Wow! Choosing an assisted living facility is tough! This was one of the many thoughts that ran through my head as I spoke with one of the women in our community about her experience in finding a senior living facility for her 85-year-old mom.

Sarah (not her real name), explained that she had recently had to move her mother out of her first assisted living community due to some problems with the staff. While not abusive, in her opinion, the staff were neglectful, unfriendly and uninterested in the needs of the residents.

Then, she made an important comment that everyone who is searching for an assisted living facility for a loved one should hear. She said, “You know what Margaret? I just wish that I had visited the community when the staff didn’t know that I was coming. If I had been a fly on the wall, even for just a few minutes, I would have seen what they were really up to. It’s so upsetting to think about what they put my mom through!”

 
 

What a brilliant suggestion!

Most Assisted Living Facilities Are Great… But, Not All!

When you think about it, assisted living communities are businesses. As such, they carefully manage their image. When you arrive at the facility for your appointment, they show you exactly what they want you to see. The staff is on their best behavior. The marketing materials tell you in beautifully crafted soundbites how wonderful the food is and how much fun the residents have playing chess, reading books and taking hikes together.

The more I think about Sarah’s suggestion, the more I agree with her. In fact, building on her idea, I have a few of my own suggestions for what to look for.

To be clear, I’m not saying that all assisted living facilities are bad. Far from it! I’m simply saying that, when it comes to one of the most important decisions of our lives, more information is always a good thing.

Find a Quiet Place and Get Comfortable

If you decide to make your own visit to an assisted living facility that you are considering, find a quiet place in one of the communal areas and get comfy.

Pay attention to the sights and sounds around you. As you do, here are a few questions to consider:

Do you hear laughter? Angry voices?

Are the activities that are listed on the brochure actually happening?

How do the staff members interact with the residents? Do they seem to get along?

Are the staff attentive? Or are they playing Pokémon Go when they think no-one is looking?

What is playing on the TV in the communal areas? Something for the staff of the residents?

Do the staff members greet the residents by name and in a friendly tone?

Of course, these are just a few ideas. I’m sure that you will come up with an amazing list of things that you are interested in observing.

What Happens if I “Get Caught?”

The biggest concern that most of us have about this approach is how to handle ourselves if a staff member ask why we are there.

Well, for starters, the way in which the staff asks you can be enlightening. Do they eye you suspiciously and ask you, “Are you waiting for someone?” Do they smile and ask you, “Hi! Can I help you?” Do they ignore you completely?

If anyone asks you why you are there, you can be honest. Just tell them that you are considering assisted living communities for your mom and dropped by to get a feeling for the place. Tell them that you have already had an appointment and now you’re just hanging out.

Will they change their behavior if they know that you are there? Maybe, but, it’s not likely. People are great at playing roles. When someone is giving a tour, they have their script memorized and their route planned. Chances are they will forget that you are even there within a couple of minutes. Besides, you will probably have been sitting there for quite a while before anyone comes over.

I honestly believe that this approach is a win-win. It helps you to identify any potential issues before they become problems. In addition, it puts the staff on notice that they should be on their best behavior at all times, not just when someone is on a tour.

I’d love to get your thoughts on this!

What do you think of the idea of visiting an assisted living facility for an impromptu visit? Have you ever used an approach like this? What did you learn from the experience? Please join the conversation.

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