senior couple sitting by the lakeOften a specific stressful event, such as a serious fall, medical problem, or new diagnosis of dementia has been the trigger for needing an assisted living. Families can be overwhelmed dealing with complex medical decision-making.  This can make it difficult to process the details of what is being said during a tour or sales presentation.

There is often a great deal of pressure to make a quick decision due to a pending discharge date from a hospital or post-hospital rehab stay.  Families don’t know where to turn for help and can make impulsive and uniform decisions. There is a desire to just ‘get things over with’ because there is such a rush, and things are confusing.  Siblings who don’t agree, or parents who are resistant to having to move out of their homes further increase pressure to end the fighting, just pick somewhere, and make the move.

Placing an individual in an assisted living facility is just not something families do every day.  Unless there is a family member who is in the medical profession, there tends to be a lack of basic knowledge regarding eldercare options.  Families don’t know what questions to ask and often rely on the individual giving them the tour for education.  It is important to remember that the person giving tours and talking to families is often a professional whose training is in Marketing and Sales, with a goal to ‘close the deal’ and often working on commission.  These are not the individuals providing day-to-day care, and may just be telling families what they want to hear.

Because there is such a lack of familiarity with eldercare, families can sometimes be more influenced by the appearance of the entryway of the building, than by the reality of the level of service a facility provides. Corporate assisted living facilities are very aware of this, and outfit their lobbies with chandeliers and beautiful furniture.  It is important to remember that a chandelier will not be providing care to your loved one! The skill and dedication of caregivers will be crucial for your loved one’s experience but is very difficult to determine on a tour.

We tend to sign off on terms and conditions every day, on our smartphones, or when renting a car, typically without reading them.  This is a case where it is important to look at the fine print, to truly understand what you are signing up for, and what your options are if you are dissatisfied after the move.


How to Become An Educated Consumer and Ask the Right Questions

senior woman adjusting her eyeglasses

  1. Be clear regarding priorities and realistic about the level of independence.    How often do you expect staff comes to check proactively on residents?  How long would you like your loved one to wait for assistance after they ring the call bell? Will it be difficult for your loved one to navigate long hallways and elevators to reach a dining room?  Are you comfortable with your loved one sharing a room or a bathroom, or will personal space be important to them?  Facilities may promote resident outings, but is that something that your loved one could actually participate in without one-to-one assistance? Similarly, spacious rooms and apartment-like suites may be featured, but would it actually be easier to navigate a smaller living area?  Activities may be highlighted, but sales personnel may not be able to tell you how often residents actually participate in them, or whether it is difficult for residents to return to their room for a nap between activities because of the building layout.  If you are clear about what is really important to you, and what is realistic with your loved one’s current level of independence and mobility, decision-making will be easier
  2. Understand the payment structure.  Some facilities charge a flat fee with no unexpected costs and do not limit the amount of care provided.  Others will lure families in with a low monthly rate based on a set number of hours of care, only to tell families after moving in that more hours of care are needed, for an additional charge.  In other cases, residents may move into a regular assisted living area but then are told they must transfer to a specific dementia unit with significantly higher cost.  Most facilities charge an entrance or community fee due to the large amount of effort involved in assessing residents, assisting with move-in, and creating care plans. This is understandable but can be an unexpected fee if facilities are not clear about it.  Contracts, also known as ‘resident agreements,’ are similar to leases, and have stipulations for how much notice is required if the resident opts to move out. There may be a standard process for fee increases each year, as well as changes related to increased care needs if illnesses worsen over time. Some facilities charge a la carte for delivery of mail, doing laundry, or having meals brought to a resident’s room.  You will need to ask specific questions about these topics to know what is and is not included in the rate you are quoted.
  3. Learn about caregiver to resident ratio.  Individuals don’t move into assisted livings because of activities, outings, or the size of their rooms.  They come because they need help with daily living tasks.  The best and most timely help can be given when there is a high number of caregivers available to respond to resident needs.  For example, in some facilities, 1 resident assistant may be responsible for caring for 15 residents.  A facility where 1 caregiver is caring for only 6 or 8 residents means that response time will be much quicker, and caregivers will be able to give more attention to each resident.  Some facilities will say that there are multiple caregivers in the building, but one of them may be a nurse in an office who is not actually providing hands-on care.  One of the most important things to ask about is how many caregivers are actually on the floor providing hands-on care at all times of the day and night, and how many residents each is responsible for.  
  4. Ask about management availability, communication, and responsiveness.  At larger corporate facilities, the decision-makers are not even in the building where your loved one will be living and tend to be focused more on cutting costs and making profits, rather than the care and satisfaction of residents and families.  Having access to individuals with authority to make positive changes to your loved one’s care can be a real asset, and this tends to be easier in smaller, more personalized facilities.  Having a manager who knows all residents and families is not possible in a larger facility, but is extremely important for communication and satisfaction.  Asking about access to management and processes for problem resolution will help things go more smoothly in the long run.
  5. Familiarize yourself with eldercare options before you find yourself in a time crunch.  Ask any doctors, nurses, social workers, and physical therapists you interact with where they would send their own loved ones for care.  People working in the medical system often have a good sense of the quality of care provided by various facilities, and can be a great resource.  Take some time to search websites and visit facilities in your neighborhood before they are needed.  The local Department of Aging can be a reliable resource for general information about many elder care topics.

How Can Bel Air Assisted Living Help?

Assisted living medical staff helping a senior womanAt Bel Air Assisted Living, we pride ourselves on providing personalized care to our residents in a beautiful and comfortable setting.  We have an excellent reputation among local healthcare providers and have won awards for our care.  We have a high level of staffing so that needs can quickly be met.  We offer a flat rate for each of our three levels of care.  There is no time limit to the amount of care provided by our staff. Bel Air Assisted Living’s team explains the contract in detail so that families are never surprised. Our management team is easily available to address the concerns of residents and families.  We are committed to supporting informed decision-making and optimizing the quality of life for our residents.

Give us a call at 410-893-9164 or email us at [email protected] to learn more about our top-notch assisted living program. We’re ready to answer your questions and show you what you can expect from the White Glove service we provide to each resident living in our assisted living community.