How to choose the right community for a loved one

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How to choose the right community for a loved one
Many factors are at play when choosing the right community. (File photo)
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By Doug Buttner

Spending time with older loved ones can be a highlight of the holiday season; however, it can also be a time when many notice concerning changes in their loved one’s well-being like physical decline, social isolation or neglected living conditions. 

Many family members soon find themselves faced with having to look for a safer living environment for their parents or grandparents. For those who have never gone through this process before, it can be a daunting, emotional task that leaves them wondering where to start. A simple Google search like “senior care in Virginia” produces 904 million results: How does anyone really know which assisted living community will provide what they need? 

For more than two decades, I’ve helped families find the right community. Here are the key questions and elements that individuals need to ask and be on the lookout for. 

Spotting excellence 

The old expression, “the cream always rises to the top” couldn’t be more true here. Most senior living providers are owned by larger companies, so it’s important to evaluate the operations of both the parent company and its local community so you can identify the best. 

These are some questions to consider: How long has the parent company been in business? How does the community hire and train its staff? Happy, stable staffing generally translates to better care and a superior experience, so how satisfied are the community’s staff and what is their turnover? Do they have on-site leadership present seven days a week if an issue arises? 

Levels, length of care 

Although your loved one may not need a high level of care now, it’s possible they will need it in the future and an eventual move to another facility could be detrimental to their well-being. Look for a community that offers multiple care levels and can provide high levels of care if needed. 

According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, the number of people with dementia is almost doubling every 20 years, so look for a community who can offer and manage the physical and behavioral challenges of Alzheimer’s if the need arises. 

It’s also common for older adults to need help managing medication, getting dressed or bathing as they get older. Consider these questions: Can the community provide those services? Will they allow private skilled nursing care to be provided in the privacy of the resident’s apartment? 

Resident engagement 

Mental stimulation and having connections with others is equally as important as safety and care. Quality senior living communities offer a wide range of programs throughout each day that are tailored to residents’ interests. Look at their activities calendar to see if they offer programs each day that would be of interest to your loved one. More importantly, see how they go about designing and offering their resident programs. 

More than a meal 

Food is important because it should provide not only well-balanced meals that are both nutritious and delicious, but it should be a time when people come together to socialize. Look for communities that offer both quality food your loved one will enjoy and those that make dining more than just another meal. 

Here are some questions to consider: Are there multiple dining venues and a wide range of choices to prevent boredom? Is the food homemade or premade and are any ingredients grown on-site? How often are specials available? What programs are offered that get residents really excited about food and eating? 

Services to consider 

Although assisted living communities can provide a wide range of services, not all will provide things like transportation to appointments or on-site healthcare and wellness services. With many of us managing multiple hats and responsibilities, it’s not always possible to take a loved one to appointments whether it be weekly hair appointments or doctor’s visits. Look for a community that offers transportation options and the convenience of services on-site like a hair salon, nurse visits to address concerns or regular on-site rehabilitation to aid in recovery. 

These are just some of the things that should go into evaluating and choosing an assisted living community for a loved one. Once you’ve done your initial research, visit each community to attend an activity, have a meal, see how well it’s maintained and get a sense of the overall culture. 

The writer is senior executive director at Benchmark at Alexandria, an assisted living and mind and memory care community. 

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