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Choosing an Assisted Living Community

Choosing an Assisted Living Community
A Happy Medium

For many older adults, an assisted living community can combine the best of two worlds. It allows them to remain as independent as possible, as though they were living at home or in any retirement community. Yet at the same time, it provides needed personal care and health care services similar to, those available in a nursing home, only less intensive.

What To Look For

Choosing an assisted living residence is an important step. When you take it, you’ll be deciding on not one, but two, important items: where to live, and how to obtain personal assistance with various aspects of living. So it pays to take your time and make an informed choice.

As you evaluate your needs and consider your options, keep in mind what assisted living is all about and what sets a quality living environment apart from one that would prove disappointing. Look carefully; ask lots of questions; focus on the things that really matter.

A Set of Values

The intangible values that guide an assisted living community ~ that define it ~ are usually more important than what’s on the surface. As you look at a particular residence, try to get a feel for its priorities. A quality assisted living environment will always put the needs of residents first in these key respects:

  • by providing residents with a community that is safe, friendly, and based on mutual respect;
  • by delivering appropriate and needed services in a professional way;
  • by promoting residents’ independence and protecting their rights.

Services Available

The ‘assisted’ in “assisted living” refers to this basic set of services: meals, laundry, housekeeping, activities, arranging health care appointments, and coordinating care services.  The assisted living license also permits a number of other optional services.  Each assisted living facility maintains a “Disclosure of Services” Form, available on request. So it makes sense to make sure the services you need, or are likely to need in the foreseeable future, are available in the setting you’re considering.

Assisted living services need to be planned and tailored to the needs of each individual resident. Is care planning part of care providing? Who participates in that process? In most situations, the resident and family members are encouraged to participate.

And what if your needs change? As a resident, will you have convenient and ready access to other levels on the “continuum of care,” such as skilled nursing, rehabilitative care, and hospitalization?

Staff and Residents

Organizations and facilities do not provide services ~ people do. So the quality of an assisted living community can be judged by how knowledgeable, thoughtful, and friendly its employees are, and how its residents react to the care they’re receiving.

Find out about the range of services available and the equipment and facilities that support those services ~ but also observe the people involved. Are staff well-groomed? Friendly? Interested in their jobs and the residents they serve? Do the residents appear to be well cared for? Do they seem positive about themselves, about other residents, and about staff?

Programs for Quality Living

All services and no play won’t do. So, learn about the opportunities available for socializing, recreating, exercising, and ~ just generally ~ staying active and independent. Will you have transportation and organizing help for shopping and other outside activities? Is there a varied and interesting program of events taking place within the community or facility? Are family and friends encouraged to visit and participate in those activities? Are residents kept well informed about upcoming activities?

Building, Grounds, and Apartment/Unit

There are, of course, important factors to consider about the grounds, building, and particular apartment or unit you are considering. Does it provide adequate security? Is it easily accessible, especially to persons with disabilities? Is it visually attractive? Does it provide adequate lighting, heating, and ventilation?

Financial and Contractual Details

Find out what your obligations will be ~ financial and otherwise. Ask to see a copy of the rental or other agreement you’ll be asked to sign. Remember, different assisted living providers have different ways of structuring their fees. Some may include certain services in a combined daily or monthly rate, while others may charge separately for the same services.

And, finally, it’s important to know what you and the other residents have a right to expect. Is there a statement of residents’ rights and responsibilities? If so, ask for a copy and make sure there will be no surprises after you have made your selection.

Key Words and Phrases

“Activities of Daily Living” or “ADLs” are the personal tasks each person needs to accomplish on a regular basis. In an assisted environment, trained staff provide each resident with assistance in completing those ADLs he or she cannot complete independently. Examples of ADLs include: shopping; preparing and eating meals; bathing, grooming, and using the toilet; dressing; getting around and going places; cleaning house and doing laundry; taking and keeping track of medications.

“Care Planning” refers to the process of developing and keeping current a plan for providing personal care and health care services tailored to meet a resident’s individual situation.

“Care Team” refers to the group of caregivers involved in meeting a resident’s needs. In many assisted living situations, the resident himself/herself and involved family members are considered part of the care team.

“Continuum of Care” refers to the spectrum of personal care and health care services that extends from independent living with no services to hospitalization. An assisted living residence is at the lower end of this range of options, but it should be able to help assure convenient access to higher levels of care because of its location and the transfer arrangements it has with other health care providers.

Ten Questions to Ask Before Choosing an Assisted Living Residence

Does this assisted living residence/community . . .

. . . seem committed to a set of core values that puts the needs and interests of residents first?

. . . provide the right mix of services for your personal care and health care?

. . . offer care planning to insure that your current, as well as future, needs can and will be met?

. . . offer a varied and active program of social and recreational opportunities?

. . . have a staff that seems knowledgeable, friendly, well groomed, and professional in the way they serve the residents?

. . . have residents who seem friendly, well cared for, and as active and independent as possible?

. . . offer a building and grounds (including community rooms, hallways, elevators, stairways, and outside walkways) that are attractive, accessible, safe, and comfortable?

. . . have an available apartment/unit that meets your needs and expectations?

. . . enjoy a location that is convenient for outside activities, as well as visits by family and friends?

. . . do a good job explaining what financial and contractual obligations you will have as a resident?

Copyright IlluminAge, 206-625-9128. Reprinted exclusively for individual use by long term care residents and their families. All other use, reproduction, distribution or adaptation is prohibited.

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