What an In-Person Tour Will Tell You That You Won’t Find Online or Anywhere Else
Rod Anderson-Executive Director, Bridges Senior Lifestyle Living
It’s not an easy process, looking for a Senior Living Community for yourself or being responsible for helping find a safe and pleasant living situation for an aging parent or other loved one. Most people begin the process online, searching lists of communities in their area. And while this is a great place to begin, it can bog you down, overwhelm you with the number of options, costs, and steps involved and leave you almost as confused as when you started.
Once you step onto the grounds of a Senior Living Community, though, things begin to come into focus. Instead of trying to read between the lines of other people’s comments, you’re relying on your own eyes, ears and instincts. Touring the community, meeting staff and residents, and watching the routine of daily life allows you to put yourself, your parent or loved one in the picture and ask yourself. “Can I see my Myself living here?” or “Can I see my Mom living here?”
Scheduling a tour may seem a little time consuming and maybe unnecessary if you are in the early stages of looking but it pays off in the end, experts say. “This is a very big decision and older adults have very strong feelings about where they feel at home,” says Mary Kay Buysse, executive director of the American Association of Senior Move Managers. It may take time to make sure you or your parents are comfortable with a community before making a decision, but it’s much more likely to be the best decision. Here are 7 ways that touring senior living communities will help you find that perfect match for you or your loved one.
More than anything else, it’s the feeling or atmosphere of a senior living community that finally tips the scales, and it’s not easy to get this gut feeling without personal experience. “What feels comfortable for one person is very different than for another,” says Mary Kay Buysse. For example, what feels like a happy, active, energetic place to a person who likes a social environment may feel loud and chaotic to someone who prefers peace and quiet. Then there’s that hard-to-define feeling of being in a place that feels comfortable and familiar. Said one caregiver surveyed, “I found the feeling of homey-ness wasn’t evident until I visited. Reading reviews and talking to staff only gave me the basics, but the visit really sealed my impressions.”
Among the criteria important to family caregivers looking for senior living, staffing is always a top priority. For the best of reasons; you want the finest possible people caring for your parent or loved one, as you would do yourself. But it’s not all about qualifications, though those are important. Just as important are qualities like empathy and kindness. Watching staff interact with residents gives you important clues about how much they listen and really hear what residents are saying. “Does the staff stop and greet and chat with every resident when they pass them in the hallway or outside? That’s what you want to see, says the COO of a Colorado senior living facility. For many family caregivers, seeing the attention and concern exhibited by staffers was the deciding factor in making a choice. “The personal care and contact is extremely important for my mother and me,” said one Caring.com member. “She was spoken to directly and with the utmost respect.”
The number of residents, number of rooms, and other measures used to describe the size of a facility don’t tell you as much as you might think about whether it’s “big” or “small,” experts agree. A small community with a maze of poorly lit hallways can seem large; a well-planned large community with plenty of common spaces and open access can feel cozy and intimate. Make sure your tour takes you into the residential areas, and see how it feels to walk there.
On this one, all experts and caregivers agree: Good, tasty, nourishing food is essential, and beyond that, the extent of the menu matters too. Some older adults can’t see far beyond meat, potatoes, and other hearty American fare, while others are used to eating food from all over the world. There needs to be enough variety to please all palettes. It’s also important to check that the kitchen caters to any special dietary needs like diabetic and heart-healthy selections.
We all know when we arrive somewhere and feel like we’re among our “peeps,” and the same is true for your parent or loved one. While you don’t necessarily want a homogenous group and your parent doesn’t have to like everyone, you want to be sure he feels he’s in a like-minded community with plenty of potential new friends. Eating a meal during your visit is one way to interact with residents; joining in an activity is another. If striking up a conversation with strangers isn’t your thing, ask staff to introduce you or your love one to a few of the residents.
With all senior care communities offering a calendar of activities and events, it’s easy to overlook differences in programming, which can be significant. Some communities restrict activities primarily to those held onsite, while others schedule numerous outings. There’s also great variety in the kinds of physical activities offered. While visiting, take time to read through the next month’s calendar with your loved one, and ask if the activities and classes offered are the kinds of things she would do. Yoga and dance classes are wonderful, but if your loved one prefers to go for a swim, you’ll want to make sure they have a nice pool area. If possible, ask to see an activity or class in progress. What’s the teacher or activity director’s style? Is it direct and respectful or patronizing? “You want to make sure the activities offered don’t just feel like busy work, because that can be demeaning,” said the senior living COO. “It’s important to ask what their philosophy is — are these activities just to entertain, or to enrich their lives?”
Give some thought to the way you or your parent or loved one lives now and what’s important. Chances are, you’ll come up with a few specific things that, if available, would make life in a new community much happier. Maybe they like it when you visit with your dog, or she always has a midnight snack; will these be possible? Maybe there are special transportation needs or special personal care needs; can the community accommodate these needs or help facilitate care with a home health agency? Not only will the answers address your specific concerns, they’ll also tell you a lot about this community’s style and how flexible and open they are to accommodating residents’ wishes. Above all, everyone wants to feel heard.
Touring a senior living community for yourself or with an aging loved one is a great way to introduce them to the options and lifestyle of a Senior Living Community. While you or your loved one may feel like they are not ready to make a move, a tour can help to disarm fears, erase myths and clear up misconceptions that accompany this major life decision. If you have ever wondered what living in a Senior Community would be like, an in-person tour is an invaluable tool in making a very important decision and one that shouldn’t be put off.