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  • Writer's pictureCindy Davis

Finding Hidden Quality in Senior Living: 12 Key Questions

Updated: Jun 4

Elderly patient with staff in senior living facility

Navigating the journey to find the perfect senior living community for a loved one can be daunting. When my father needed to transition to a more supportive living environment, we embarked on a mission armed with a detailed checklist, hoping to find a place that felt like home. This search was not just about ticking boxes for amenities but finding a community where he could thrive.

12 Key Questions to Find Quality Senior Living Facilities
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A Personal Guide to Finding the Right Community

The quest to find my father a new home was an eye-opener. We evaluated ten places, considering factors from price to meal plans. A recommendation led us to a community that not only offered excellent food but also a warm, caring environment that made my dad's transition seamless. This experience highlighted the importance of looking beyond surface-level amenities to the quality of care and community life.


When evaluating a residential care facility for yourself or a loved one, it's crucial to look beyond the surface to understand the quality of life and care provided. To aid in this process, we've crafted a list of 12 essential questions, organized into four key categories: Discovering Community Life, Evaluating Care Quality, Sense of Belonging, and Feeling at Home. Each question is designed not just to tick a box but to offer you a lens through which you can gauge the facility's ethos, culture, and the genuine well-being of its community members.


These questions stem from the collective wisdom of experiences and professional insights, notably those of Dr. Louise Aronson, a renowned geriatrician and author. Her observations and our own journey in finding a suitable living arrangement for a loved one underscore the importance of recognizing a facility that is not only aesthetically pleasing but one that prioritizes meaningful care, engagement, and a nurturing environment.


As you embark on visits to potential facilities, carry these questions with you as a guide to find the right fit. They are designed to help you visualize not just a place to live, but a place to thrive—a community where every resident feels valued, connected, and engaged. This checklist is your companion in navigating the complex landscape of residential care options, ensuring you find a place that feels like home, promotes well-being, and supports a fulfilling life for its residents.


Discovering Community Life: Observing Resident Interactions

3 Discovering Community Life Questions

Investigate how residents connect with each other and share their lives. This is where you'll see the community in action.


Question #1: Are residents enjoying each other’s company?

Why It Matters: This question seeks to gauge the level of social interaction and genuine connection between residents during meals and activities. Engaged and happy residents are typically found in communities where a sense of companionship and mutual support is encouraged. As you tour the facility, observe whether residents seem to enjoy each other's company, engage in conversations, and participate actively in activities. While it's natural for some to seek solitude or have quieter days, the overall atmosphere should be one of warmth and inclusivity, where isolation feels more like a choice than a default state.


Question #2: Do residents talk and share plans when they meet?

Why It Matters: Observing the interactions among residents in communal spaces like hallways can provide insight into the community's social dynamics. This question aims to understand if residents are not just co-existing but actively engaging with one another, discussing daily activities, making plans together, or sharing personal stories. Such interactions are indicative of a vibrant community where residents feel connected, fostering a sense of belonging and mutual interest. Look for signs of residents looking forward to participating in activities together or exchanging anecdotes, indicating a supportive and inclusive environment.


Question #3: Does the Environment Support Well-being and Foster Friendships?

Why It Matters: This question examines whether the community atmosphere is conducive to both respectful treatment and the potential for new friendships. It's about sensing whether the environment is warm and welcoming enough to comfortably consider the prospect of forming new connections. While the opportunity to make friends should be available, it's recognized that forging new relationships might not be everyone's priority and can indeed be intimidating, especially after relocating far from familiar settings. Evaluate if the facility feels like a place where residents are content, interactions are genuine, and where, if desired, making friends doesn't seem like an insurmountable challenge. Look for signs of camaraderie among current residents and consider whether the social atmosphere appears inclusive and engaging, offering a solid foundation for newcomers to feel at home.


Evaluating Care Quality: Staff's Engagement with Residents

3 Questions to Evaluate Staff Engagement

Assess the warmth and attentiveness of the care provided by watching how staff interact with residents. It's the quality of these interactions that often defines the standard of care.


Question #4: Is Staff Ignoring Residents?

Why It Matters: This question probes the depth of staff engagement with residents, spotlighting the importance of personal attention in care. Observing staff interactions helps determine if employees view residents as unique individuals deserving of attention and empathy. A quality senior living community is marked by staff who prioritize resident well-being over distractions such as phones or computers, engaging in meaningful conversations that recognize each resident's uniqueness. Genuine interactions, including knowledge of residents' personal stories and direct communication, reflect a nurturing environment where care extends beyond mere tasks. Staff preoccupation elsewhere, particularly in residents' presence, signals a potential shortfall in the personal connection and attentiveness crucial for a supportive living atmosphere.


Question #5: How Does Staff Interact with Residents?

Why It Matters: The way staff members engage with residents is equally telling. Staff who know residents by name and display body language that shows genuine interest and care, highlight a community that prioritizes individualized attention and respect. This perspective, mirroring the residents' attitudes towards staff, underlines the importance of a reciprocal relationship built on mutual respect and personal connection, which is crucial for a nurturing and positive living environment for seniors.


Question #6: Do Staff View Residents as Individuals or Tasks?

Why It Matters: The perception of residents by staff—as unique individuals rather than mere tasks on a checklist—significantly impacts the quality of care and the living experience within the community. Observing staff interactions can reveal whether they see their work as meaningful engagement with people or merely as work to be completed. Engaged staff who take the time to understand residents' preferences, histories, and personalities contribute to a warm, person-centered environment. This approach not only respects residents' dignity but also enhances their overall well-being and satisfaction with their living situation.


Sense of Belonging: How Residents Relate to Staff

3 Questions to Evaulate Sense of Belonging

Gauge the depth of the community spirit by observing the mutual respect and personal connections shown by residents with staff. A true sense of community is cultivated in these exchanges.


Question #7: How Do Residents Treat Staff?

Why It Matters: Observing how residents interact with staff offers a window into the community's culture. Positive interactions, characterized by mutual respect and interest, suggest that residents value the support their caregivers provide. Look for body language and two-way discussions indicating genuine connections rather than perfunctory exchanges. Such interactions hint at an atmosphere where residents are likely to feel heard and cared for, reflecting a healthy dynamic that can significantly enhance everyone’s’ daily interactions.


Question #8: Do Residents Take a Personal Interest in Staff?

Why It Matters: This question gauges the depth of the relationships between residents and staff, highlighting whether interactions go beyond the superficial. When residents know staff members by name, inquire about their personal lives, or remember details like their children's names or hobbies, it indicates a community where mutual respect and interest are cultivated. Such interactions suggest that residents feel comfortable and valued enough to engage on a personal level, fostering a sense of community and belonging. This mutual recognition and interest enhance the quality of daily interactions, contributing to a more supportive and friendly environment for everyone involved.


Question #9: How Do Residents Request Assistance from Staff?

Why It Matters: Observing how residents request help or interact with staff members can reveal much about the community's culture and the dignity afforded to staff. When residents approach staff with appreciation, seeing them as individuals rather than servants or anonymous helpers, it reflects a culture of mutual respect and understanding. This question aims to discern whether the environment fosters an atmosphere where staff are valued for their contributions and treated with high regard. Communities that encourage and model respectful interactions are likely to have higher staff satisfaction and better care outcomes, as staff feel recognized and motivated.


Feeling at Home: Assessing the Facility's Environment and Culture

3 Questions to Determine if it Feels Like Home

Explore whether the facility offers a welcoming, homely atmosphere that promotes meaningful engagement and fosters new friendships. The right environment can significantly enhance quality of life.


Question #10: Does the It Feel Like a Home Rather Than a Prison or Assembly Line?

Why It Matters: In choosing a care facility, the ambiance and overall environment are as crucial as the care provided. This question aims to distinguish if the facility feels welcoming and homely or if it resembles a cold, impersonal institution, akin to a prison or an assembly line. A place that feels more like a home than an institution can significantly affect a resident's happiness and well-being. Look for personalized spaces, comfortable communal areas, and a layout that promotes easy and safe navigation for residents. This impacts not only everyone’s mental and emotional well-being but also impacts all relationships and communications, fostering a sense of community and belonging.


Question #11: Are There Opportunities to Connect Over Shared Interests?

Why It Matters: It's vital to assess if the facility offers activities and amenities that align with your or your loved one's interests, facilitating connections among residents through shared experiences. While no facility can cater to every individual preference, the presence of diverse, engaging activities can offer comfort through familiar interests and the chance to explore new hobbies. This question probes the facility's commitment to fostering a vibrant, interactive community where residents can find common ground, enrich their lives, and form meaningful relationships. Look for a mix of activities that cater to various interests, encouraging residents to engage, learn, and grow together.


Question #12: Does the Community Promote Engagement and Purpose?

Why It Matters: The essence of this inquiry is to determine if the environment and culture of the facility encourage residents to find daily engagement and a sense of purpose, crucial aspects of a fulfilling life. While personal initiative plays a significant role in experiencing a meaningful life, the setting and support system provided by the community can greatly influence one's ability to find joy and purpose in everyday activities. Assess if the community offers a variety of activities and amenities that are reminiscent of previous community or involvement. Moreover, explore whether there are opportunities for learning and exploring new interests alongside others who share similar passions. The goal is to discern if the facility goes beyond meeting basic needs, actively fostering a supportive and stimulating environment where residents can engage with life and each other in meaningful ways.


Raising the Bar: A Challenge to Senior Living Facility Operators

In the ever-evolving landscape of senior care, standing out in a crowded market demands more than just offering a space for the elderly to live; it requires creating a community where every resident feels valued, engaged, and at home. As we delve into the intricacies of what makes a senior living facility truly exceptional through the 12 questions, we extend a call to action to facility operators everywhere: It's time to elevate your community to meet and exceed these standards.


Your challenge is to meticulously evaluate your facility against each of these critical areas of resident and staff interaction, environmental warmth, and the overall sense of community. Are your residents forming meaningful connections? Is your staff genuinely engaged with those they care for? Does your environment foster a sense of belonging and purpose? These are the questions that can set your facility apart in a competitive market.


We urge you to see this not just as an assessment but as an opportunity. An opportunity to refine your services, to enhance the quality of life for your residents, and to solidify your position as a leader in the field of senior living. In doing so, you not only rise to the top of the market but also contribute significantly to the well-being of the generations that have built the world we live in today.


This call to action is a chance to reflect on the profound impact your facility can have on the lives of many. By ensuring your community checks all these boxes, you're not just offering a place to live; you're providing a place to thrive. Embrace this challenge, and let's work together to redefine excellence in senior living.


First Steps in Finding the Right Senior Living Community

This article is the first in a series aimed at guiding you and your loved ones through the complex process of selecting a senior living community that not only meets but exceeds your expectations for quality care, respect, and vibrant community life. We've tailored a checklist to assist in your evaluation, ensuring you consider the most crucial quality of care aspects of potential homes. Use this resource to make a well-informed decision and let GeriScope be your ally in navigating these decisions, offering support, insights, and a community that shares your commitment to the well-being of our elders.


Subscribe to the GeriScope blog for upcoming posts that will cover essential topics such as understanding the costs and financial planning for senior living, comparing levels of care and amenities, and ensuring facilities are well-prepared for emergencies.


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