Castle or Cabin? How to Find the Right Assisted Living Home

Upon her first visit to St. Francis Villa, a new resident’s 3 year old great granddaughter viewed the building with its turrets and Victorian style and announced with awe:  “Grammie lives in a castle!”  A little one, with no preconceived notions about what assisted living is simply exclaimed in joy over Grammie’s new home.

Adults looking for care for a parent aren’t so lucky.  They must look at details, have difficult conversations, and consider every aspect of a home before making a move.  Though an outside view might look like a castle, the real stuff of assisted living is what happens on the inside. Here are a few tips for those who are overwhelmed with the task of sorting out options for senior care:

  1.  Get out there and visit.  A personal visit is the only way you will be able to discern the right place.  Figure these visits into your decision making time frame, taking into account that by the time most people start looking they are already checking off most of the boxes that indicate readiness and need.  Stop by some places before your back is against the wall. Anyone’s parent is only one fall or illness away from a forced change in living arrangements.
  2. Look beyond decor and style to the feeling and “heart” of a place.  Everyone knows that bad smells and facilities in disrepair are not good signs.  On the other hand, a state of the art facility doesn’t necessarily translate into good care.  Look for staff attitudes, resident appearances, and the overall feel of a place. More important than decorator style is the style of care and services provided.  Are you comfortable with your parent being surrounded by these people every day?
  3. Trust your own information gathering skills and intuition.  There is no shortcut or service that can really tell you what is best.  Choosing care is one task that is truly DIY. Most senior care placement services are only lead generation machines.  They sell your information to assisted living homes in exchange for a fee or a portion of your rent. Instead of finding you the “best” place, these services simply direct you to the places with empty apartments who are under contract with them.  The problem with this is that you may miss out on the top homes in your community whose hard work and reputation mean they are not in a position to need to buy leads. Even places with waiting lists should not come off your radar unless you don’t like something else about them.  It’s worth the wait to get into a home that fits your parent best rather than rush into a place simply because it has an empty room.

Each morning as I drive onto the St. Francis Villa property, my heart smiles.  Of course, I love the wraparound porch, the Victorian style building, and the pretty garden in front, but the people that live and work here are why I’m happy to arrive at this place every day.  The smiling faces that greet me, the people who are ready to tell me a story or ask for help with a problem, the laughter I hear ring out as a staff member and a resident share a joke, the music that plays, the friendships that grow, and the life that is lived inside these walls are all what makes this the right place for the wonderful people who live here.  Whether a castle or a cabin, what’s important about an assisted living is its ability to eventually become a place you and your family feel at home.