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Throughout this writing series, I have explored many subjects that will hopefully help you find the right care for your loved one. But what about after you’ve determined the type of care you or your loved one needs? How do you select the right community? You might have all the answers, but who is the best to take care of those most important to us?

A great place to start is by selecting a few communities to tour. This gives you a chance to see firsthand what a community is like and if it will be a good fit. But going on a tour of a community can be overwhelming and sometimes a little confusing.

Even with good information about the type of care you need and the services you are looking for, it is hard to keep it all together when you are actually in a community. Our brains easily get sidetracked and focus only on what is in front of us. You need a gameplan – a handy checklist.

So, to help you out, I’ve put together one – a quick rundown of some things to look for and tips on why they matter, to help you look for the community that is best for you and your loved one!

First Things First:

  • Is getting in touch with the community easy? Before even setting foot in a community, see if they are easy to contact and helpful when you reach out. Access and attention are key.
  • Are there fun things to do nearby, in the neighborhood, or in the city where the community is located? Many long-term care communities often offer special guided trips and outdoor activities in the surrounding area. This can be a nice bonus, and taking those available options into account can help you narrow your choices.
  • Be sure to look at the community from the perspective of will it work for my loved one today, tomorrow, and well into the future. You want your loved one to feel at home – the key to doing this is ensuring their new home will work for them in the long term.

As you tour the community, keep your ears and eyes open. For what, you might ask – well, read on below to find out exactly what you need to watch out for!

The Lobby/Entryway:

The community knows the lobby/entryway will be seen a lot, especially by first-time visitors. It is one of the best representations of their attitude toward quality in the community.

  • When you step into the community, how are you greeted? Are you greeted? Who greets you? Are they friendly? These things can tell you a lot about the community and who they are. First impressions matter!
  • Is the entryway or lobby nice and clean? How does it feel when you first walk into the community? Many elements go into running a community, but this critical area can give you a sense of the general commitment to the smaller details.

The Staff:

  • First of all, do you see the staff? One of the biggest red flags will be if you do not see staff members around. If they aren’t actively caring for community members or you see community members who look in need and not getting the attention they require…this is a bad sign.
  • Ask about how often the staff works with and checks in on the community members. This can be assessed by asking but also by observing while walking around.
  • Ask which staff persons are available and when. What are their qualifications? What level of nursing staff is on duty at all times? Is there professional assistance available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? Is it consistent?

The Care:

  • Make a list on your own before going in. What do you want, what are you looking for, and what are the specialized care needs for you or your loved one? Ensure that you ask about these specific requirements and the type of care that is provided. This includes everything from regular assistance with daily living to therapies to specialized care. Do they offer special services like Memory Care? A Ventilator Unit?
  • Get a good sense of what specialists they have. While your loved one may not need specialized care at this particular moment, it is good to know what options are available. Health needs are continually changing. Being in a place that is prepared to give your loved one the best possible care is essential!
  • Ask how they would deal with specific circumstances in the community. Think about a problem you’ve had in the past or a particular issue that worries you. Pose this as a hypothetical to your tour guide. They may not have an answer, but they should be able to tell you who does or how a solution could be provided.
  • Ask about the continuum of care in the community. Do they offer aging in place services such as palliative and end-of-life care? While these can be difficult to think about, it is vital that these services are offered in the same community your loved one will call home. If you have any questions about the variety of services that make up your loved one’s continuum of care, take a look at our last post.

The Dining:

  • Check out the dining area. Is it spacious? Is it nice? Your loved one will spend a lot of time here, and hopefully, you will too! This is also a great time to do another survey for cleanliness.
  • See if they have a menu and a schedule of meals. This will give you a good sense of the type and quality of meals served.
  • Be sure to check about dietary options. Do they have a vegetarian option? Where do they get their ingredients? How do they accommodate medical dietary needs? Are they attentive to these?
  • See if you can have a meal! A lot of communities will offer meals with a tour. Call ahead to see if you can set this up.

The Activities:

  • Ask for an activity calendar. It is essential to check out what the community does on a weekly and monthly basis. Make sure scheduled activities promote wellness and a balance of spiritual, cognitive, physical, and creative outlets for your loved one.
  • Ask about your loved one’s unique needs when assessing these activities. Do they make accommodations to ensure that all community members can participate? Even better, are there particular activities that cater to differently-abled community members?
  • Ask if you can check out a scheduled activity. Note how the activity is run, and if the community members are having fun. Seriously, fun is essential.

The Room:

  • Again, a good place for a cleanliness check.
  • Check the size and room options. You want to ensure that your loved one will be comfortable. Also, check if rooms and living options are flexible. Your loved one’s needs will probably change throughout their time in the community. It is good to have some adaptability when it comes to long-term living arrangements.
  • Are there different living areas throughout the community between Independent, Assisted, and Skilled? Depending on what you are looking for, having separate areas might be preferable. Some communities combine Independent and Assisted Living in designated areas, and this might be a good opportunity for your loved one.
  • How is the space in the room? How is it set up? Are there places for storage? Is it cozy?
  • Can you see your loved one happy here? Does it feel right? Comfortable? Does it have a good vibe about it? Trust your instincts; you know your loved one best.
  • Think about yourself, as if you were going to be moving in. What would you think of the room?
  • Don’t forget to say hello to the neighbors!

The Outdoor and Communal Areas:

  • Make sure to walk around as much of the grounds as you can. Get a good sense of what the outdoor areas look like and offer.
  • Is there a good mix of indoor and outdoor spaces? Your loved one needs relaxing spaces to enjoy themselves. Outdoor activity is vital to healthy and active living.
  • Be sure to consider all the seasons, not just the current season while you are visiting. Will it be cozy in the winter? Are there good shady places outdoors to enjoy the summer weather?
  • Ask to see the popular spaces in the community. Inquire about what makes them different and how the current community members engage with them. What makes this a community, and how is it unique?

The Cleanliness (again):

  • Is the community generally clean? When you are looking around, do you see an extreme amount of clutter or excessive mess?
  • Everyone understands that accidents happen and that there are unique challenges in a long-term care community, but use your best judgment. Does it feel like issues of tidiness and cleanliness are being attended to in a timely fashion? Is the community quick to address these issues, or does it feel like they are struggling to keep up?

Talk to Your Tour Guide:

These might be silly questions, but getting a direct answer to simple questions like these can give you great insights.

  • What do they like about the community?
  • Are they happy working here?
  • Would they have their loved one move in here?

Deal Breakers:

In summary, here are a few things that should really get you out the door immediately when looking at different communities:

  • Cleanliness (last time, I promise, but it is so important!) A little mess or clutter is okay. This is a community, with active people, and accidents happen…but are there huge messes everywhere? Does the community seem neglected? If so, time to go.
  • Is the staff friendly? Helpful? Are they present? If you can’t answer yes to these questions, find the door. Staff is the key to care and keeping your loved one safe and happy.
  • At the end of the day, do they have the specialized services required to fit your loved one’s needs? The staff can be amazing, and they might have great amenities, but your loved one primarily needs a community that can care for their specific issues. And if this care isn’t exactly what they need, you need to find a different community.

Ask Around!

Do your research! Check online and any other way you can. Ask the residents how they’re doing. Not everyone is happy 100% of the time in a long-term care community. But you can get a good sense by just saying hey and asking how their day is going.

I hope you learned a few things and can use this list to help you find a great new home for your loved one. While we currently aren’t offering tours due to COVID-19, once our restrictions have eased, we would love to have you test out your community evaluating skills. For now, you can learn more about Waunakee Manor and reach out anytime on our website.