What is Assisted Living? And How do I find the best ALF for my loved one?

By Kim Chernecky

Assisted living is a great option for those who prefer to move into a community where care is available as needed or for those whose care needs exceed those that can be safely provided in the home. There are a variety of Assisted Living options including:

Small personal care homes or adult foster homes

These small assisted living homes are generally family-style with caregivers that live in the home with the residents. Often the owner lives in the home and care is provided 24 hours a day. Residents live together as a family and caregivers help with all of their personal care needs, medications, incontinence issues, meals, activities, and more. Residents will usually have their own private room and shared common areas where the ‘family’ gathers for socializing. These types of homes generally house 6-12 residents. Prices for these types of homes are often all-inclusive, less expensive than traditional assisted living communities, and the owners are often flexible with the monthly fees.

Assisted Living Communities

Larger assisted living communities can be made up of individual apartments (usually studios or 1-bedroom units) or individual rooms with private bathrooms. Residents in assisted living communities eat meals together in common dining rooms, and are encouraged to participate in the community’s many social activities. 24-hour supervision is provided with staff members regularly assessing the resident’s condition.

Monthly fees for these types of communities will generally include meals, transportation, activities, property amenities, linen service, housekeeping, maintenance, and utilities. Additional fees will generally apply based on the specific care needs of the resident. These are referred to as ‘level of care’. Most assisted living communities also charge a one-time ‘community fee’ which is used to fund the various activities and outings for the community. The community fee is sometimes negotiable. Also be sure to ask about any specials their marketing staff may be offering when you visit. This is common practice. Not all will offer the information unless you ask.

Memory Care Communities

Memory care communities can be located within an assisted living facility or a skilled nursing home. These units are designed specifically for residents with some form of dementia. The ideal facility not only has staff experienced with dementia patients, but offers programs designed to ‘exercise the brain’ by engaging residents in activities that stimulate the brain on a regular basis.

For those with a tendency to wander, you will want a community with a secure dementia unit. This can be a locked floor of a building, usually with a keypad to get in and out or it can be an entire building with secure courtyards for the residents. For the safety of your loved one, if they have any tendency to wander, you will want to be sure they are in a secure unit. Not only is wandering frightening for the patient, but it can be dangerous as well.

Many facilities can accept dementia patients that do not wander, placing them throughout the facility among the other residents. Often they will utilize a ‘wanderguard’ system. This is usually a pendant worn by the resident that will alert staff if the resident attempts to exit the building. Unlike a secure unit, however, this will not stop the resident from leaving if they are determined to do so. It will simply alert staff if the resident goes close to an exit.

For dementia patients, all of their care needs will be addressed by the staff depending on the level of dementia. The staff will assist with personal care needs, medication administration and/or reminding, reminders to eat and interact with other residents, toileting reminders or incontinence care, and the monitoring of any medical needs.

When visiting facilities, pay close attention to cleanliness (including any odors), the level of attention given to residents, quality and quantity of staff, their interaction with residents, the condition of the facility, as well as the various activities that are going on in and around the community. Be sure to visit multiple times, at various times of the day, both with and without an appointment. Also be sure to talk to other residents and family members that come and go. Trust your intuition.