Top Assisted Living Trends
What You Can Expect From a Great Assisted Living Community
How will you find a good assisted living community for yourself or your loved one? A place that's affordable and safe, with excellent care, warm surroundings, and a friendly staff?
With more than 31,000 senior care facilities across the country, the good news is that there are lots of choices. The less-than-good news is that there are lots of choices! How do you begin your search? What do you look for -- and how do you know when you've found it?
Assisted living facilities have much to offer the aging population. From yoga classes to nature trails, movie nights to computer and painting classes, seniors will find something that entices them out of their apartments and into the many gathering places most facilities provide.
But it's not the indoor heated pools or fitness rooms that make for a good assisted living community -- it's when your loved one knows she belongs. It's when a staff member notices that something just isn't right and your loved one receives prompt attention. It's when other residents smile when they see her step into the dining room, or when you, the family member, know you can stop by at any time.
From coast to coast, in big cities and small towns and everything in between, there are some assisted living communities that truly shine. These are establishments that have inspired top-notch reviews from residents, experts, and families just like yours. These are the best of the best -- the Caring Stars of 2013.
Even though these providers are all over the country, it turns out that they have some important things in common. Here, we present five trends among Caring Star winners -- qualities that communities near you should have, too.
1. A clean, safe place where needs (big and small) are addressed promptly: "I feel heard."
Making sure your loved one is safe and receives prompt attention trumps the list. The best communities draw top-quality staff and keep communication open. In the words of one caregiver, they're "easy to contact and never hesitate to call if something needs to be discussed."
It's when everyone -- the director, the kitchen staff, the care aides and nurses -- goes out of their way and takes the time to do the little things that matter so much. Places where food requests are accommodated or that have “a chef who knows how to make the food sing.” Places where, as one family member said, the staff is "considerate and dependable, no matter when I call."
2. Homey touches: "It feels like home."
No one wants to feel like they're living in a hospital, and they don't have to. Assisted living communities have come a long way. They feature special touches, such as manicured grounds with flower beds, gazebos and ponds, inviting décor, and "spacious, well-maintained living spaces." Where living spaces reflect residents' personalities -- like the community where "residents had several of their personal belongings displayed, such as photographs and figurines." "Placing a loved one here will help me sleep at night," one visitor said of a two-time five-star community in his area.
3. A trustworthy staff and active residents: "It feels like family."
Trusting that your loved one is receiving good care is vital, and there's nothing like being greeted by name. These are the places where "you can feel the love when you walk in the door." It's also important that your loved one find new friendships. "Several residents stopped and talked to us. It was nice to know that my grandma wouldn't have a problem meeting people" is how one granddaughter expressed it.
4. Great amenities: "I feel like I'm on vacation."
You're in for treat when it comes to amenities. Assisted living communities now offer video, audio, and book libraries; computer rooms; and classes on everything from digital photography to scrapbooking. If you're into fitness, you can swim, golf, and even take a "laughing yoga" class. And don't think you're stuck in one place: After visiting a friend at her community, one reader said, "We walked the trails that lead to the park in the back. We ate lunch in the dining area (food was great) . . . then took the facility bus ride half a mile down to the mall for shopping."
You're likely to find whatever you're interested in, whether it's church services; game nights; a 24-hour café offering beverages and light snacks; or easy access to nearby shopping, museums, music venues, and restaurants.
5. Family-friendly atmosphere: "I feel like my family and friends are always welcome."
It's tough to place your loved one in a care community, so finding one that's family-friendly helps assure you that your loved one will stay connected. "Family involvement is encouraged, and there are special family nights several times during the year, with live music, festive decorations, and a beautiful buffet," one family member said of her experience with a loved one's assisted living community. Life is sweeter when you're able to invite a friend for lunch, and when your grandchildren and even the great-grands get to visit often. Some assisted living facilities send out invitations to special events and celebrations; you can even reserve a room for birthdays and other important gatherings.
Before choosing an assisted living community, gather as much information as you can. Be sure to go online and see if there are Caring Stars in your area, and read reviews for other communities as well. Then schedule a few tours of your top selections. Print out a copy of the Caring Checklist for evaluating assisted living providers so you can make notes as you go.
While you're there, talk to the staff (include a chat with someone from the kitchen staff, care aides, the activities director, and others) and be sure to meet a few residents and their visitors. Ask for a chance to enjoy a meal in the dining hall.
And, above all else, don't hesitate to ask each community: "How many of these Caring Stars trends are you getting right?"