If you’re taking care of a senior loved one, there may come a time when they need more assistance than you can provide. Knowing the difference between a nursing home and assisted living can help you figure out the best environment for them. But, how do you know which facility is the right one?
Here are some questions to ask when selecting an assisted living facility:
- Does the senior have to qualify to get into the facility?
- How much will it cost to live there? Are all services included?
- What kind of care will the senior need at the facility?
- How is this care administered?
- Which amenities do residents receive?
- What do other residents have to say about the facility?
You can use these questions to use as a starting point, however we encourage you to keep reading. In this article, we’ll talk more about the different levels of assisted living care, whether seniors must qualify for them, and what goes into the often-high assisted living costs. We’ve even provided a checklist that you can bring with you as you tour different facilities.
First, How Does A Senior Qualify For Assisted Living?
Before we proceed any further, you should know that, in order to move into an assisted living facility, the elderly person in your life needs to be eligible to do so. Many people don’t realize this.
How do they qualify? Well, each day, people engage in what’s known as Activities of Daily Living or ADLs. There are six of these:
- Dressing oneself
If at least two of the ADLs are difficult for your senior to do on their own each day, then they’re likely eligible for assisting living care under the rules of most facilities.
ADLs are also used to determine one’s candidacy for nursing home living, but there are further benchmarks to meet for those, since these facilities offer more care than assisted living.
Are There Different Levels Of Assisted Living?
While nursing homes may take over the majority of a senior’s care, assisted living is still anything but hands-off. These facilities are intended for the elderly who wish to maintain some degree of independence, but require medical staff to be around for care.
Depending on how much care the senior requires, they may be located in either a level-1 or level-2 assisted living facility.
What Is A Level 1 Assisted Living Facility?
Level 1 care at an assisted living facility is considered lower level care. The senior has a good degree of mobility, even if that means they get around using a wheelchair rather than on their feet. They also have no difficulties with speaking and communicating, and their memory is in good enough shape.
If the senior is on any medication, they can take it on their own, although they may not always remember to.
In level 1 care, some ADLs are hard for the senior and may even elude them. They might have trouble bathing themselves or getting dressed, for example, or have problems with incontinence or using the toilet.
The staff at the assisted living facility can fill in the care gaps so the senior has a good quality of life, but mostly thanks to their own efforts. This allows them the most independence.
What Is A Level 2 Assisted Living Facility?
For the elderly who require a bit more attention, there’s level 2 care. This is considered moderate care.
Senior residents in this category can often still walk and talk (although maybe to a lesser extent), but they need more monitoring than those in the level 1 (lower) level of care.
For example, a nurse may come by each morning, afternoon, and evening to help the senior take their medication because the person can’t do it on their own. Or, they could have a tough time with their ADLs and need an aide to help with bathing, dressing, or even eating.
Even though they may not be able to do many things, the senior can still do some daily tasks on their own in level 2 care.
What Should I Look For In An Assisted Living Facility?
Once your senior has qualified for residency at an assisted living facility, you’ll want to be sure you choose a place they’ll be comfortable and even happy in. To meet this goal, what kinds of features and amenities must be included in the assisted living facility?
A Good Culture
Assisted living is a community filled with semi-independent seniors. Like any community, big or small, it will have its own culture.
You’ll only get a very small glimpse of this culture by reading about it online. Instead, you should visit the facility a few times – with your senior – to see if they mesh with the others at the facility.
Affordably Priced (For You And Your Loved One)
In our recent article on assisted living, we wrote about how these facilities can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $7,000 a month according to 2020 data. At that rate, you may pay upwards of $84,000 a year.
Prices are even higher in some parts of the United States, although in many states, the annual costs might run between $42,000 and $48,000 a year.
Whether these prices are too high will differ from person to person. Assisted living is not necessarily cheap, even if it costs less than most nursing homes. Obviously, it’s important to choose a facility that’s within your budget.
Options for More Care
Your senior may need low-level care now, but what if something changes in six months or a year? What are their options?
Besides the level 2 care we discussed above, many assisted living facilities also offer an even higher level of care. Under this type of care, seniors with chronic pain or a propensity to slip and fall will be supervised to reduce incidents.
Also, memory care for seniors who have been recently diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s can allow for some independence while still accommodating for the elder’s memory changes.
Should a senior’s physical or mental health degrade past even what’s offered at the assisted living facility’s highest level of care, you’d likely have to move them to a nursing home.
We know you wouldn’t want your senior to get bored in assisted living, so be sure to check on the amenities within the facility. They should be plentiful.
For instance, maybe the facility offers a wellness program with its own in-house gym, dining at a cafeteria, field trips for able-bodied seniors, and weekly activity nights in an entertainment hall.
Activities and amenities are beneficial both mentally and physically. In a 2012 study, published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, “Researchers have found that many LTC [long term care] residents are inactive and alone up to 65% of their time. Inactivity and social isolation contribute to strength loss, depression, and insomnia, with the highest rate of decline in those with dementia.”
If the assisted living facility has checked all the boxes for you, so far, the last point to consider is its location. This won’t matter as much to the senior as it does to you. After all, you’re the one who will have to come all the way out there to see your loved one, as will other members of the family.
Try to find a facility that’s close if you can, but don’t disqualify a good option if it’s 20 or 30 minutes away – unless you absolutely can’t go that far.
What Is Included In Assisted Living Costs?
We talked before about how much money you may spend a month or annually on your senior’s assisted living, but what does that money go towards?
All sorts of things, such as:
- Private transportation and/or shuttle use
- Weekly housekeeping and laundry services
- Apartment repairs and maintenance
- Snow removal and landscaping
- Room and board
- Care via an aide or nurse
You’re likely also paying for the senior’s utilities, including Internet, phone, cable, water, and electricity. While some facilities include these charges, many do not.
When you consider what you’re getting, the higher monthly prices of an assisted living facility make much more sense.
Checklist For Touring Assisted Living Facilities
As promised, here’s a handy checklist you’ll want to keep close when you schedule a tour at an assisted living facility. Whether you print this out and take it with you or download it to your phone, don’t schedule a tour without it!
- How many people work as staff members of the assisted living facility? What are their qualifications?
- How many years has the staff worked here? Do most employees stay long?
- Are employees subjected to a background check before they’re hired?
- Is the staff available 24/7?
- When do residents eat? Is it at select times or at the senior’s choosing?
- Where does a senior eat? At the cafeteria or dining hall? Can they eat in their room or have meals brought to them if they are sick?
- Are there enough seats in the cafeteria or dining hall for all residents to eat at once?
- Are the cafeterias or dining halls kept clean between meals? How so?
- What kind of food are the seniors fed? Are these meals balanced and nutritious?
- Can the seniors eat snacks in between if they get hungry or are these not offered?
- If a resident has a special diet, such as from allergies, will they be accommodated?
- Are meals offered only on weekdays or every day? How many meals are offered per day?
- Is the senior allowed to keep a pet? If so, which type of pet and how big? Will the staff help care for it if necessary?
- What kind of activities are offered to residents? Do these change daily, weekly, or monthly to keep things interesting?
- Are seniors taken off the premises for field trips and activities or are they confined to the facility only?
- Does the senior’s room come with phone, Internet, and cable?
- Are appliances included or will these have to be provided?
- Do the doors lock? Can the residents lock the doors themselves or will staff do it?
- Is storage space offered? If so, is it adequate?
- How big are the rooms? Are larger (or smaller) ones available?
- Does a senior get to choose the size of their room or the type of room?
- Do the rooms include a bathroom? Do the bathrooms have options for the handicapped?
- Are the exits easily accessible to all staff and residents?
- What happens in an emergency? Does the facility ever test for emergencies?
- Does the facility have fire extinguishers, sprinklers, and smoke detectors?
- Are the floors carpeted or non-skid?
- When a senior has a medical emergency, how do they get in touch with staff? Can they do so from their room? Who will respond and how fast?
- How often does medical staff visit residents? Who will visit? Will be it a doctor or nurse?
- Can seniors take medication on their own if they’re able?
- Who will remind them to take medication, if necessary, and how?
Assisted living allows your senior to hold onto their independence while still receiving the medical care they need. If your senior is eligible for this level of care, you’ll want to thoroughly check out any potential facility. Be sure to ask a lot of questions, in order to choose the best facility.