How to Choose the Best Retirement Facility for Yourself or a Loved One

Nurse with elderly patient
Photo by Alexander Raths / Shutterstock.com

There are many assisted living facilities to choose from, but finding a caring home that’s the right fit for an elderly family member requires you to shop around.

When seniors can no longer care for themselves, they often depend on relatives to identify assisted living communities that will give them the support they need. It’s a mistake to base a decision on price or location alone. There are many variables when it comes to assisted living.

Joy Loverde, the author of “Who Will Take Care of Me When I’m Old?” and “The Complete Eldercare Planner,” recommends looking for a facility in an area that’s familiar to your loved one. Moving to another state with unfamiliar surroundings and customs may make the transition more difficult, she says. If a lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan moves into a community where everyone else roots for the New York Mets, it might not feel like home.

“The culture of each facility will depend on who owns it, who works there and who lives there,” she said. “I am a Midwesterner. If I went to assisted living in downtown Manhattan. I might feel like a fish out of water.”

The facility also should match the needs of the person you’re shopping for. If your loved one is still physically active and a home that you visit offers few activities or opportunities for outings, that’s a warning sign that it won’t be a good fit.

“While safety and security must always be first and foremost without a question, the quality of an assisted living community can be measured by how well it provides engaged programming for its residents, delivered by a caring and compassionate staff,” said Larry Pino, the founder of Tuscan Gardens, a Florida company whose senior communities offer independent living, assisted living and memory care.

Here are tips for choosing an assisted care facility that meets your loved one’s needs.

Look for cleanliness

One of the basic requirements is finding an assisted living facility that is clean. Be sure to ask how often the living spaces are cleansed. If you find unpleasant odors, ask what caused them. Observe whether the residents are well-groomed and properly dressed. If they look unkempt and disheveled, that’s a clear warning that something is wrong.

Eric Goldberg, an elder law attorney based in New Jersey, says you shouldn’t be dazzled by a facility’s expensive decor and furnishings.

“Maybe you as the adult child are drawn to chandeliers and granite countertops, but do you think your parents really care about them?” he asked. “As long as the layout and decor are safe and everything is clean, the rest shouldn’t matter.”

Make sure the staff has a good attitude

If the assisted living community seems to be staffed by angry or rude people, it won’t be a happy place for your loved one to reside. Ask to speak to the people who will be taking care of your family member. Find out about their training and experience.

“Every assisted living facility is made or broken by their staff,” said Mary Jo Dietrich, a registered nurse who owns and operates a senior home care agency. “Keep a close eye on how the staff is regarding their clients. Are they affectionate and attentive, or are they distracted and uncaring?”

If you don’t have a good feeling about the personnel, look elsewhere.

Check the quality of meals

Meals should be something to look forward to. If the food that is served is tasteless or the menu is limited, it will harm your loved one’s quality of life.

Be sure to eat there yourself so you can gauge the quality of food preparation. Ask yourself if the food that is served is something you would be happy with day after day. If not, you need to find another facility.

Talk to other residents about their care

Ask to speak with residents and their families about the care they receive. A reputable facility won’t object to your curiosity. A few complaints can be expected, but if there is a pattern of dissatisfaction, consider finding another place for your loved one.

“Always ask the residents or visiting family members how they feel about the facility,” said Dietrich. “If they are dissatisfied, they will not hold back their judgment. They are likely to be the most candid with you.”

Make sure it’s a safe environment

Ask how seniors are able to contact the staff, and make sure there is someone available at all times to assist them. What kinds of things do caregivers help with? Does the facility offer access to quality health care and registered nurses? If your loved one is receiving memory care, ask about precautions that are taken to prevent residents with Alzheimer’s or dementia from wandering away.

Goldberg says you should ask about the caregiver-to-resident staffing ratio and find out how many aides and nurses are in the facility overnight. Also, ask about the procedures in the event of an emergency. (If the residence is in a hurricane zone or otherwise prone to power outages, does it have a proper backup generator and evacuation plans?)

ProPublica provides a tool called Nursing Home Inspect for looking up deficiency reports for some 60,000 nursing homes nationwide, based on inspection data from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. It allows you access to any reported deficiencies, the severity rating and penalties imposed on individual care facilities, as well as look at trends and patterns in the data.

Be prepared for sticker shock

A common challenge that families face is finding an assisted care facility for their loved one that is affordable while offering quality care. The cost of assisted care for the elderly isn’t cheap. If the resident lacks long-term care insurance, the price could take a big bite out of a savings account.

Genworth Financial Inc., which does an annual price survey, in September reported that the median monthly cost of assisted care for a private, one-bedroom unit was $3,750. You can save time by screening out facilities that are not in your price range. Make sure you ask which services are included in the base price and what services will cost extra. For example, products to control incontinence often aren’t included.

If you set a budget before you start your search, you won’t end up taking your loved one to visit a facility that’s out of his or her price range, said Dietrich.

Don’t assume that all is well

Things can change over time. A facility that met your standards when you chose it may drop in quality six months or a year later. Be sure that you visit often and ask questions when you have concerns about such things as food services, cleanliness, grooming or access to medical care. Your loved one is counting on you to make sure they can maintain a good quality of life.

It helps if you choose a facility that isn’t too far from your home or the home of other relatives, said Dr. Nicole Rochester, a physician and patient advocate based in Maryland.

“It’s important for family members to be able to drop in and check on their loved ones,” she said. “No one can advocate for your loved one like you can.”

Have you been through the process of scouting or choosing assisted living facilities? Share your thoughts in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
7 Reasons You Should Not Claim Social Security Early
7 Reasons You Should Not Claim Social Security Early

The sooner you claim your Social Security retirement benefits, the more you — and perhaps also your spouse — stand to lose. Here are the stakes.

8 Things I Always Buy at Target
8 Things I Always Buy at Target

I grew up shopping at the original Target store and am a lifelong fan. Here are my favorite purchases.

6 Reasons I Will Never Trust Suze Orman
6 Reasons I Will Never Trust Suze Orman

Beware: The self-proclaimed personal finance expert has a track record that suggests more sizzle than steak.

17 Amazon Finds Under $20 That Will Organize Your Life
17 Amazon Finds Under $20 That Will Organize Your Life

We’ve rounded up must-have products to help you get your ducks in a row.

7 Reasons You Should Consider a Career Change at 50
7 Reasons You Should Consider a Career Change at 50

Wondering how to change careers at 50, or if it’s possible at all? The good news is that many older workers have the energy and experience to pull it off.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
10 Things Frugal People Never Buy
10 Things Frugal People Never Buy

If you’re a true tightwad, the mere thought of spending money on these items gives you the willies.

10 Useless Purchases You Need to Stop Making
10 Useless Purchases You Need to Stop Making

You might as well flush your money down the loo if you spend it on these things.

7 Social Security Rules Everyone Should Know by Now
7 Social Security Rules Everyone Should Know by Now

Confusion over Social Security is a shame, considering how many of us will need this money badly.

9 Shopping Mistakes to Avoid at Costco
9 Shopping Mistakes to Avoid at Costco

Are you missing out on serious savings at your favorite warehouse club?

If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It
If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It

They don’t make coffee makers like this anymore.

The 16 Cars Most Likely to Last 200,000 Miles
The 16 Cars Most Likely to Last 200,000 Miles

One automaker takes half the spots on a list of the longest-lasting vehicles.

14 Things You Should Stop Buying in 2021
14 Things You Should Stop Buying in 2021

These convenient household products come with hidden costs that you might not have considered.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

Is Writing a Check Still Safe?
Is Writing a Check Still Safe?

Every time you pay by check, you hand your bank account numbers to a stranger.

6 Ways to Protect Your Retirement Accounts From Hackers
6 Ways to Protect Your Retirement Accounts From Hackers

Imagine having $245,000 stolen from your retirement account — and not being reimbursed.

8 Things You Should Replace to Improve Your Life Today
8 Things You Should Replace to Improve Your Life Today

Being frugal isn’t smart if you put off replacing these items.

This Is the Most Dependable Car Brand in the U.S.
This Is the Most Dependable Car Brand in the U.S.

This brand’s vehicles are least likely to give drivers repair headaches, according to J.D. Power.

7 Social Security Benefits You May Be Overlooking
7 Social Security Benefits You May Be Overlooking

There’s more to Social Security than retirement benefits.

13 Amazon Purchases We Are Loving Right Now
13 Amazon Purchases We Are Loving Right Now

These practical products make everyday life a little easier.

7 Hidden Sections of Amazon Every Shopper Should Know
7 Hidden Sections of Amazon Every Shopper Should Know

These little-known departments of Amazon are gold mines for deal-seekers and impulse shoppers alike.

9 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday
9 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday

These items are all steeply discounted — but the deals won’t last long.

The 6 Best Investing Apps for Beginners
The 6 Best Investing Apps for Beginners

If you’re looking to ease into investing in the coronavirus economy with just a little money, check out these easy-to-use tools.

7 Income Tax Breaks That Retirees Often Overlook
7 Income Tax Breaks That Retirees Often Overlook

Did you realize all these tax credits and deductions exist — or that they apply to retirees?

7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco

Even if it seems you save a bundle buying Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand products, they may not be the bargain they appear to be.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.