Warning Signs When Touring Assisted Living Facilities

Making the mistake of choosing a bad assisted living facility is a nightmare scenario for seniors and their families. Imagine living in a place where there are all sorts of hidden dangers to your safety that make it more likely you will have an accident, where the people around you are indifferent or even hostile, where you have no control or say in how to live. Your calls for help go unanswered, and when your family tries to advocate for you they get mired in arguments with the management. No one wants to make such a large commitment and then realize that they are stuck, even temporarily, in horrible living conditions.

Some bad facilities can be spotted right away due to their deteriorating physical conditions and clearly depressed residents. But in facilities that on the surface seem just fine, there are other smaller signs you should look for that could be clues to larger problems. Many of them are listed below. Any facility that takes pride in providing excellent senior care should have these items covered.

  • Is the facility’s state license and a Resident Bill of Rights displayed in the lobby?
  • Where are smoke detectors located? They should be in rooms, hallways, and community areas.
  • Do the windows have safety locks?
  • Is there an emergency generator or some other way to provide electricity if the power goes out?
  • Does the facility have fire drills and are emergency plans easy to find?
  • What is the crime rate in the neighborhood where the facility is located?
  • Will the carpeting in the rooms prevent residents from moving easily with walkers or canes?
  • Handrails should also be plentiful throughout the facility.
  • Does the bottom step on stairs have recessed lighting or colored tape to make it more easily seen?
  • Have area rugs wandered so that they’re sticking out over the top step of the stairs?
  • Is the light in the facility adequately bright?
  • Is there a way to call for help in the bathrooms? Are there non-slip mats and handrails near the toilet and inside and outside of the shower? There should be a shower and not a tub, and the shower should have a seat where residents can sit if they need to.
  • Are there strong smells? A heavy cleaning chemical smell could indicate that the facility is trying to cover something up.
  • Ask to see an occupied room. Is it clean?
  • Is there a big difference between the atmosphere of the lobby and common areas and the rooms?
  • Try to listen to how the staff addresses and talks about the residents. Are they using the residents’ names?
  • How does the staff treat you? Are you acknowledged or ignored?
  • How does the staff speak to residents or to one another? If they are polite to you and to residents when in your presence, but rude to each other, that may be a sign of how they treat the residents on a daily basis. People can only be on their best behavior for so long, and if you don’t like how they act with people they are comfortable with you probably won’t like how they act once you’ve signed a contract and paid the entrance fee.
  • Do calls for help seem to be answered quickly?
  • Are there residents sitting alone in wheelchairs with no one to help them?
  • Are residents eating all their food at mealtimes?
  • Do residents seem happy, active, and social?
  • Is their appearance clean and well-groomed?
  • Are common areas being used?
  • Does the facility seem chaotic or crowded?
  • Does the facility seem open to visitors during your tour? Are you able to speak with residents?
  • If a parent and adult child are visiting the home together, does the tour guide make an effort to include the senior in conversations as well?
  • If you stop by unannounced, will the staff let you in?
  • What do you find when you research the facility through the Better Business Bureau, local agencies, or online? How does the agency respond when you ask them about negative feedback? Have they responded to negative feedback left online?
  • Look over the contract carefully. When can residents be evicted? What happens when they run out of money?

When evaluating an assisted living facility, be sure to not just take the official tour, but also make unannounced visits. First, stop by during dinner to observe how the residents interact with each other during the meal and whether or not they like the food. Then make another surprise visit on the weekend. During this time, you’ll be able to meet family members of the residents either in the common areas inside or the parking lot. You can get their candid opinion on how their loved one has been treated. Try to sit for awhile in an area that has a lot of foot traffic but is away from offices where the marketing staff or management might be. Just observe what goes on around you.