How To: Choose an assisted living facility

November 13, 2009

The process people experience in locating and choosing an assistedliving provider can be complicated due to the rush factor that often is present in identifying the best community.

Sometimes this immediacy is unavoidable, but the choice of a community is likely to be more effective if it is an informed choice, one that includes asking the right questions and taking time to see the alternatives.

Determining the differences between assisted-living communities depends on asking the right questions. It's important to understand what an assisted-living community actually is.

Personal-care homes are subject to compliance with rules and regulations of the state government's long-term care programs. All assisted-living residents must meet certain criteria.


The primary requirements are that residents must be ambulatory and must be approved by their physicianas appropriate for assisted living. Although assisted-living communities can coordinate the provision of medical services, they are not allowed to treat and manage chronic medical conditions.

Another requirement is that the individual not be a danger to themself or toothers through aggressive behavior, and that they not have a tendency to wander.

The Assisted Living Federation of America is the industry trade group representing many communities across the country. A primary purpose of ALFA isto educate consumers and act as are source for them. Located in Fairfax,Va., its resources can be accessed at the web site www.alfa.

org.ALFA has published a consumer checklist of important services, amenities and accommodations at assisted-living communities.

This is a portion of this list:

  • Atmosphere -- Is the decor attractive and homelike? Did you receive a warm greeting fromstaff? Do residents socialize with each other? Are you able to talk with residents about how they like it there?
  • Physical features -- Is mobility figured into the design of the building and grounds?Are floors of a non-skid material and carpets firm to ease walking? Is the residence clean, free of odors and appropriately climate controlled?
  • Needs assessments, contracts, costs -- Is a contractual agreement available toinclude accommodations, personal care, health care and suppor services? When can a contract be terminated, and what are refund policies?
  • Medication and health care -- What are the policies regarding storage of and assistance with medications? Is there a physician or nurse readily available?
  • Individual unit features -- Is a 24-hour emergency response system accessible from the unit? Are residents able to bring their own furnishings? Is a kitchen area/unit provided?
  • Social and recreational activities -- Is there evidence of an organized activities program. Are residents' pets allowed in the residence?
  • Food service -- Does the residence provide three nutritionally balanced meals a day? Can a resident request special foods? Is there flexibility in the times when meals are served? When looking for a community for a loved one who cannot visit personally, you should make sure the prospective resident is included in the process by discussing their needs and your findings.

Often, a community is chosen simply because it is closest to the resident's home. This can be a good decision, because other residents might have chosen it for the same reason. You also should consider location of the property relative to medical services, shopping and accessibility by others. A location that is easily accessed and on a routine travel pattern can be of great importance, simply because it might increase visitation to the residents.

The manager of the property should be accessible during visits.

Many communities have assistant managers who show the property and answer initial questions. This is fine, but a good community also will make the top-level manager available during visits.

This individual's personality and involvement level are important.

Consumers should determine if this manager will be available and engaged in decisions and discussions about residents during and after move-in. Assisted-living properties allow today's consumers to be highly discriminating in their choice of a residence; however, family members should try not to feel overwhelmed by the number and diversity of communities available.

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