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5 Guidelines for Assisted Living Retirement Communities

Asking the right questions about senior care
assisted living

This blog is part of a year-long series aimed at addressing some of the most frequently asked questions we hear from family and adult children on the topics most concerning them regarding their aging parents or loved one. In 2012 Hebrew SeniorLife published the eBook "You & Your Aging Parent: A Family Approach to Lifelong Health, Wellness & Care," a compilation of answers from HSL geriatric experts in response to the many of the most frequently asked questions. We're reposting some of the most popular Q&A posts from our original eBook which was downloaded over 2,000 times. We're also adding new Q&As throughout the series that address topics not originally included in our eBook. Sign up to receive the blog series and download our original eBook at www.hslindependentliving.org

Searching for an assisted living community can be challenging, but knowing the right questions to ask can help. 

Think for a moment about what you are looking for:  a social retirement community, senior care, a rental property.  This is a unique combination of needs and services to combine into one package.  Odds are, you’re “shopping” for this product for the first time in your life, and you may not know where to start. Finally, every Assisted Living community is unique, with its own personality, culture, care and offerings.  I like to say, “Once you’ve seen one assisted living, you’ve seen one assisted living.”  With so much to sort through, where do you begin?

As this post is the first in a series about “The Right Questions,” I’d like to start with the two I advise anyone caring for parents to consider at the outset.

Is the elder appropriate for any assisted living?

Though this first question may seem obvious, the answer sometimes is not. In the state of Massachusetts, for example, there are several guidelines handed down by the Executive Office of Elder Affairs that define whether or not someone is  appropriate for assisted living.  These include the following:

1)     Ambulation status: a resident must be able to walk independently, with or without an assistive device;

2)     Medical status: a resident must be independent enough to live in a social model of care that does not provide 24/7 medical supervision;

3)     Behavioral challenges: a resident must be able to function without constant redirection from staff;

4)     Self-care: a resident must be able to participate in ”tasks of daily living” such as dressing and grooming such that only one caregiver is needed;  and,

5)     Nutrition/eating: a resident must be able to eat independently.

Once you determine that assisted living as model of care is appropriate, I advise the search for a specific community to begin with the following question.

Is this community equipped to serve my family member over the long term?

As much as we would wish it otherwise, the aging process is unpredictable. In our search for immediate solutions, it’s easy to overlook this reality in favor of what might be only a temporary resolution.

If a resident develops challenges in any of the above areas, what is the policy of the community?  Does the assisted living offer an option of more care for an additional fee?  Does the care come from the community’s staff or from an outside agency?  And if it is no longer appropriate for the resident to live in assisted living, are there other levels of care provided by the organization, preferably on the same site.  These may include Alzheimer’s and other dementia care, nursing home care, and options for additional private help.

The national average for staying in assisted living is currently 24 months. 
Educated consumers are realizing more and more that assisted living communities offering a full continuum of care options are a wise investment in their parents future care needs.  

Tara Fleming Caruso, MA, LMHC's picture

About the Blogger

Collaborative Care Advisor at NewBridge on the Charles

Tara serves as the collaborative care advisor for the NewBridge campus, making her an important resource for each of our residents and their families. Tara helps each senior moving to NewBridge both understand and access the variety of supports our continuum of care offers so each can live their best life possible. Tara brings almost 25 years of elder care experience to this role, including developing an expressive therapy program in a skilled nursing facility, serving as a program manager at a dementia-specific assisted living, and working at NewBridge on the Charles since 2009. She is a...

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I liked this post because educating the public about different levels of care within the aging field is critical in the decision making process of families.
My husband and I lived in a retirement community for four years as a couple who was independent. When we had visited the place, it seemed as though there were many active persons, but by the time we applied and moved in, the situation had changed quite a bit. Six of us who used computers decided to publish an in-house magazine, first taking a night course at the high school to learn a publishing program. It was fun for a while. We interviewed people in our community, but the community kept changing as people aged, and some of us began leaving to get a better life. I'm independent in a condo now. My husband died in 2008. My next move will no doubt be my last, and I hope to move closer to one of my children in a place that offers assisted listing if needed. We are all scattered in my family, so email and phone are crucial to me. I don't tweet or use facebook. I think we know
Wow! Great blog!. It will be very useful for us, as we are looking for a good assisted care facility for my mother. We have already made appointment at a care home near us. However, we were unsure about the questions to ask them. Your blog has definitely been very helpful. Thank you for sharing!
Thanks for your kind words. We're glad our content is helpful!
My great aunt is finding it harder and harder to care for herself, and we think that an assisted living center would offer her the aid she needs. It is good to know that ambulation is important in an assisted living center. Good thing my aunt is able to walk independently. I will talk to my aunt about this option, thanks.

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