When trying to determine which senior community is right for your loved one, why not let your senses be your guide?
Here, with the help of Maribeth Bersani, chief operating officer of Argentum (formerly the Assisted Living Federation of America), we outline ways families can use their five senses to learn about the community on a senior living tour.
Of the five senses, sight is probably the most straightforward. Still, it’s wise to look for a few things in particular when you’re touring a senior living facility.
How do residents look?
Keep an eye out to see if residents are sporting pajamas and bed head during the day, or if they’re dressed and their hair is done. “Basically, you want to see if they’re well-kept,” says Bersani. “This shows that they’re getting the personal care and attention they need and deserve.”
What are residents doing?
Assess residents’ level of engagement: Are they socializing with each other, or are they sitting alone in their rooms? Are they participating in an activity, or are they watching TV? “It doesn’t have to be a big group activity; they could be reading or knitting,” notes Bersani. “You just want to see that they’re engaged.”
What are staff members doing?
Of course, residents aren’t the only ones to watch on your senior living visit. You should also see staff members visibly interacting with seniors and responding to their needs. “Look for hustle and bustle,” advises Bersani. “It’s not a good sign if the staff is hiding in their offices.”
Obviously, you don’t want to hear yelling and other sounds of distress on your senior living tour. But there are other sounds to listen for:
It’s unrealistic to expect the television to be off at all times, but the sound of the TV shouldn’t be the only thing you hear. “You also want to hear people talking to each other,” Bersani points out. “You want to hear activity.”
As you hear conversations among residents as well as staff members, listen for content as well as tone. Are the conversations mostly positive or negative? Do seniors sound happy? Do caregivers speak to residents and each other with patience and respect? All of this can give you a sense of residents’ overall well-being.
Music can be incredibly therapeutic for people of all ages, triggering memories, providing healing, and connecting us with the people and the world around us. On your senior living tour, listen for the sounds of music playing, or even visiting groups singing or making music with residents.
What can your nose tell you about a senior community? Quite a bit, actually—the smell of a facility can provide an indication of the quality of its service and care.
You shouldn’t be smelling urine or even a harsh cleaning odor, which is an indication that the community is covering up a urine odor, says Bersani. “Incontinence may be an issue, but when managed well, there shouldn’t be that smell.”
Not only should there be an absence of offensive odors, but there should also be a presence of pleasant odors, such as freshly baked bread and cookies, and fresh flowers. “We’ve come a long way from the institutional smell of our grandmothers’ nursing home,” says Bersani.
This one may be less obvious, but there are some ways that your sense of touch can help you gather information on a senior living tour.
Feels like home
“The best residences are like your own home,” says Bersani. That means the fabrics of the furniture and upholstery shouldn’t be vinyl, but should feel soft and comfortable. The chairs, carpeting, and flooring should be of good quality, even if they have to endure more wear and tear. “It shouldn’t feel like a hospital waiting room.”
In addition, observe how others touch. Are caregivers gentle with residents? Do you see people shaking hands and giving hugs, or do they keep to themselves? “Most communities are very hug-friendly,” affirms Bersani.
Last but not least is the sense of taste, which is critically important in the senior living selection, says Bersani: “Food is a big part of all our lives. It’s one area where we’re all a little particular.”
Most communities invite families to enjoy a meal while they visit, which is an opportunity that should not be missed. In fact, Bersani suggests sampling breakfast, lunch, and dinner to get a complete taste of the senior community’s culinary offerings.
That requires visiting at different times of day, which she also recommends. It’s wise to go beyond the pre-packaged tour to get a better sense of what the facility is like on a regular day.
After all, says Bersani, “the best way to learn about a community is to see it for yourself.”
CHIME IN: What are some other ways your senses can guide your senior living tour?