

Now, how to find the best assisted living community that matches your needs? Over the course of your research, you’ll generally be able to narrow down your choices to the top three to five properties that meet a majority of your needs and desires. From there, it’s time to arrange in-person tours to get a sense of whether the community is a good fit for you. If you are considering a property located far away from your current home, make sure that you leave time to explore the local area, as well.

The time in which you visit a property can greatly impact the energy of the tour, the number of senior residents you encounter and your overall perception of the environment. If possible, try to visit the facility more than once, at different times of the day, to get a more accurate idea of how much activity is going on during social hours.

Before touring, try to ensure all essential staff you’d like to meet with will be available while you are there. Medical staff, nutritionists, managers, and class instructors can all make or break whether you feel comfortable leaving your loved one in their hands.

During the tour, make sure you not only speak with the staff, but also the residents because they are the most vital part of setting the tone in the community. To ensure that you’re on track to asking all of the questions necessary for evaluating an assisted living community, take a look at the following sections below. For a complete list of questions to ask, read our 74 Questions to Ask on an Assisted Living Tour.

What to look for when choosing an assisted living facility

When touring an assisted living facility, pay close attention to the happiness of the senior residents, the friendliness and accessibility of the staff, and the overall upkeep of the property. These are all good first indicators that the management is involved in the betterment of the community. One tip is to visit the guest bathroom. If that is not clean, what does that mean for the rest of the facility?

Also, consider how well you or your loved one will fit in with the resident population. Multiple studies have shown that maintaining social connections is essential for sustaining mental and emotional health for older adults. Assisted living communities are often great places to build new friendships later in life — if you make sure there are opportunities to socialize and bond over shared passions.

Most communities will have an activity and social calendar available to the residents which you can look at to get a better idea of the types of classes available. Try to visit during an event or participate as a guest in a class to get a sense if you’ll get along with your neighbors and enjoy being a part of the community.

What questions to ask when looking at assisted living facilities

Here are some of the most important questions to ask while touring a facility:

  1. What training and certification do all the staff have? What refresher training do they receive each year?
  2. Are staff available 24/7 to assist senior residents with activities of daily living (ADLs), such as bathing, dressing and eating?
  3. Do living units come furnished? May senior residents bring their own furniture? Are they able to decorate their room or apartment?
  4. How is food prepared? Can kitchen staff accommodate any dietary restrictions you or your loved ones might have?
  5. Is it a pet-friendly community? If so, what is the pet-fee, what kind of pet care services and are there any pet restrictions?
  6. What regular life enrichment programs and special activities are provided for residents?
  7. Does each senior resident have a written plan of care? How often and under what circumstances is it changed?
  8. What services and amenities incur extra fees?

You can also view this comprehensive list of 74 questions to ask while touring assisted living facilities.

How to research assisted living facilities to call home

Once you have visited all the assisted living facilities you are considering, sit down with your loved one and the rest of your family to make a decision. While the process for choosing a new home is not the same for any two people, some steps you can take to make a final selection include:

  • Reviewing the materials from the tour, and if necessary, make a list of additional questions to send each community.
  • Determining how well each property met your top personal care and lifestyle priorities.
  • Discussing your impressions from the tour and how you felt about the overall environment of each property. You can really benefit from a second opinion from the tour, since they might have noticed things you didn’t spot.
  • Figuring out what steps would be necessary to move to the community (for example, do they need to travel across the country).
  • Researching payment options and whether financial aid is available.

Moving into an assisted living community does not have to be an intimidating decision for your loved ones. With so many factors to consider, it is important that you and your family are involved, and that you take the time to ensure they’ll get the care and attention they need.

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