Looking for a Safe Place for an Aging Parent

With the increase of number of seniors citizens impacting all of our communities, where can someone who needs a safe place for their aging parent go? What are some of the things one should look for in assisted living providers? Recently, we had to “shop” for our mom to be cared for. At 82 years old, she has begun to show signs of dementia. For the past few years she has had in-home care, most recently 24 hours a day. The problem was, we were not happy with the level of care being provided. Thus, begin the tedious task of choosing between a convalescent style care center or a private residential home care. We contacted a placement service, which provide us a list of potential home care locations.

Getting the Big Picture

First, get a bird’s eye view of the care facility. Here are some suggestions that helped us choose a place for mom: Is the place sate licensed? A license does not mean the place is the best provider, but it does allow you some leverage if you encounter a problem with the care of your aging parent. Does the provider have a website? Again, they may have a professional web site, but be unprofessional in how they care for their residence. Look over the website and look for any inconsistencies regarding care provided, quoted cost, types of care givers (RN versus a “trained” care giver). How long have they been at the location? What is actually included in the costs? For example, transportation cost for one doctor appointment can run from $25.00 fee to over $200 for specialized service providers! Does the monthly fee include all supplies (e.g.; incontinence supplies, personal care supplies, etc.)?

The Staff and Social Interaction

What training does the staff have? Would you parent feel comfortable being cared for by trained staff of the opposite gender? Are they certified in CPR? Is there an AED (automated external defibrillator) on site? Is the staff trained in the use of an AED and how to do CPR? Do they know what a DNR (do not resuscitate statement) is? What social activities are provided? How often? As you walk around and observe do you sense that the residents are being treated by the staff with dignity and compassion? What type of medical assessment is required before someone is admitted for care? What about infectious diseases? Is physical therapy part of the service offered or are there extra costs involved?

Location and Surprise Visit

Check out the services and location carefully. Ask for referrals from present and past residents and their families. This is a little tricky because of privacy issues. However, you can ask the provider to provide your number to families of residents and ask them to call you. Sure they could “fake” it, but with a little discernment, you can usually tell. Are there any on-line reviews? One thing we did regarding the location was to look online at a satellite close-up of the area. Does it look run-down? Is it next to a freeway or busy street or another dangerous place (especially if your parent “wanders”)? How far from a hospital? Obviously, you need to visit the place. I suggest you make at least two visits. The first visit should be scheduled so you are able to meet with the owner and have enough time to discuss any question. The second visit should be an “I was-just-driving-by-and-thought-I-would-say-hi” surprise visit. How did they respond to this visit? Where things the same as the first visit?

Little Things…Like Smells

On your visits, look, listen, (and smell!) for little things. How clean are the outside and the inside? Is the yard kept nice but the rooms full of dust and old carpets? Do you smell a lot of cleaning chemicals? Or the dreaded “urine” smell? What about mildew or molds? Are the rooms bright and cheery or dark and musty? Where do they prepare and serve meals? Is it clean? Ask to look in the refrigerator! Does it smell bad? Do you see hand sanitizer anywhere? Walk around the whole property. One place we looked at had old wheel chairs and walkers just lying in the dirt behind the house!


If possible talk with some of the residence. Do they seem to be living in a home-like setting where individuals feel supported, cared for and safe? Is the home accessible friendly, having been designed with the special needs of seniors in mind? How private are the rooms? If you have to a shared room – find out what type of roommate your parent will have. What are the policies for TV use? Load music? What is the gender mix of the home? How does the facility deal with keeping the residents safe from each other? Are background checks made, especially in a mixed gender setting?

One Final Bit bit of Advice

Do not take any short cuts in looking for a place for your aging parent. In an act of tender love, try to find the best fit for them. Remember, someday you may need to have someone be your advocate for finding you a safe, compassionate place to finish your journey of life.