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
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.
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
“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
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
• 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.”
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
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
• 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
• 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?