Committing to an assisted living community is a big decision. And chances are, your parent isn’t jumping at the opportunity, even if you think it’s their best move. The good news? Today there are a number of options that allow your mom or dad to test-drive communities to get a feel for how each place runs and to figure out whether it’s a good fit for them. Below are a few ways to test the waters.
Take a Tour
After you’ve pinned down some communities that seem like a good fit financially, you should tour the communities yourself without your parent, says Lisa Mayfield of Washington-based geriatric care management company Aging Wisdom.
“This way you can narrow it down to the top two places you like rather than dragging your parent all over the place, which can be exhausting and hard for them to remember one community from another,” said Mayfield. “Also, if you take them along initially, and the first place you go to is a bomb, then it can be discouraging and reinforce their hesitations.”
After you’ve determined your own top picks, it’s time to take your parent on a tour.
“It’s necessary for the parent to tour. They’ll see things differently than you will and you want them to want to move there,” says Debbie Feldman, a geriatric care manager in Buffalo Grove, Ill.
Typically, the visits last an hour and a half to two hours, and you can expect a marketing or salesperson from the community to tell you about the pricing structure, activities, and meals before you tour the different apartment options, dining room, and activity rooms.
Make sure to tour during a mealtime. “Not only do you want to taste the food, but everyone is assembled in the dining room, so it’s a good time to observe the type of people who are living there–if they’re cognitively and functionally similar to your parent,” says Mayfield.
Here are some other things to check off your list during tours:
- Ask if the community will refund the admission fee, if your parent decides to leave.
- Request to meet the nurse. “I think the nurse is the most important person in the building. Talk to her about any special needs your parent has and ask her how long she’s worked there,” Mayfield recommends.
- Meet the community’s activity director and ask to see a calendar of activities, as well as observe an activity.
- Pay attention to the ambiance. “Is the lobby active and are families in and out or does it feel like a ghost town?” says Mayfield, noting that while the condition of the building is important, most seniors aren’t sold based on whether it’s new and fancy. “Most older adults live in homes they haven’t changed or updated in years and they’re living modestly. They may not feel comfortable in a glitzy, brand new building. Find a match suited for your parent — not what you would want,” she says.
- Take pictures of the outside of the building and inside the apartments, so you can remember each place after you leave.
Try Out Respite Care
Many assisted living facilities offer temporary stays, of up to a few days to several weeks. This option is referred to as respite care and gives your parent the chance to stay on the premises and try out everything the facility has to offer.
During respite stays, your parent will typically be billed for rent and services for the time he or she stays, but won’t have to pay the onetime admission or community fee of permanent residency, which can cost as much as $3,000 or more.
While some adjusting will take place, Mayfield says, “they’ll use the facility’s furnished apartment, so it’s more like staying in a hotel, which is a little easier and less stressful than having to move their own stuff in.”
Feldman notes that respite care is different from adult day care, which is usually not set in an assisted living community. “Adult day care is really set up for people who have dementia and other cognitive issues, and whose caretakers need a place for them to go during the day,” said Feldman. “This kind of environment is intended to engage elders during the day, so that when they go home, they tend to eat better and sleep better.”
Stay for the Short-Term
Many assisted living communities offer month-to-month lease arrangements in addition to long-term contracts. This offers similar advantages to respite care.
“The hope it that your parent realizes it’s not as bad as they thought,” says Mayfield. “However, there is a chance that if they stay and hate it, then they may not ever want to consider assisted living again.”
With this in mind, Mayfield recommends short-term stays only for people who are really reluctant to make the move. “It can take three to six months or up to a year to adjust to a community, so short periods of time aren’t enough to really get acclimated,” she said.
However, if circumstances require that your parent move into a facility immediately, a short-term stay can prevent you from having to choose a community based solely on what’s available–many popular assisted living communities have wait-lists for certain types of rooms or for the entire facility.
In the long run, this option may also make more sense financially. While month-to-month rates may not seem like the best deal, if you’re forced to move your parent into assisted living on short notice, going with a short-term stay can buy you the time you need to make a full assessment of your financial situation and choose a community that your family can afford.
While moving your parent to another facility could cost you to lose the community fee, Mayfield notes, “at most places that is pretty nominal in relation to the big picture.”