Getting the Most from an Assisted Living or Nursing Home Visit

Choosing the “best” assisted living or nursing home can be stressful. There are many options, tradeoffs, and considerations — financial and otherwise. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, especially when the time available for deciding is short.

In most instances, a tour (or tours) will be involved. But how should you prepare? What questions should you ask? Who should you speak with and what aspects of this decision are most important?

Alyson and I have gone through this process with clients many, many times over the years. Here are some important things to know as you do the same… 

How an Assisted Living Tour Works

Most people will make a few visits to an assisted living before making a final decision. In many ways, it’s like moving to a new town and choosing a home. Your personal living space matters, as does the community itself.

Your first meeting will likely take place with the sales manager who will probably offer some refreshments and try to learn about your situation and what you are looking for. This brief discussion (it shouldn’t take more than about 20 minutes) will guide the sales manager in deciding which things to highlight on your tour.

A well-run tour isn’t random. Apartments to look at and the entire route should be thought about ahead of time. These are often large buildings and it can feel disorienting if there is lots of wandering involved. 

When the tour ends, you will go back to the room where you started to talk about pricing, availability, and any questions you may have. Overall, expect to spend about 60-90 minutes from start to finish.

Nursing Homes are Different

When considering a nursing home, medical needs and practices are a much higher priority than with assisted living. You will probably sit with an admissions director when you first arrive; the focus will be primarily about clinical information and bed availability.

Nursing homes can feel busy with pagers and alarms and, of course, they feel more clinical. Still, do your best to get a sense of the comfort level of the residents; trust your gut.

Does it smell clean? If not, it may be because residents are not attended to in a timely manner. Do staff seem engaged and responsive working there? As we have said many times before, happy staff equals happy residents.

The better nursing homes in Massachusetts often have wait lists, sometimes six months or more. Establishing a relationship with the admissions director can help you stay top of mind. Be prepared to give them whatever information they need to get on a waiting list.

Also, because of the wait, if you are having a planned surgery and may need rehab, start looking as soon as you can. Of course, not all nursing home stays can be anticipated. But try to get ahead of the curve if possible so that you can make a well-informed choice.

A Few More Suggestions…

#1. Don’t bring a checklist or list of questions for your first visit.

I know, this may seem counterintuitive. But the first visit is about getting a feel for a community. If you are busy taking notes or ticking through a list of prepared questions, you are likely to miss the more subtle (but important!) aspects — aspects which require engaging all five of your senses.

For example, one of our clients visited a highly-rated assisted living recently. Despite the many people who love this particular community, our client thought it seemed “dark and crowded.” This was just his personal opinion, based on how he felt during his visit. 

Don’t worry. You can get answers to all your specific questions about pricing, availability, level of care, staff turnover, etc., after your initial visit. But none of that will even matter if your overall gut impression is not positive. Use your first visit to soak it all in.

#2. Don’t visit too many locations at once. 

We strongly recommend only one place per day, and certainly no more than two. Otherwise, they can all start to blend together in your mind. Of course, if you are visiting from out of town for just a few days you may have no choice. But try to spread visits out when possible.

Also, while we suggest not bringing a notebook or checklist on the tour, we do recommend that you take some notes immediately after your visit while things are still fresh. Maybe keep a notebook in your car.

#3. Talk with people.

Try to make eye contact with the people you encounter on your tour. When possible, stop and chat with them, whether they live there or work there. You can learn a tremendous amount about what a community is like by spending a minute or two engaging with residents and staff.

We understand, choosing an assisted living or nursing home is a big decision. After all, where we live, at any age, has a huge impact on our quality of and appreciation for life. Take your time, trust your instincts, and let us know if we can help!

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