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My mother age, 76 has lived alone for several years and she’s decided that she would like to move to a retirement community so that she can socialize and be with other people on a daily basis. A recent assessment determined that while she can perform her own personal care tasks, she requires some individual supervision because she’s at high risk for falls and needs some medication reminders.

I’ve called a few assisted living facilities and all have been exceptionally professional in providing me detailed information about their facilities and prices. Some feel she can live in the independent side but with a little bit of help, while others recommend that she should reside in the assisted living section, utilizing the lowest level of care offered. We’re more comfortable with her being in assisted living and having the supervision she needs built in.

How do we decide which ones would be the best for her? Elyse H., Phila, PA.

I’m often asked by family caregivers to recommend an assisted living facility for their parent. But, as you have discovered, there isn’t a quick answer. A decision as important as this one requires a lot of homework to make sure that the ALF offers her the support she needs now and in the future and fulfills her expectations of a busy social life with lots of activities to participate in.

I think the real challenge for your mother will be finding an ALF that will Buttonsmeet her daily social needs since, at 76, she will be one of the younger residents. (Just over 25 percent of ALF residents are between 75 and 85 years of age.) With that in mind, here are three questions to ask the directors of the facilities you are considering:

  • Are there many residents at the same age and level of independence?
  • If she does reside in the assisted living portion, will she be able to take her meals in the same dining room as those who live independently and require less assistance?
  • And will the same activities available to independent residents be available to her as well? 

If their responses satisfy your mother, I would then investigate what is often referred to as “second level” considerations. These are the small details that can make the difference between her having a great experience at her new residence, or one that’s just tolerable. For example, is there a cafe in the community where one can dine outside of meal times for snacks or tea? A library or card room where residents can relax outside of their apartments? Are there daily exercise classes? Is there a shuttle bus that will take her to medical appointments, classes, and cultural events?

I recommend spending as much time as possible at the ALFs that you consider “finalists.” Bring along a comprehensive check list to each facility that includes these questions and others that are just as important to your mother. With this level of due diligence completed, you’ll have the facts and your informed intuition to guide you.