Helping Hands Helpful Hints - Hunting for a New Home

The team at Helping Hands Senior Resources spends their days advising seniors and their loved ones on local senior care options. Once families make the difficult decision to find a new and supportive home for their aging loved one, the first step is touring a few communities! You can tell so much about a senior community just by going to visit. Below is a list of helpful hints that will guide you on what to look for when you are touring a senior community. As you will see, it shouldn’t just be about the chandeliers and wallpaper; it is about the quality of life being experienced by the residents living there that is the truest testament!

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It’s true what they say; a smile can be contagious!  When you are visiting a senior community, consider the following:

  • Did the staff look up to say “hello” as you passed them in the halls?
  • Are the residents out of their rooms and utilizing the shared areas?
    • Bonus hint: Don’t hesitate to stop a resident to ask them how they like the community, or what in particular they like about living there. Residents are notoriously honest (sometimes painfully so!), so they are a great source of information.
  • Is the staff smiling as they go about their business?
    • Bonus hint: Stop a staff member to ask them what they love about their job, or what their favorite aspect of the community is.
  • Ask yourself, “do I feel welcomed here”?

Depending on how healthy the potential resident is, you or your senior loved one may need some assistance from time to time. Ask a lot of questions about what, if any, types of personal assistance the community offers to their residents. Important questions to ask include:

  • Do they offer assistance getting to and from the dining room if necessary?
  • Do they offer help with managing medications?
  • Are there transportation services?
  • Will staff provide gentle reminders to come to meals or planned activities?
  • Does staff assist with personal care, including bathing, dressing, and grooming?
    • Bonus hint: Sometimes utilizing care services increases the cost of rent. Ask if the community offers an all-inclusive option to help lock-in one rate instead of having to track a moving target as care needs increase.
  • Does the community offer the possibility of  “aging in place”, or will the potential resident have to move to a different section of the community (or a different community altogether) if their care needs increase?
  • What is the move-out policy? Is a 30-day notice required?
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Don’t just look at the décor when touring a community. Look in the nooks and crannies, too. Keep in mind the following when on your tour:

  • Are there stains on the carpets?
  • Are there any cobwebs in the corners?
  • Ask how often the apartments are cleaned, and what is included in those cleanings. Will they come by and pick up the garbage each day?
  • Does the community smell nice?
    • Bonus hint: If smell is an issue, ask them what they feel the issue is. You need to know if it is an isolated incident rather than a long term problem.
  • Who does the maintenance at the community, how often are they around, and what sorts of things are they responsible for?
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Properties love to invite potential residents to a complimentary lunch or dinner during a tour of the community, so go and get yourself a bite to eat! You or your loved one are going to spend quite a bit of time dining each day, so you should be certain that the community offers a dining experience that is both delicious and nutritious. Be sure to ask the following questions about dining services:

  • Can they accommodate special diets, such as like diabetic, low sodium, vegetarian, or mechanical soft/pureed for those who have issues with swallowing?
  • Do they offer flexible meal times?
  • Is room service available for a resident who may be feeling under the weather?

Visiting a community during meal time can accomplish several important things. First, you can see the type of residents who live there and assess whether you or your loved one are compatible with them. Second, you have an opportunity to see how the staff interacts with the residents. Are they attentive and friendly?

Note that if a community does not invite you to stay for a meal, there likely is a reason! Be sure to press the issue and invite yourself. 

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Most communities have an Activity Director on staff to coordinate fun activities for the residents. Ask to meet theirs and have them show you a current activity calendar. Keep the following in mind when speaking with them about their activities:

  • Ask them how they decide which activities they schedule, and if they are open to new suggestions. 
  • Do they offer both small and large group activities?
  • If it is important to you, ask about any religious services they may offer at their community.
  • Are activities offered outdoors when the weather is nice?
  • Do they have planned outings or trips outside of the community?  

Look to see if any of the planned activities mirror any of your own interests or those of your loved one.  Perhaps stay long enough during your tour so that you can participate in an activity. How well attended was it?  It certainly is another great opportunity to chat with the residents. 

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The saying goes that the speed of the leader determines the pace of the pack. When visiting a community, you will usually be meeting with someone on the sales team rather than someone in management. Be sure that when you do go to tour, you ask to be introduced to their Executive Director. Sit down with them and be mindful about the following:

  • Find out how long they have been there, and how they like their role.
  • Are they friendly, warm, and supportive?
  • Do they seem well liked by the residents?
  • Do they have an open door policy for residents, families, and staff?

The most successful Executive Directors in senior housing are those that love seniors, can connect with people, and understand the importance of their responsibility to their residents and their families. If you find an Executive Director who has those qualities, you will more than likely find a team who mirrors those ideals, and you will be able to see it and feel it when you visit the community.

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Many communities look great on paper, but keep in mind that there may be some "hidden" costs that will not necessarily be listed in the brochure.

One instance of this is the dreaded "community fee" which almost all senior care communities charge upon move-in. This one-time fee could range from $1,000 to a full month's rent, and it is non-refundable and will not be applied to first or last month's rent. This fee is used to file all the necessary paperwork with the state when a new resident moves in, and to turn over the apartment once vacated.

Don't shy away from asking the following when talking rent and fees:

  • Are there any specials running right now?
    • Bonus hint: Many communities run specials which may include reduced care costs or waived community fees. Sometimes just asking the question will give the community an opportunity to run a special on your behalf!
  • If there aren't any specials running, can the community fee be broken up into multiple payments?
  • Are care costs leveled (meaning there's a dedicated amount for someone who falls under "Level X" which would increase or decrease as care needs change), a la carte (meaning each individual care need has its own dedicated cost, such as showers being $27 or medication passes being $120), or all-inclusive (meaning rent and care are bundled and locked for the duration of residency)?

Feeling overwhelmed? That's totally understandable. One thing many communities neglect to mention which may give you a glimmer of hope is that veterans and surviving spouses of veterans may be eligible for Aid + Attendance; a program specifically designed to help pay for costs of care. The current A+A rates for 2018 are:

  • Single veteran - $1,829/month or $21,958/year
  • Married veteran -  $2,169/month or $26,034/year
  • Surviving spouse - $1,176/month or $14,112/year

Educating yourself about a community is important, but it is more important that you follow your instincts and your heart. If you feel welcomed and comfortable at a community, and perhaps you can see yourself or your loved one in the faces of the residents who live there, then you are more than likely in the right place. Often the hardest part is making the decision to make a move. Once the hard part is done, the rest can be an adventure! Trust yourself to make an informed decision, because ultimately no one can decide what is right for you or your loved one, but you.

The experts at Helping Hands Senior Resources know how exhausting and intimidating this process can be. We firmly believe that no senior (or family) should have to go through this alone, and we are happy to meet with you to answer any further questions you may have about finding a new home for yourself or your loved one Schedule your FREE consultation by completing this online form, or give us a call at the office at (707) 451-8724!

Keep an eye on the Helping Hands blog for our future post "Costs of Care + Finding the Funds", coming soon!