Pleasant caring woman helping with rehabilitation her disabled grandmother

6 Pitfalls to Avoid When Searching for Assisted Living

As a residential assisted living home owner, the best way to fill your RAL home and keep it full is to understand what residents and their families’ are looking for and how you can meet their needs. Sifting through and evaluating assisted living homes can be foreign territory for those who are suddenly thrust into this decision. There’s a lot that goes into the decision to move a loved one into an assisted living facility and that decision becomes much easier as you expand your knowledge and understand the options available.

Because the decision for assisted living is such a momentous one, full of emotion and uncertainty, there is an abundance of checklists online offering help to those who are embarking on this journey. So to help families looking for quality assisted living and to help RAL owners understand what is important to these families, let’s take a look at some of the pitfalls to avoid when seeking out assisted living. The following are a few key points to consider and the common mistakes many people make when searching for assisted living for a loved one.

1. Failing to Anticipate the Senior’s Future Needs

It is a hard decision to have to make when a loved one is clearly in need of assistance with their ADLs (Activities of Daily Living). Most of us will probably tend to error on the side of optimism. But taking a moment to step back and assess the loved one’s current and future assistance needs in a more objective way will be a huge benefit later on. Some assisted living facilities might offer a more limited level of care and failing to look down the road far enough might end up requiring senior to move facilities one or more times. It is not very hard to see how relocating senior who needs daily assistance could become a huge disruption to their life and an additional burden on family members as well.

As difficult as it will be, it is best for families to have an open and honest dialogue about the future needs of their loved one. Be optimistic…for sure, but also anticipate their future needs, recognizing that a dose of realism can help clear the path forward to a decision that is best for the senior. And that should really be our primary concern. Also, don’t forget to include the senior’s doctor in the decision-making process and inquire as to what support they will need in the future. Having to move a loved one numerous times in their twilight years is not only a burden and costly to the family, but it often comes with detrimental effects to the senior’s physical and emotional health.

An added benefit of recognizing the future needs of the loved one is that they will be able to remain in an assisted living community much longer, rather than bouncing from one facility to another to accommodate their increasing assistance needs. Therefore, the relationships that they build and their familiarity with their surroundings will be greater source of peace and comfort, which also contribute significantly to a person’s longevity.

2. Choosing a Community to that Meets Your Needs Rather Than Your Parent’s

Far too often an adult child decides on the place for mom or dad based on what they liked most about an assisted living facility rather than making the main priority what is best for the senior. Extravagant amenities that an adult would enjoy might seem appealing on the face of it, but if the senior isn’t interested or can’t physically take advantage of those amenities, then they should not be included as assets in the decision-making process. A large, palatial backyard with a heated pool and a Jacuzzi, for example, might sound like great selling points, but if the senior isn’t very physically mobile then these amenities shouldn’t even be a factor.

As much as is possible, encourage cooperation and work with your loved one to involve them in the decision-making process. And if the senior is too frail or already significantly affected by memory loss, the family should take care to consider what they know about their loved one’s preferences and include them as they weigh up the options.

3. Judging a Book by Its Cover

Searching for the right assisted living home for a loved one is much different than shopping for a family residence. Beautiful and lavish amenities are all well and good but they are not your main priority, and they are certainly no indicator of quality care. The most important element in “assisted living” is the “assisted” part. What kind of care is being provided?  How attentive and accommodating is the care staff?

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that an assisted living facility is the right fit because it is expensive and offers the best amenities. Luxury doesn’t equate to quality when it comes to senior care. A beautiful, modern and upscale facility can be just as prone to neglect and oversights as a more homely-looking facility.

Take the time to fully research the assisted living homes you are considering. Ask others in your community about their experiences with the facilities. Take a tour of the homes and do more than just kick the tires. Take notes and ask lots of questions. If you have the opportunity during your visit, speak with residents and staff about their level of satisfaction working and living there. A satisfied staff is usually a caring staff, and a community of cheerful residents is always a good sign.

You just may find that in a thorough analysis of the options available to you, choosing one that’s, perhaps, less shiny and luxurious just might be more appropriate in terms of care or atmosphere for your loved one.

4. Making a Rushed Decision

While some families can quickly become overwhelmed with all of the factors that are involved in the decision-making process, others can be too hasty in their choice of RAL facility. The need for a loved one to be moved into assisted living can seem like such an immediate crisis that some families rush into the decision, choosing the first available room they find that meets even a few of their requirements. For the best results, it is recommended that families visit a number of assisted living communities before settling on the decision. This is such a foreign industry to the average person, so seeing a number of facilities in operation gives a clearer picture of what can and should be expected. And when touring an assisted living home, don’t be afraid to ask lots and lots of questions and take notes on any details that you want further understanding about. You can always come back to these notes and do research online to compare the different options available.

5. Failing to Read the Fine Print

Compared to other types of legal documents, contracts for assisted living homes are usually fairly straightforward. However, some legal jargon may be used that is confusing and there may be add-on fees that aren’t readily apparent to the average consumer who has limited experience with assisted living. Families need to protect themselves by reading all the fine print and understanding exactly what is involved, what is expected of the senior and what the senior can expect of the care staff. And as a RAL owner, what you really don’t want is to have your relationship with the resident’s family sour because they were unaware of certain fees or price increases due to confusing contract documentation.

Most assisted living communities have a number of different pricing structures involving additional services and fees. Some facilities might separate the charges for room and board with the fees for care and the varying levels of care that are available. Other facilities separate each charge individually, which could mean that some families under the impression that three meals a day would automatically be included in the monthly price of the room, might later be shocked to find that this was an add-on fee that they had not taken into account. Other additional fees to consider might be a move-in or one-time entrance fee, yearly inflation rate increases, laundry service, medical supplies, medication delivery, etc. Still, there are other assisted living facilities that offer an all-inclusive pricing model, where all residents are charged the same cost regardless of what services they desire or the level of care that they need.

The key is simply to read all the documentation and ask plenty of questions. If there is even a remote doubt about a subject, simply ask. Knowledge is power. And there is already enough of a feeling of powerlessness when it comes time for a family to move a loved one into assisted living, so arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible.

6. Forgetting to Include Others

Most of us consider ourselves intelligent and competent people who can handle things on our own. In today’s modern world it’s easy to embrace the mantra of “if you want to go fast, go alone.” However, when making a decision as significant as where to place a loved one in assisted living, it is important to have input from a number of people and perspectives. Seek feedback from as many people as possible who have experience in the process of assisted living placement. Moving a parent or grandparent into assisted living is not a sign of weakness or something to be embarrassed about. Be willing to talk to friends and family openly about the subject and seek advice from those who have experience with it.

Connect with assisted living professionals and pick their brains about any topics, processes or advice that will help you make the best decision for your loved one. There are also organizations whose sole business it is to help advise and place seniors in the appropriate care facilities. Look to the help of a senior placement advocate who is knowledgeable and can answer all your questions; someone who can show you the residential care facilities in your area and give you reasoned advice on how to pick the best one. Placement advocates can help families evaluate, not only the facilities available, but the care requirements, amenity preferences and finances of the family as well. Using a professional to help you navigate this journey will save you a great deal of time and frustration by helping you narrow your options to the care homes that most directly meet your family’s needs.

These are just a few of the many pitfalls that families can stumble into when venturing through the often unfamiliar territory of assisted living. The more information you can gather from a variety of knowledgeable sources, the better off you and your loved ones will be when making your decision.

And if you are a RAL owner, it also might be a good idea to come up with your own list or guide so that you can educate the community around you and help them understand the mistakes to avoid in choosing an assisted living home. This exercise will serve as an internal review of your RAL business to help you implement strategies that address these pitfalls.

If you would like more information about assisted living and how to choose the right place for you and your loved one, check out the resources on our YouTube channel. We want to elevate this industry so that our seniors receive the care that they deserve.