Finding an Assisted-Living Facility

by Mara Karpel

Dear Dr. Karpel:

My mother lives alone and she is 85.  She’s very healthy, but I’ve noticed that her memory is starting to fail ever so slightly.  Also, she used to be extremely social, going out with friends all the time to all kinds of events.  However, she is less able to get around now, because she’s having some trouble walking.  Since she no longer drives, because her vision is not so good anymore, she relies on friends to pick her up to go places.  But, they’re as old as she is and they’re not able to chauffeur her around like they used to.  Therefore, she stays home a lot and I’m worried that she will become depressed.  She’s not used to being so limited.  We have begun to talk about moving her into an assisted living.  She doesn’t feel ready yet, but I think it would be good for her socially.  Do you think I should go ahead and start looking for an assisted living for her and, if so, how can I tell if it’s a good one?

Thanks,
Sue

Dear Sue:

I agree that an assisted-living facility may be a good choice for your mother, in order to avoid the social isolation that she is beginning to experience because of her limitations in mobility.  In addition, it would be a safer place for her to live, if her memory is declining.  She may not be ready, emotionally, to make this move, as it’s often hard to make such a change.  But I suggest that you begin now to look into the options available to you, as it may actually take some time to get into a good facility.  Often, good assisted-living facilities have long waiting-lists.  As you investigate various facilities, I suggest you bring your mom with you so that she can look around.  If she agrees, stay for a meal and have her join an activity.  Also, she might even test out a facility by staying overnight.  This process will help her to see that she may share things in common with many of the residents and that it might be a place where she can begin to have a social life again.  This will also help you both see which facility would be a good match for her.

Here are some guidelines for finding the right facility for your mom, based on some guidelines put out by Consumer Reports.
First of all, you can find a list of the facilities in your area by calling the local Area Agency on Aging office.  Find the one in your area by contacting the national Eldercare Locator (800-677-1116 or  HYPERLINK “http://www.eldercare.gov” www.eldercare.gov).
Next, call your state’s long-term care ombudsman and ask whether there have been complaints about any of the facilities on your list and ask how to obtain inspection reports of the facilities.
Then, take tours of your top choices.  Rather than being wooed by fancy furniture, look for furniture that is “senior-friendly.”  Look for grab bars in the bathrooms and nonskid tubs.  Take a look at rooms that are occupied to see how well they are cleaned by the staff.
While you’re there, ask residents and their visiting relatives how they like the food, the staff, and the activities.  Ask them what they like and what they don’t like about the facility.
Look to see what the residents are doing.  Are they involved in interesting activities that your mom would enjoy and/or socializing?  Or are they sitting around watching television?
Meet with the administrator.  Get a sense of whether or not he/she cares about the well-being of the residents and get a sense of his/her efficiency at running the facility.
Ask how many staff members are there during the day, the evening, and on weekends and find out about the training of the staff members.  Notice if residents are waiting for help for extended periods of time and notice how well and how often the staff members interact with the residents.
Finally (and this is very important), make two or three unannounced visits at different times of the day and different days of the week, including weekends.  (Is there a drastic difference in how things look at night or on the weekend?)

Sue, I know this process is not an easy one.  But it can be made easier if you can turn this process into an activity that you and your mom (and other family members) can enjoy together, visiting the various facilities and joining in with the meals and activities.  Your mom may actually become enthusiastic when she visits one that she feels comfortable with.

If your mom does move into an assisted-living facility, the process of determining if it’s the right one for her should not end immediately.  Be sure to visit frequently to see if any problems come up.  Some problems may be easily resolved by speaking with the administrator.  But, if you discover major problems that are not resolved to your satisfaction, you may need to search a bit longer for a more appropriate facility.

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