How to Choose an Assisted Living Facility That’s Right for You

Assisted living facilities offer a unique mix of companionship, independence, privacy, care and security. But how do you find the right fit for you?

Choosing an assisted living facility is a top priority for older Americans and their families. As people age, many require help for managing daily activities. Assisted living facilities usually serve individuals who require this help with daily functioning, but not 24-hour nursing services.

Over 50% of people in assisted facilities are 85 years and older. According to National Center for Assisted Living, NCAL, there are approximately 811,500 residents nationwide in 28,900 assisted living facilities.

While the need is great, emotions may also run high. That’s why it helps to have logical and rational criteria when deciding how to choose an assisted living facility for yourself or your loved ones.

Let’s discuss the key factors to look for when seeking assisted living for seniors so that you may avoid common pitfalls.

A nurse visits with the smiling senior residents of an assisted living facility

Factor 1: Location

Often, the most important factor is staying close to home. Being close to a long-time home often means access to immediate family, friends and familiar surroundings. Having close companions in the vicinity can ease transitioning to an assisted living facility.

However, there may be other considerations such as how much medical assistance is needed and offered. Assistance varies across the United States, so it helps to evaluate options state by state. Specific state data is available on NCAL’s website and may help you make the best choice.

Factor 2: Care Needed

Start with a close look at the daily activities you or your loved ones need help with.

This may include help with bathing, walking, or taking medications. It can include help with dressing, help with toileting, help with bed transfer and/or help with cooking/eating. It helps to have a good idea of all your needs when choosing the right assisted living facility for you.

For some individuals, help may also include specific aid for medical conditions such as coronary care, diabetes care or memory care. By understanding your needs, you’ll be in a better position to find the facility which is the best match.

Factor 3: Levels of Care

Also, although no one likes to think about this, consider the future. You or your loved one may have specific care needs now… and may require more care in the coming months or years. Is this available at the facility you’re considering?

Knowing the different levels of care is an important factor in how to choose an assisted living facility. By selecting a facility with levels of care, you can avoid having to go through the evaluation process further down the road—if the need for advanced care arises.

The levels of care offered at a senior assisted living facility can vary, but typically include:

  1. Independent Living: This level of care is for seniors who are able to live independently but may need some assistance with activities of daily living.
  2. Assisted Living: This level of care is for seniors who need help with more activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, and using the restroom.
  3. Memory Care: This level of care is for seniors who have dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
  4. Skilled nursing care: This level of care is for seniors who need more intensive medical care and/or rehabilitation services.
  5. Hospice care: This level of care is for seniors who are terminally ill and have a life expectancy of six months or less.

With these in mind, it is easier to evaluate each facility. Let’s first look at what common services you’ll be able to access at most assisted living facilities in the US.

Nurse performing music therapy memory care

Factor 4: Services Offered

Typical services that are offered at assisted living include:

  • 24-supervision and assistance
  • Health and wellness programs
  • Housekeeping and maintenance
  • Meals and dining services
  • Personal care
  • Transportation

Some facilities also have specialized services such as dementia care. Others have specific medical services such as diabetes, heart, and mental health programs. When choosing the right assisted living facility, make sure and enquire about all services offered, both for your current needs and envisioned needs in the future. If you have any concerns, it’s always best to voice them upfront. The answers might surprise you.

Most living facilities make it easy for residents to get the care they may not offer in-house. They coordinate services with other providers for health care services: such as dental, mental health counseling, pharmacy, and skilled nursing.

Additionally, many facilities feature programs to enhance quality of health. This may include art programs, pet therapy, yoga for seniors and Tai Chi. It can include wellness talks, educational lectures, concerts, classes, and community outings. Many facilities also offer transportation assistance for the residents, to the grocery and doctor’s appointments.

Check out each facility to determine how it supports health and well-being for the residents. Take a tour, ask questions of the staff and current residents and review all of the literature they provide in detail. Once you know how to decide on assisted living, it’ll be much easier to select a facility.

Nurse delivers food to injured senior in assisted living group room

Factor 5: Size

The size of assisted living facilities can range from 4 beds in smallest of facilities to over 500 beds in the largest. This impacts the staff-to-resident ratio as well as the general attitude of the staff. It’s important to consider how your local options are staffed and their ratios to residents when choosing an assisted living facility.

Size can also relate to the types of services offered. For example, larger facilities may have a pool, theatre or specialized programs and care. Whereas in smaller facilities, individuals often get more personalized attention and focus on their unique needs. Consider how the size of the facility will play a role in your overall experience.

Factor 6: Cost

Assisted living facilities range in price depending on many of the factors we’ve already discussed. The location, services offered, and size of the facility will all factor into the cost.

Many residents pay for assisted living through personal finances. This may be from a combination of resources such as savings, long-term care insurance and home equity life insurance. Medicare does not cover the costs of assisted living facilities.

The Veterans Administration may cover some costs for veterans. Medicaid may cover costs for some facilities, and some focus on Medicaid residents. Individuals with less financial resources can investigate grant programs for seniors and pursue assistance through charitable organizations.

Additionally, fee structures vary. Check out the details of upfront cost, monthly payments, and a la carte services. Alternatively, many facilities offer tiered plans with prices depending on the level of care required. The average cost for assisted living in the US is around $4,000 a month or $133 dollars a day.

Once you determine what you can afford, be sure to look for the features that matter most to you.

Factor 7: Culture

Check out the culture in person as well as online. Experts recommend taking your time to feel it out for yourself. Do things such as: Visit the facility. Have a walk around the grounds and surrounding environment. Have a meal and talk to people.

Finding the culture that fits for you or your loved one is a critical factor. Many experts advise to do your research, take your time and be sure to listen to your intuition.

Cheerful seniors exercising with their arms raised

Factor 8: Unforeseen Events

When choosing the right assisted living facility for yourself or a loved one, understanding how they handle unforeseen events is also an important factor to consider.

Does the facility work in conjunction with a local hospital? What’s it’s proximity to the nearest emergency room? What medical facilities do they have onsite and what services can be performed if the need demands it? Asking these questions will help to understand the facilities process and capabilities.

Additionally, it’s helpful to understand what the facility does in case of an emergency such as a fire, power failure or natural disaster prevalent in the local area. Enquiring about their COVID-19 mitigation policies should also be a topic of discussion.

Locating an Assisted Living Facility

When it comes to choosing an assisted living facility, you may want to evaluate assisted living facilities in your area. U.S. News offers a tool to find facilities and evaluate services, locations and more. The locator can be useful for prioritizing options and identifying the best choice for your location, needs and finances.

Assistance Club Summary

What’s the #1 big take away?

Familiarity provides peace of mind.

Familiarizing yourself with the 8 factors for choosing an assisted living facility helps you plan for the future.

By familiarizing yourself with the options, you’ll be better prepared for making wise decisions for yourself and your family.