When it’s time to consider senior housing for yourself or a loved one, it’s never a decision you want to make lightly. You want to do your research and be confident that you’re making the right choice, and select the best assisted living facility for your unique situation.
Most people who are making this decision are making it for the first time and may not be sure how to best go about it. Beyond checking out assisted living features and amenities, you may be wondering what else you should be looking for. Understanding some of the traits the best assisted living facilities share is a great place to start. And doing your research and asking a lot of questions can go a long way in reassuring you in your decision.
What is Assisted Living?
If an older adult needs some assistance with daily activities, such as getting dressed, eating and bathing, but does not require the medical support offered at a nursing home or higher level of care, an assisted living facility is one housing alternative to explore. Assisted living can be found in standalone facilities, within retirement communities or attached to nursing homes.
Best assisted living facilities: What to look for
1. The best assisted living facilities exceed minimum requirements
It may seem impressive to learn an assisted living facility offers 24-hour staffing, help with activities of daily living (ADLs), support for health care needs, and housekeeping, laundry and transportation services. However, it’s important to remember these are all minimum requirements, according to the Health in Aging Foundation. These types of services are essential to the purpose of assisted living communities, but they don’t paint the full picture of what a thriving experience in one might look like.
An ideal assisted living environment provides for all of these basic needs and more. When researching potential options, you should ask yourself, “What does assisted living mean in this community?” And then really listen to what features and services go beyond that minimum layer of support. Does the program offer opportunities to pursue new hobbies to nurture creativity and intellect? Is social interaction fostered within the community? Are the needs of residents regularly evaluated and adjusted as appropriate? What steps are taken if a resident is having issues there?
Explore your options, ask questions and make sure the facility you choose matches the level of care, support and amenities needed.
2. The best assisted living facilities employ people who are not just qualified, but who love what they do
Assisted living facilities to employ a wide range of staff members, from health care providers and administrative professionals to support staff and facility maintenance workers. Many people meet the qualifications for these positions, but working in an assisted living facility is more than just a job. The purpose of assisted living facilities is to help those who are unable to fully care for themselves at home to continue to thrive with some additional support, and the top assisted living facilities to employ people who find that work meaningful and have a passion for what they do, whether it’s helping with physical therapy, coordinating game nights or simply engaging in a friendly conversation with a resident while tidying up.
When researching and touring facilities, take time to talk to staff members. Ask them what they love about their jobs. Ask how long employees typically stay in their positions and if they find their jobs fulfilling. Talk to management, too, and don’t hold back from asking about things like employee recruitment practices and retention. Lastly, observe the interactions between staff and residents- do they seem friendly and cordial? Or do interactions seem rushed and forced? The relationships between residents and the individuals who care for them can be indicators of the community culture.
3. The best assisted living facilities tailor services to meet the needs of the individual
Our individual needs become especially important when we entrust our care to someone else. You want a community that will take into account the unique needs of each resident — beyond their health care needs.
While it’s important for assisted living amenities to suit a resident’s health status — such as including physical supports for someone who has balance issues, helping manage medications or offering education for those who are managing health conditions — we are more than just our health status. Top assisted living amenities also appeal to a person’s emotional health, personal interests, need for social interaction and more. Does the facility employ mental health specialists? Are support groups or social clubs offered?
When you are researching assisted living facilities, always keep in mind that you’re looking for a good fit for the whole person — beyond health care needs. Transitioning to assisted living can be challenging, but it can be made easier if you find a place that is a good fit for the person’s personality. It’s also important to keep in mind that people’s needs may change over time, so make sure the facility has practices in place to evaluate the quality of life of each resident and to make adjustments to their physical, social and emotional care plan as needed.
4. The best assisted living facilities nurture relationships
The best assisted living facilities go the extra mile to promote social activities and nurture the bonds between residents and their friends and family members.
Ask about visitation policies, as well as what other options might be available to stay in touch during times when in-person visits aren’t possible. Video conferencing has made it possible for many families to stay connected, even across many long miles. Will family members have a designated contact person they can check in with if they have concerns about a resident? And what types of social activities are offered among residents and within the community? Social relationships are essential to good health, so you’ll want to be sure they’re a priority in whatever setting you choose.
Examples of social activities offered might include group cooking, art or exercise classes, a gardening or social club, weekly game nights or a bridge league. Any activity that encourages residents to interact on a regular basis is likely to benefit the entire group.
5. The best assisted living facilities don’t compromise quality of life
The decision to transition to an assisted living environment is almost always based on there being a need for additional support and care with daily activities, but finding a facility that can meet these needs only paints part of the picture. The best assisted living facilities also promote a significant focus on the overall quality of life of each resident.
In fact, the best things about assisted living are often the aspects that enhance quality of life, including inspiring social interaction, encouraging physical activity, nurturing spirituality and fostering independence and a sense of purpose in life. These things are hard to measure but important to talk about, so do your research and ask questions: What options are available for faith-based services and outreach? How does the staff encourage independence? What programs are available to help nurture a sense of purpose?
Sometimes these needs can be met through community involvement, mentoring opportunities and volunteering. Finding an assisted living community that offers the right level of support and amenities can make a real difference when evaluating the overall quality of life a resident can expect.