Dear Donna:

My husband and I visited his mom in northern Michigan over the holidays. Even though we FaceTime with her each week, we weren’t prepared for how much her health has declined since we saw her last spring.

Mom’s house hadn’t been cleaned well in a while, and it was obvious she’s not opening her mail and paying bills timely. The biggest change, however, was in her appearance. She’s lost a significant amount of weight, and her hair looked unkempt and dirty.

We were so shocked we didn’t even know what to do or how to respond! On the flight back home, we researched types of senior care and it seems like Mom needs assisted living. In a few weeks we are going to visit some communities in Michigan and see what we can find.

The challenge is that we aren’t sure what to look for and how to get started. We want to find a community that is a good fit for Mom’s personality. Do you have any advice?



Searching for Assisted Living in Another State

Dear Cindy:

This is a question we hear often after the holiday season. Like you, adult children typically visit parents’ homes to celebrate. For those who haven’t been together in a while, the change in an aging parent can be startling.

When you first begin your search for assisted living for a loved one, it can feel overwhelming. A rule of thumb is to think about your mom’s unique personality while also being realistic about her personal needs. Be mindful of what matters most to your mom and what her health requires.

Keep these factors in mind when looking for an assisted living community:

  • Changing needs: As we grow older, our needs change. Sometimes seniors need temporary assistance while they recover from an injury or illness. Other times the natural progression of aging means the additional care required is permanent. If your mom only needs help with housekeeping and meals right now, it might be tempting to focus only on those in your search. But it’s also important to consider what happens when a senior’s health changes. Are higher levels of care available on the campus?
  • Caregiver experience: The experience and dedication of the team’s caregivers are directly linked to the quality of care the community provides. As you speak with different communities, ask about their caregivers. Find out how team members are recruited, what the screening and background check process is, and how often caregivers undergo additional training. Ask what the staff-to-resident ratio is and how long (on average) caregivers have been with the company. Continuity of care comes from tenured staff so it’s important to know the answer to this question.
  • Community’s personality: As you mentioned, it’s important to find a place that fits your mom’s personality. For example, does your mom prefer a casual environment or does she like getting dressed up for dinner? When you tour communities, keep an eye on how the residents are dressed, especially during mealtimes. Assisted living communities definitely have their own personalities.
  • Dining services: Your mom’s weight loss might be a sign she is struggling to prepare meals and get adequate nutrition. When you visit communities, ask for a copy of recent menus. Inquire about the number of choices residents have and how often the menu changes. Also find out if residents can select their own mealtimes and tablemates. Flexibility and variety are important. Many families find a senior’s nutrition improves fairly quickly once they have access to well-balanced meals every day.
  • Life enrichment: Opportunities to socialize and enjoy life enrichment activities are also important. Ask how often resident programs occur, including if they are scheduled on weekends and evenings. If your mom has favorite pastimes, are those offered already or can they be added? Are resident outings to local restaurants, shopping malls, and other destinations offered?

I hope this information is useful in your search, Cindy. Because Heritage has communities throughout Michigan, we hope you will call us and schedule a time to visit. We’d love to meet your family and show you around!

Kind regards,