How to Pick a Senior Community for Your Loved One: My Friends Were On the Wrong Track

Recently I took calls from three different friends, each one trying to decide which senior community would be the best match for their respective mothers. They had brochures, they had taken tours, had asked lots of questions. When I asked each of them to tell me about the communities, what they liked, what was important, I was surprised how fast our discussions turned to real estate. They all started talking about the size of the apartment and the amenities, the common spaces, and even the finish on the kitchen cabinets. I had to stay “stop!”

And this is what I said next…

“I know you want a nice place for your mom. But the things you’re talking about will not help you make a good decision on a senior community. The apartment size, a fireplace in the lobby, a granite countertop or even how far you have to drive to visit your mom are not the most critical criteria.

None of those things tell you anything about the quality of care or the quality of caring your mom will receive in a community. You need to think differently.”

I was probably a bit more terse than I wanted, and I know my friends were surprised at my tone, but there’s a reason. Earlier in the week, I read a report from the Division of Quality Assurance – Bureau of Assisted Living that listed brief summaries of Serious Violations in Wisconsin assisted living facilities. These are actions that have resulted in extreme harm to residents. I’m sad to say that the list from 2014 has more than 175 incidents on it.  These reports can be found on the Wisconsin Department of Health Services website.

Learning how to pick the right senior community for your loved one is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make for your aging senior. Don’t make the senior community decision lightly. Learn how to pick the right senior community by making an informed decision, considering experience and staff, quality and lifestyle.

How to Pick the Right Senior Community for your Loved One

Make an Informed Decision

What I want my friends to understand is that there are ways to minimize the risk of choosing the wrong community. And looking beyond the physical space is a critical step.

Here are a few things I shared with them that can be helpful to any family trying to make this decision. Even if you are only looking at independent living now, assessing a community’s assisted living should be part of the process, as health needs can change quickly.

Experience Matters

How long a provider has been offering assisted living tells you something important. It is not to your advantage to be the first family that will be receiving services in a building previously set up as a senior apartment complex. Caring for older adults with multiple chronic conditions requires specialized clinical expertise and oversight, and an understanding of how to balance the individual’s need for independence with the need for safety. That takes experience. Ask about the provider’s experience in assisted living.

Staff Matters

Even though a provider has offered assisted living for quite some time, it doesn’t mean that the specific staff caring for your loved one is experienced. Here are some questions to ask to assess the level of expertise in the community where your loved one will reside.

  • Does the community have a full-time registered nurse (RN) on site? (Many communities have one RN for many locations, and that means a nurse is not readily available for unplanned needs.)
  • Although many factors contribute to quality care, it is widely accepted that low staff turnover among good staff contributes significantly to resident satisfaction and quality care. What is the staff turnover rate, especially among full-time staff?
  • Does the community regularly survey resident satisfaction? What are the results?

Quality Measures Matter

There are challenges to helping older adults stay healthy. But an important component of success is reviewing results on a regular basis and making improvements.

  • How does the community evaluate its care? How often?
  • What does it measure?
  • How is the community doing in comparison to national or state trends on some of the major risk factors for older adults, like falls?

Lifestyle Matters

While all the health related things I’ve mentioned are very important, so is the community’s activity programming.

  • Ask about the variety of activities and the frequency.
  • Are residents still engaged outside in the local community as well as participating in the activities where they reside?
  • Is there a dedicated, experienced staff person focused on the residents’ quality of life?

If you evaluate these things, you will be well on your way to making a good decision. Laureate Group prides itself on keeping loved ones in good hands – our hands. See for yourself in the video below:Video:

If you need additional help, contact Laureate Cares to speak with someone who can help you sort through the issues, identify options and figure out the steps necessary to make a good decision in your particular situation. Each of our team members has at least 20 years of experience in senior services and works with seniors every single day. Laureate Cares is a free consultation service, so don’t hesitate to call us at 262-832-7113.