How to choose an assisted living community

Doctor and elderly man with walker outdoors


Doctor and elderly man with walker outdoors


• Be sure to ASK FOR MATERIALS, including resident and discharge criteria, staffing, programs and services.

• Think about CURRENT AND FUTURE HEALTH needs and interests and ask about continued eligibility if health needs increase.

• VISIT A PROSPECTIVE FACILITY several times and at different times of the day.

• Consider the LOCATION OF THE PROPERTY relative to medical services, shopping and accessibility by others.

• Make sure the prospective resident is included in the process by discussing his or her needs and your findings.

The process people experience in locating and choosing an assisted-living community 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 is important to understand what an assisted living community actually is. Many assisted living communities offer levels of care options so that you are paying only for the services that you need.

The residents that are eligible for an assisted living community range from those who live independently and need few personal care services but enjoy the security of knowing someone is there if needed to those who need multiple care services, companionship and/or redirection.

It is important to note that the decision to come into an assisted living community is one that the family members and/or residents make – no physician order is needed and an initial assessment makes it simple for the family members and resident to determine the care that is needed.

Assisted Living Communities are subject to compliance with rules and regulations of the state government’s long-term care programs, so checking the licensing of a community is a good first step. Beyond this, it is important to choose a community that the resident will enjoy, once they have made the decision that assisted living is needed.

Residents should be able to enjoy nutritious meals, a variety of activities, friendly, qualified staff and a wonderful environment where they will meet new friends and perhaps see old friends.

The Assisted Living Federation of America is the industry trade group representing many communities across the country.

A primary purpose of ALFA is to educate consumers and act as a resource for them. Located in Fairfax, Va., its resources can be accessed at the website

ALFA has published a consumer checklist of important services, amenities and accommodations at assisted-living communities. This is a portion of this list:

Is the decor homelike?
Did you receive a warm greeting from staff?
Do residents socialize with each other?
Are you able to talk with residents about how they like it there?
Are activities and social outings offered?

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?

Is a contractual agreement available to include accommodations, personal care, health care and support services?
When can a contract be terminated, and what are refund policies?

What are the policies regarding storage of and assistance with medications?
Is there a physician or nurse readily available?


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?

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?
Is a menu of choices offered?

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.


If you or a loved one needs assisted living, you can begin by contacting your Area Agency on Aging for a list of local facilities.

Try to find out if complaints have been filed against any of them through your local ombudsman, and determine the price range that fits your budget. Then, if some of them seem to be likely prospects, you can visit their websites for more information. Note that many websites will provide an online tour or display the facility’s floor plan.

The layout may be too spread out for you if you use a walker, and if you are used to living in a spacious home, you’ll want to pick a residence that is not too compact or crowded. You will also need a location that is close to family and friends — and your primary care physician as well.

While you are online, you may be able to view the facility’s activity calendar to see how it fits in with the things that are important to you, such as transportation to nearby houses of worship and cultural events, guest speakers and various hobbies.

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