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A Guide for the Kids
How to choose a senior living facility that suits your parent’s needs and lifestyle


Jan. 2018

My parents lived in the same house for nearly 60 years. It was the first and only house they ever bought. When my dad passed away, there was never any question about my mom downsizing or moving to a condo. She was convinced that, with the help of her chairlift and various handrails, she’d be able to stay in their home forever.

Unfortunately, a fall and a broken leg made the decision for her. And when the time did come, my brother and I were forced to make a life-changing decision, with no preparation other than the time she would spend in the hospital rehabbing her leg. In the end, and for various reasons, we were not entirely happy with our choice.

So how do you pick a senior living facility for your parents that best aligns with their lifestyle interests and health care needs? According to our experts, here are some steps to follow.

Begin the search by knowing their desires.

“It is essential for children to know what is most important to their parents,” stresses Carey Bartlett, vice president, client relations of Lutheran Home and Harwood Place. “Are they looking for a robust social calendar, fine dining, a great gym, housekeeping or other services in their apartment? It is also vital for them to know about their parents’ finances. Great care comes at a price. If there is a chance that they will run out of funds, they need to look for a location that will not ask them to leave when their finances run out.”

“Have a talk with your parent to find out how they envision their upcoming years and how they want to spend their time. Make a list of their top three needs and wants for their next home,” recommends Anna Landes, marketing coordinator at Eastcastle Place. “Communication is key to finding the right facility.”

“Is/are your parent(s) reluctant to move? If so, what is the hesitancy? Often times it is something as simple as the burden of making the move,” notes Tricia Cohn, executive director of Ovation Chai Point. “There are several specialized companies that assist seniors with moving. All you have to do is provide the guidance, and they will do all the work.”


What is the budget?

“No two facilities are alike. Ask to see a copy of the agreement before making a final decision. Agreements should outline what the facility’s financial expectations are. Make sure the individual can afford housing for three to five (years),” suggests Ovation Chai Point’s administrative services supervisor, Cheyenne Ensor. “Find out if the facility has a contract with a managed care organization (MCO). You need to know what happens if your parent can no longer afford the room and board or if they deplete their funds while residing in the facility. Does the facility require them to seek financial assistance through an MCO? Does the facility require a letter of guarantor to ensure the room and board is paid for if they are no longer able to afford making the payments? There are no formulas — just policies to ensure they are safeguarded from non-payment after funds are depleted.”

“Retirement communities have various pricing plans based on the size of units and inclusion of services in the monthly fee. A sales counselor can help with planning for initial costs — and additional costs as one or more parent requires more medical services. A representative from the community being researched will be able to describe that community’s specific financial requirements and make recommendations of other Life Plan Communities in the area if it is not the right fit for you or your parents,” says Linda Cardinale, director of sales and marketing for Milwaukee Catholic Home.


What level of care do they need?

“There are a number of environments for senior living, each of which offers different types and levels of support and care,” explains Cardinale. “At a Life Plan Community, all levels of care are offered at the same campus, making transitions from one to the other easier and smoother. The levels of care include:

• Independent living: Residents live independently but with the benefits of community life, and have access to a variety of services, including dining, housekeeping and some basic supportive services.

• Assisted living: There are several different regulatory environments that fit under the category of assisted living, including RCAC (residential care apartment complex) and CBRF (community-based residential facility). In these environments, additional structure and staff presence are provided, as well as a certain level of nursing care.

In some assisted living environments, staff are specifically trained to support those with mild to moderate symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

• Skilled nursing: A skilled nursing environment (the traditional ‘nursing home’) is helpful for those who need 24-hour clinical support.

• Memory or special care: This environment is for those in the more advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Staff are specially trained to provide therapeutic and clinical support to those with significant memory loss.”

“If you are unsure, ask your doctor,” Bartlett says. “Once you choose a community, they may be willing to come to your home and do an assessment on your loved one to make sure your loved one will go to the most appropriate location right away.”

Learn to accept differing needs among parents.

“Often one parent’s needs are not the same as the other’s — certain facilities are able to provide care to one spouse, and not the other,” says Cohn. “For this, you should look for an á la carte structure. In this instance, if dad’s level of care is classified as independent, he only pays the rent. Whereas, mom’s share would pay the rent and also take into consideration the cost of each service rendered, such as health monitoring, medication administration, showers and/or bath fees, etc. Therefore, mom’s cost is higher. It is certainly not uncommon.”

“A Life Plan Community can be an especially good fit for couples with different levels of need, providing a number of options for ensuring that the needs of both parents are met,” says Cardinale. “Support staff can take the burden off the caregiving spouse, giving them as much independence as possible while keeping them safe and secure. When one spouse requires a higher-level care setting, a Life Plan Community enables both spouses to continue to live on the same campus and see each other as often as they would like.”


Visit the facility once — or twice.

“On your first visit, it is best to relax and take it all in,” says Bartlett. “Soak in the atmosphere. Are people friendly and smiling?  Are there interesting things going on? Are the common areas clean and inviting? Most people tour multiple times before making their decision. If you like what you see, you can always learn more by reading the literature and coming back for another visit.”

“This is your chance to ask questions,” encourages Ensor. “Do not be afraid to have high expectations, but be willing to compromise. Learn about the on-site amenities. Does the facility have a bank, beauty salon, swimming pool, fitness center, gift shop, restaurant, etc.? Compare and contrast between facilities — do not stop at just one.”

Before making any decision, make a checklist for each facility you are considering. Here are some things to ask:

• Background check: Is the staff licensed and certified? Is the facility Medicaid certified? Does administration run background checks on its staff? Does the facility have an abuse-prevention training program? And how does it monitor for abuse? Are there any complaints or current lawsuits filed against the facility?

• Personal: If applicable, does the facility specialize in the disease your parent is suffering from? Does the facility cater to your parent’s cultural and religious needs? Can your parent bring personal furnishings to make the room or apartment feel more like home? What are the visiting hours and rules?

• Food: What are the meal options? Does the facility allow for special dietary needs? Is the food fresh, healthy, tasty and served at the proper temperature? Is there ample variety? Would you enjoy it?

• Care: Do residents regularly have the same caregiver? What level of staff is on hand at night and on weekends? Are there medical professionals on staff, and if so, when? Is there an arrangement with a local hospital for emergencies?

• Safety: Is the facility well-lit? Are there smoke detectors and sprinklers throughout? Are there handrails and grab bars in common areas and in bathrooms?

• Livability: Is the facility clean? And are spills and accidents cleaned up quickly? How would you rate the indoor and outdoor recreation areas? What social events and programs does the facility offer?


This story ran in the Jan. 2018  issue of: