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Choosing an assisted living facility

by Leah DiPlacido

Understand what assisted living offers, and determine if it might be appropriate for your needs. This overview of available assisted living options may help you choose a facility.

As of 2010, more than 900,000 people in the U.S. lived in nearly 40,000 assisted living facilities. These facilities provide varying levels of support in many aspects of daily living and health care. How do these residences differ from nursing homes? Assisted living may be appropriate if you or your loved one is having difficulty performing normal daily activities such as grooming, dressing and preparing meals, without requiring the medical and nursing care found in nursing homes.

Assisted living facilities: know your options

The services vary, with some types of assistance offered "optionally" and for an additional cost. The American Health Care Association and the Administration on Aging list common examples of activities and services, including the following:

  • Daily meals served in a group dining room
  • Supervision 24 hours a day
  • Personal assistance with tasks such as grooming, bathing and dressing
  • Help with management of medication
  • Social recreational activities
  • Laundry services
  • Exercise programs
  • Security
  • Transportation

Finding local assisted living options

To find elder care providers in your area, you can complete a brief needs survey. This free referral service supplies you with a list of qualified, prescreened care providers. Once you have information on viable assisted living facilities in your desired area, begin to research how each is unique. Start with each facility's website, examine any comments or complaints at your local Better Business Bureau, and review any articles published about the facility in the local newspaper.

Visit the facilities in your local area, making note of any traffic challenges between the potential residence and that of close relatives. Meet with administrative staff, and ask to speak with others living at the facility. Bring a consistent set of questions with you to be sure you collect the same data from all locations. The following list provides some essential points:

5 important considerations for assisted living

  1. Quality of care: How is the staff trained? Is the facility approved by the state?
  2. Cost: The Administration on Aging reports that costs range from less than $10,000 a year to more than $50,000 a year in the U.S., with an average monthly rate of $1,800. You can use a cost calculator from the American Health Care Association to estimate the costs of assisted living facilities. Find out the basic monthly cost of a facility and whether it offers the services you require at an affordable cost.
  3. Living areas: Is the residence appropriate for your needs? Is there enough space? Is it comfortable?
  4. Social and spiritual activities: What recreational activities does the facility offer? If you attend church or have a doctor's appointment, does the facility offer transportation?
  5. Food: What are the menus like? If you need a special diet, will the staff accommodate you? Are the meals healthy?

Studying all the information gathered from each local facility can help you decide if assisted living meets your needs, and narrow your search for an appropriate home.