Choosing assisted living for yourself or a loved one: it’s one of the biggest purchases you’ll ever make in life, and not just because of the cost. Though there are similar considerations when buying a home (location, style, affordability), you’re also “buying” assistance with personal care, meals, housekeeping and laundry services, and some level of — or access to — medical care. Add in the reality that many spend their final days, months or years in this setting and you’ve got one very difficult decision on your hands.
That’s why it’s so important to take your time, to thoroughly explore the assisted living communities in your price range and desired destination before move-in day. It’s best not to make this tremendous decision overnight after a medical emergency or care crisis, even though that’s what often precipitates this transition.
Wherever you are in the process, apply these basic “pre-purchase” principles when getting started:
Understand the product. When you’re about to make a big purchase — whether it’s a new house or a new dishwasher — a smart shopper reviews the specs and does some research first. What’s the neighborhood like? What are the taxes? What is the energy rating on this dishwasher? What kind of warranty does it come with? When it comes to assisted living, there is widespread confusion and misunderstanding about just what this type of care/housing is all about: one, because it’s still a relatively new option, two, because each state regulates it differently, and three, because so much of it is subject to the whims of consumer preferences, staff turnover and what kind of company runs the place. Get to know assisted living inside and out via these AARP posts, A Closer Look at Assisted Living, and A Closer Look at Assisted Living, Part Two. You can also refer to this Reader’s Digest post, The ABCs of Assisted Living Care, for further insights.
Know what you want. Now that you know what to expect from this care category, make a list of what you want. What does your/a loved one’s ideal community look like? What are the things you absolutely don’t want to compromise on (quality of care should be one of them versus the color of the carpet)? Read Finding a Quality Assisted Living Community for guidelines.
Know what you can afford. A huge part of understanding the product is knowing the cost. The cost (and how that cost will be covered) is often the major determining factor for many families. Be aware that assisted living costs can vary greatly based on the amount of care — typically in terms of hours — that your loved one needs. Get an idea of how much assisted living care costs across the country using this interactive map & tool from Genworth.
Research options that fit the above categories. Search our site for listings by city, state or zip code. You can also ask friends, colleagues or healthcare providers for recommendations, or use social media to narrow down your list.
See if it fits. Choose your top 3-5 communities and call each one to make an appointment for an in-person tour. When considering a new home, the showing is one of the most important aspects of the homebuying process. Treat this decision the same way. Visit the communities in person, ask lots of questions, observe the place carefully, look for the signs of quality care. Bring these checklists along, or refer to these helpful tools for your visits:
- Quick Tips for Choosing the Best Senior Care Provider
- Checklist for Evaluating Communities
- Evaluating Assisted Living Care: Questions to Ask
Try before you buy. You may know it’s a perfect fit without doing so, but many assisted living communities now offer short-term stays. If your loved one is hesitant about the transition or unsure about what the community is like after 5pm, find out if a short-term stay is an option at the top communities on your list.