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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Shopping for Assisted Living

Assisted Living Primer

Choose Wisely continued...

To begin with, let first impressions guide you. "You want to be comfortable with both the interior and exterior physical environment," Willging says. Also pay attention to the staff's demeanor. Watch how they relate to the residents. Talk to some of the residents, too. You'll be sure to get an honest appraisal of the facility from them.

"Know what you're expecting, and then ask tons of questions," Willging says.

Once you think you're ready to settle on a place, "read the contract carefully," Jones says. All the services, amenities, and rules should be detailed in the contract. You should pay particular attention to the discharge terms. A resident may be forced to leave within a certain period of time if his or her health deteriorates. A facility's brochure may suggest that residents can stay until they die, no matter what, but the contract may state that they must move out if the staff can't meet their needs. If you're not comfortable with the terms, don't accept them.

Compare the terms of the contract with your state regulations, too. It can be hard to find these regulations because various departments of state government regulate assisted living. In Vermont, it's the Department of Aging and Disabilities; in Florida, it's the Agency for Health Care Administration, and so on. You can find contact information for the agencies that handle assisted living regulations in all 50 states and the U.S. territories at

ALFA has an exhaustive consumer checklist on their Web site ( that may be helpful when visiting a facility. It covers just about everything you would want to know, but may not think to ask during your tour. For example, can mom bring her cherished Edwardian antiques to furnish her rooms, or will she have to settle for the institutional decor? Can her macaw come live with her, or are noisy parrots not allowed?

It's also important to consider how close the facility is to the community where the resident has ties. If mom has been going to the same beauty parlor, the same church, and the same coffee shop for 40 years, she may be unhappy about moving to a facility that's a four-hour drive from those places.

You can use the ALFA online directory to search for assisted living facilities anywhere in the U.S. (

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