What Are 6 Key Search Steps for Senior Care?



When a health event or emergency occurs, these steps can easily get out of order — or vary from person to person based on their unique experience and situation. Still, it’s good to have a guide on the logistics of a senior care search, and to do your best to follow these steps sequentially.

understand-what-careStep 1: Understand what care category/setting you or a loved one may need. There are a number of settings where you can receive senior care or senior housing, and each comes with a range of amenities and services.

There are many nuances in these settings and services. No two home care or hospice agencies are alike. No two assisted living or LifeCare communities are alike. Sometimes, the differences are subtle, other times, more distinctive —they may vary based on what state or zip code you live in, how the service or care setting is regulated and licensed, and what their capacity is for serving seniors with more advanced care needs. This makes universal descriptions of each category nearly impossible. Please be sure to ask questions and read all the fine print before choosing a setting or service provider.

Step 2: Ask for recommendations.


Ask neighbors, friends, colleagues, and health care providers already in your circles who know about senior care for their recommendations. Social workers and hospital discharge planners can also provide suggestions of care agencies or senior living communities in the area. Word-of-mouth referrals can give you a strong starting point, or help you narrow down the results you find online — especially if the feedback is coming from a person who shares similar values in standards.

Step 3: Get more details online.

get-more-detail-onlineWith these recommendations in hand, go online and find out if they’re in a desired location, and if they match your loved one’s preferences and potential care needs. Get as much information as you can from the care agency or community’s website, as senior care search sites like SeniorAdvisor.com or Caring.com typically only list the communities or care agencies who have partnered with them.

You may also consult ElderCare Locator, a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging. The service also includes a toll-free number 1-800-677-1116, connecting you to a spectrum of community and state-based resources like adult day services, transportation, in-home meal delivery, and more. If you’re considering hospice providers, consult Hospice Compare by Medicare.Gov or the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

choose-5-places-to-callStep 4: Choose 5 places to call.

Determine which of the senior living listings are worth exploring further, and make a list of your top 5. Call these communities to schedule an information session, in-person tour, or if it’s a home care company, to set up an interview. It’s also valuable to do impromptu visits at communities you’re considering to get a better sense in real-time — particularly during off hours like evenings or weekends — of staff capacity, resident engagement, and more.


Step 5: If you’re considering a residential care setting (i.e Alzheimer’s care, assisted or independent living), choose at least 3 places to visit in person.

As your parent or relative is ultimately the one making the move, they should absolutely join you for tours. However, if they are resistant, remember the recommendations of author, former caregiver, and intergenerational communication expert David Solie — and don’t push (read more). Remind your loved one of your loyalty, and that you want to partner together on finding the best setting. Give control where and when possible, and emphasize the priorities of choice and independence.


Step 6: After the tour, make a list of preferences, priorities and perks.

Review your notes from the tour: What stood out? What concerned you? What impressed you? If your siblings also made visits, compare notes with them. Find out what your loved one’s priorities are too: he may find the location to be more important than how the community looks; she may be more concerned about meal plan options than the number of activities on the calendar. 

NOTE: Pricing is a major consideration in the decision-making process, especially as you determine whether a senior living community will be able to meet increasing care needs over time (and how pricing will be accordingly assessed). However, it is an extremely complicated piece of the senior care search puzzle. Check out our pricing articles to help you understand the different pricing models.

When you’re ready to search for senior living, take us with you! Visit Open Conversations for a tour checklist.  

Stay tuned for more tips and insights at Open Conversations

Want to share a comment or ask a question: openconversations@benchmarkquality.com
Content for Open Conversations was developed in partnership with Caregiving Advice.

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