With the explosion of assisted living facilities, finding the right one for a loved one can be difficult. There are many types of facilities that offer differing levels of care for your loved one, with uneven federal oversight. An October 2017 article by Consumer Reports reveals increased consumer complaints and shortages in staffing.

Despite all these challenges, you can still find the right assisted living facility for your loved one. Start researching and doing your due diligence early. There are four important questions that will help you narrow your search:

What kind of help will your loved one need?

If your loved one needs only a moderate level of support, assisted living can be the perfect choice. But what if they need more extensive supervision? Get your family member a medical evaluation to fully understand their required level of care. Or, hire an aging-life-care expert to help with finding the residence that correctly matches their needs.

How good is the quality of care?

Review the residence’s inspection record, and licensing. Contact your state ombudsman’s office about a facility’s complaint record. Ask residents and their families about their care, and visit at different times of day. Visit on weekends and during meal time. Ask staff how they would handle a fall, a pain or illness complaint. Do they have a nurse on duty, or would your loved one have to go to the ER?

What are the real costs of care?

Make sure you have a written list of all fees, and that all are included in your contract. Ensure you understand what can trigger higher or additional charges, and how those fees are assessed. Also ask about the policy of lowering the fees, so you know when they should decrease as well. For example, driving your father to the doctor – what is the cost for that? Is it more for 10 miles vs 5 miles? Can you hire a private aide to do it for you?

Can your loved one be kicked out?

According to the National Consumer Voice survey, involuntary discharges rank among the top complaints in most states. Discharges are usually caused by lack of payment or “care needs that exceed the facility’s capacity to provide the services.” All discharge terms should be detailed in the contract, and include the amount of notice you will receive. Don’t rely on verbal statements from staff that your loved one will always have a place there. Get everything in writing.

Here are some resources that can help make the research process a little easier:

For an Overview of Senior Housing Options: AARP
Comprehensive information on independent living and nursing homes, as well as assisted living.

To Start Your Search for an Assisted Living Facility: Caring.com
Click Assisted Living, then enter your ZIP code to find residences; listings include communities and services with current state licensing.

If You’re in a Hurry to Find a Residence: A Place for Mom
This referral service is free to consumers; providers pay the site a fee if you move in.

To Get Help From an Aging-Life-Care Expert: Aging Life Care Association
Click on Find an Aging Life Care Expert to search in your state.

To Check the Assisted Living Regulations in Your State: National Center for Assisted Living
Go to Advocacy, then State Regulations to see rules for every state.

A Starting Point for Checking Assisted Living Violations: A Place for Mom
Click on your state to find out how to obtain inspection reports.

To Contact Your State Long-Term-Care Ombudsman: National Long-term Care Ombudsman Resource Center
Use the map tool to locate links for your state.

To Get a Legal Review of Your Contract: National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys

For the Basics on Long-Term-Care Benefits: LongTermCare.gov
This federal website provides an overview of long-term care, as well as links to Medicare and Medicaid information.

For First-Person Insight Into Assisted Living: The Thin Edge of Dignity
Dick Weinman, a retired professor of broadcast communications at Oregon State University, became wheelchair-bound in 2005 after a car crash. In this short documentary, he describes his personal experience with assisted living and how he manages to stay active.

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