Expert advice on how to avoid the biggest mistakes when searching for retirement communities
Seventy percent of people age 65 and older will need long-term care at some point in their lives, according to a 2014 study by CareScout.
"But that doesn't mean they have to sacrifice their quality of life," says Peder Johnsen, CEO of Concordis Senior Living, which owns, operates and develops senior housing communities.
"A person who needs some assistance with day-to-day living will often find he or she is much happier in a good assisted-living community with an atmosphere that reminds them of their former home."
It doesn't have to be outrageously priced, notes Johnsen. The median price for a private, one-bed home in an Assisted Living Facility (ALF) community is $42,000, according to the CareScout report. By contrast, a semi-private nursing home bed costs a median $77,000 a year.
But it's up to prospective residents and their families to ascertain the quality of the community and whether it's a good match for the person who will be living there.
"ALFs are not federally regulated and states vary widely on the breadth of oversight they provide, so you can't necessarily rely on the law," Johnsen says. "And don't rely on salespeople either ? that's the biggest mistake people make."
There are, however, a number of easy ways to see if a home has a truly caring atmosphere and well-trained staff.
? Ask to see the home's state licensing survey, an assessment that usually includes inspections, audits, interviews with residents, etc.
Every state has an ALF licensing agency and all have some form of survey system for ensuring that certain standards of quality are met, according to the Assisted Living Federation of America.
"Requirements vary from state to state about how often the surveys are conducted and how the public can access the reports, but no matter what state you live in, you should be able to ask the ALF for its most recent report, or obtain it from the licensing agency," Johnsen says.
The surveys will tell you if problems were found ? or not ? and what the ALF did to address them.
? Visit the ALF during non-business hours.
Go before breakfast or after dinner ? times when the administrators aren't around. What's the atmosphere? How do employees behave with the residents?
"That's a good time to talk to residents, too," Johnsen says.
Be a "mystery shopper," he suggests. Pretend you're just visiting the community ? not scouting it out as a prospective customer.
? Ascertain how truly "homelike" the community is.
In your own home, if you don't feel like eating breakfast at 7:30 a.m., you don't have to. You can have breakfast at 10. You can get snacks when you want them.
"Depending on what's important to your loved one, there are potentially many rules that can affect how 'at home' a person feels," Johnsen says. "Some communities allow residents to have pets, others don't. Some provide lots of activities. At some, residents can quickly and easily arrange for transportation or a service like hair styling."
Not every community can offer everything, he notes. That's why it's important to look for those features that are especially important to you or your loved one.