Transitioning to assisted living can be a stressful and, in many cases, costly process. As of 2023, the average cost of assisted living hovers near $5,000 per month, making it essential to find the right community.
The best way to assess an assisted living community is to tour it. which will give you an idea of the facilities, the staff’s demeanor, and how residents live their daily lives. When you’re on these tours, look out for these red flags that indicate a community may not be worth your time.
If you’re new to the world of assisted living, check out our updated guide to assisted living.
Ample Amenities With Little Use
Most assisted living communities have vibrant brochures that list numerous attractive features, such as pools, libraries, gyms, and community gardens. You’re right to think these amenities could enrich residents’ lives, but the first red flag to watch out for is empty amenities.
A gym with no one working out, a pool with no one swimming, or a garden without plants could be a sign that the community is more show than substance. If the residents aren’t actively engaging in the available activities, it could mean the place hasn’t fostered a real sense of community.
Ideally, amenities would be used and maintained frequently, providing opportunities for residents to socialize in a productive routine. Recognize when facilities are built more for the people touring them than for the people living in them. A brochure may be nice, but it’s no place to live.
Did you know loneliness in seniors can be deadly? To learn more, read our research on senior isolation.
Team Members Who Don’t Make Eye Contact
When you’re visiting an assisted living community, you should see the staff putting their best foot forward. You have a right to expect a warm smile, a friendly handshake, and direct eye contact. That connection is more than just good marketing; it could indicate the value of caregiving in that community.
Caregivers provide more than just personal care at assisted living facilities. They also lead clubs and activities, plan group trips, and engage with residents in the context of a community relationship. Their jobs can be emotionally taxing, but the right caregivers remain enthusiastic and engaged in their work — even when conducting a tour.
Team members who don’t greet you or make eye contact may not be happy in their work, which doesn’t bode well for residents’ happiness. Even if the staffers mean well and are just too busy to stop and meaningfully connect with you, it can still be a red flag. It may mean the community doesn’t have central leadership strong enough to prioritize these important tours, which can indicate a lack of organization in other areas as well.
Staff Who Can’t Answer Your Questions
Staff expertise is more than a convenience on your tour. A lack of ability to answer your valid questions could indicate a lack of knowledge about what to do if your hypothetical situations become real.
You may ask a community staffer how they react if a resident falls. If they don’t have a confident answer, it may indicate a lack of staff training, a lack of community leadership, or simple inexperience. Whatever the case, it should be a red flag.
Of course, not all staffers need to be experts on every topic. They may say they’ll ask and get back to you. If they do, that may negate the red flag, depending on the question you asked. For basic health and safety procedures, however, you want to leave your loved one in the care of an experienced, knowledgeable staff that will know how to act in a trying situation.
The reality of assisted living communities is that caregivers are sometimes called upon to be emergency responders. Prepare some questions before your tour so you can test whether the personnel seem on top of their duties.
The Facility Has Violations and Complaints
Safety is a priority when choosing an assisted living community. Facilities need regular inspections to remain accountable, so the first red flag is if you can’t find any record of inspections.
Assuming the community is checked regularly, you can see if it has had any citations for violations of safety codes or complaints lodged by residents or their families. Search for the facility with the Better Business Bureau or sift through online reviews to see the general level of satisfaction residents report.
People with positive or neutral experiences may not leave reviews, but someone with a strong negative reaction almost certainly will. The problem is that not all reviews are equally valid, so don’t take every reaction at its word. Reviews that cite unrelated details or exaggerate their experience should be a cause for skepticism. A community with only five-star reviews may be a red flag, too, since review systems can be abused. Look for reviews that seem well-informed and emotionally balanced.
You want to find the best care, but some assisted living communities charge unreasonable prices with hidden fees and confusing fee structures. You should know how to recognize these when you tour the facility.
The assisted living representatives should be clear and open about their pricing, answering questions with concrete numbers and clarifying what they include. If there are different fees for meals, community amenities, levels of care, or rent, for example, they should be up front about them.
If you have to ask about hidden fees or you think the costs are higher than average for your area, you may want to consider touring another community. Assisted living communities price their services only in person, so touring remains the best way to scope out their services.
Since it can be difficult to accurately estimate the value of a living facility’s services, we recommend this cost-of-care calculator from Genworth. The tool allows you to input your address and the predicted time frame of care to see the median monthly service costs in your area. They’re only estimates, but they should give you a baseline for comparison when you ask about pricing on your tour.
Some facilities make it difficult to accurately gauge their value, but touring the facility is your best weapon against being tricked by marketing into overvaluing an underserviced community. Prepare questions based on the above information to try to gauge the community’s services. Try to tour the facility with multiple families so you can hear other questions and talk about how the facility stacks up. It may also help to book respite care, which is a short stay that allows the resident to test the community without a long-term commitment.
Assisted living communities often house their residents for the rest of their lives. Residents’ families need to make informed decisions about where their loved ones will live, so being able to spot the red flags of a disorganized, dispassionate, or expensive community is vital to the long-term happiness of residents and their families.