Considerations in making (and acting on) senior living decisions

It makes so much sense, and sounds like a great deal to you (the son, daughter, or other family member of an elder), this senior living lifestyle that’s been described to you — one in which a variety of meal options are available, weekly housekeeping is done, one’s laundry is taken care of, complete with folding, hanging and putting away. It appears to be the perfect solution for your increasingly frail mom, dad or relative whom everyone in the family is worrying about.

And indeed, it is, except that mom, dad or the relative doesn’t want to do it (for the sake of brevity, we’ll now refer to our potential assisted living resident as “mom”). After discussing your concern with other family members about mom’s declining abilities, and learning that there is no one in the family who has the time to properly care for her, you embark on the assisted living learning curve.

Internet research is usually first. As with every subject on the planet, there is a plethora of information about care and housing options. As with most subjects, internet sites often have a selling agenda that is sometimes hard to discern. Some relatively unbiased sites to visit are:

Additionally, the State of Nevada posts the results of all the annual survey inspections of and more information about licensed Residential Facilities for Groups (our state’s specific nomenclature for licensed senior living/assisted living properties) at: Senior housing referral agencies exist, and can be a good resource for information, however as a result of recent legislation, the payment of referral fees is now illegal in the state of Nevada. In other words, senior housing providers cannot pay referral agencies to refer potential clients to them, which voids out the entire state of Nevada as a market for these agencies.

You’ve done your due diligence, the site visits come next. Upon arriving, you’ll usually be directed to the sales director. A few tips regarding this interaction: He or she should gather information about your specific circumstance before taking you on a tour. If you head out on a tour immediately, beware – that’s a sign that the culture of the property might be focused more on the physical amenities than the people. It is vital that the sales director take the time to understand your individual situation, to ensure that the property is a good fit and that mom will have the best potential to thrive.

Having a spontaneous meal while you’re there is a smart move. Don’t make an advance meal reservation, which gives the property staff time to make it as perfect as they can. Ask to sit with some residents. Feeling more adventurous? Circulate in the dining room, chat with as many residents as you can to gain their perspectives on life at the property.

Insist upon a meeting with the executive director or administrator (that title is usually used interchangeably in this industry). Even though most assisted living properties are owned by a larger entity, some even by publicly-traded companies, the on-site executive director creates the day-to-day “way of being” at the property. Get a good feel for his/her guiding principles before you make any decision. Conduct an interview as if he/she is a candidate for an executive-level position.

Back to mom. Despite your best efforts, she still doesn’t want to move from her home, into a new place with a bunch of strangers. Imagine that. This is where there are no magic answers, just some family member best practices that this author has been privileged to experience over her 31 years in the industry…….

First of all, remember that the root word of courage is coeur (heart). It is an expression of heartfelt caring to press on with mom when you know that the time is right. Dig deep into the place you access for fearlessness in other areas of your life. The most painful scenarios occur when family members wait until a crisis occurs before acting – when mom has fallen and is now in the hospital, and the social worker is telling you that she cannot go back home to live alone and she’ll be discharged in two days. Everyone is scrambling because of the mandated short hospital stays, a quick choice is made and mom gets zero input into the decision process.

One alternative to the crisis approach is asking mom’s trusted physician or clergy member to approach the subject. These folks can do an end-run around the relationship baggage that inevitably exists within families, saving the well-meaning son or daughter from being the heavy. You become someone who is “just following the doctor’s advice” – helping to make it happen vs. the one who is rocking her world by pressing a huge change upon her.

Lastly, don’t underestimate the power of a direct conversation, held from your own well-being and confidence. Engage in whatever practice brings you to a place of unconditional love for your mom (even if it’s short-lived, get there for this conversation!). Take a deep breath, and dive in with courage. Your mom will feel your love and know that you care. Have an action plan to present once you’ve created a heart-connection between the two of you. You’ll know it when that connection is there – it’s unmistakable.

Your parents had to bite off some tough stuff with you and now it’s your turn. Your children or other relations will be doing the same for you. As with so many other areas of life, we boomers are blazing the trail – this time as care advocates for our elders. It is a worthy and noble role, with a huge upside when done right.

Emily Headley is executive director of Sierra Place in Carson City. Contact her at 775-841-4111 or through


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