5 Things to Look for in an Assisted Living Facility


There are few transitions as hard as going from living at home to living in an assisted living facility, but in many instances, it is the most sensible and best thing to do. Knowing when that time is can be a difficult prospect. What it really boils down to is the amount of time that your aging loved one needs supervision. It is not uncommon, especially in certain circumstances where disease plays a role, for your parent(s) to require 24/7 care. If that time commitment is unbearable due to any number of factors like working family members, kids of your own, or physical/emotional distance separating you, it may be time to look for an assisted living facility to partner with.

Here are some key things you want to look for when evaluating whether an assisted living facility is right for your parent(s).

5 Tips from Melissa Burton, LMSW, CMC, Care Manager Extraordinaire

1. Understand The Strengths and Weaknesses of the Assisted Living Facility and Your Loved One

When looking at an assisted living facility, it’s important to understand that there are a lot of variables at play with each location. You may have heard amazing or scathing reviews from your friends or family members. Either way, you need to know that what works for one person may not work for another. For example, your best friend’s mother may be having a wonderful experience at her ALF. She is cognitively intact and very active. The food might be wonderful and the activities engaging. For her, it meets all of her needs. You, on the other hand, might be looking for a memory care unit for your father that requires a higher level of nursing care and greater security. The same facility might not excel in those areas. Make sure you are comparing apples to apples and remain focused on your loved one’s specific needs.

2. Research

Even though all situations are unique, it is important to ask for input from friends, doctors, care managers, and do some research on the Internet. Here is a great website to help you with your research.

Medicare.gov — Tips and resources for caregivers.

The more information you have, the better prepared you are to make a decision.

3. Ask Plenty of Questions about the Staff.

Two important things to know about any given facility are the staff to resident ratio, and the skill sets of the staff at the ALF. Some facilities do a much better job of training their employees than others. It’s also important to recognize that nighttime staff might not be as skilled, and some facilities don’t have a nurse available at night. If your loved one has complicated medical needs this kind of facility might not meet your needs, or be the best choice. Regulations governing assisted living facilities are much less restrictive than skilled nursing facilities. There can be a wide spectrum of care provided at certain ALFs.

4. Accessibility

Make sure the location you pick is convenient for you if you plan on being the primary support/caregiver. It is important to stay as plugged in as possible. Sometimes establishing a great relationship with the staff and remaining connected makes all the difference in the care that is provided. You can stop a problem from becoming a major issue if you are monitoring the care on a regular basis. This level of involvement can be stressful, so make sure to eliminate the undue burden of excessive travel time to and from the facility. Also, remember to ask for help and to take care of yourself.

5. Gut Feeling and the Fish Tank Test

When you visit any location remember to follow your gut instinct. There are several reasons for this. First of all, our gut is rarely wrong. You might have noticed something subtle that gives you an uncertain feeling, or you might have had an instant connection with a place. Sometimes it is hard to put into words what you feel, but regardless, it may be valid. Secondly, if you don’t have a good feeling at a certain facility, you will have a hard time shaking that feeling over time. It may make it hard for you to trust the care provided. Establishing a trusting relationship with staff is very important. Also, remember to notice the smells, lighting, and cleanliness. If there is an odor, it should not remain unattended for very long. This kind of problem leads to another important point: it’s always a good idea to visit any given facility more than once. You never know if the day you decided to visit was just a bad (or good) day, and was out of the ordinary. Watch how the staff interacts with the residents. Are they treated with respect and dignity? Are the residents happy and healthy looking? Do they look compatible with your loved one?

When I tour a facility, I like to conduct what I call my Fish Tank Test. If an ALF has a fish tank, I check to see how well it is maintained. If it is dirty or the fish look sickly, I get a bad feeling about the facility. I believe that it is symbolic of how much attention to care and how much compassion the staff has for the residents. I went to a small, modest, ALF once that had a fish tank in the main lobby. It was a nice tank with several beautiful and exotic fish. It was very clean and well maintained. On the front glass was a sign that read: “If you notice any fish in distress, please call”. I thought that was wonderful. There was an emergency contact for the fish! This facility and whomever cares for those fish care about life! The little details matter.


The most important thing when deciding on which assisted living facility to partner with is which place you and your parents feel most comfortable. It really is a big decision, and one that should not be overlooked. If you would like more customized answers, or the help of a professional Care Manager like Melissa, visit www.lifelinks.care/contact.

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