Questions to ask at an Adult Family Home in Seattle before selecting one

Before we dig into the actual questions, remember that there’s nothing like a physical visit to an Adult Family Home to find out what it's like. Moreover, some Adult Family Homes have multiple residences, so make sure you visit the one you are considering for yourself or your loved one. Make sure you meet the staff who will be taking care of your mother or father. Those people might be the single most important consideration in choosing an Adult Family Home.

Tell me about the food

Seniors often look forward to their food more than anything. If they’ve come from a difficult situation, for example when they lived with their adult children and life became increasingly difficult for many reasons, sitting down and enjoying a well-prepared, nutritious meal can be the perfect event during the day. You will want to know everything about how they buy, store and prepare food. Are meals prepared fresh every day, or does everything come out of the freezer and cans? The fresher, the better, obviously, and meals being prepared every day is always a superior experience.

The older we get, the more sensitive we become to “good” food versus “bad” food. Daily nutritious, well-balanced meals will both extend the life of any resident and make every moment more enjoyable in the process.

I put food as my Number One consideration. My own father, for perhaps the entire twenty-four years of his retirement, loved his food, and was as routine-driven as a computer. No sooner was he finished his breakfast (always at the exact same time) would he begin to anticipate with great happiness the advent of his lunch. With all his health challenges, I believe, eating was one of the few true pleasures left, and he made the most of every bite.

What are the noise levels, especially at night?

A note, first, about hearing loss and the aged: Hearing loss is usually not simply that the "volume of a person’s hearing is lessening". More often, it is that certain frequencies diminish or are disrupted, so a person becomes sensitive to certain frequencies rather than simply "hearing less". This makes sense to me because young people – supposedly with perfect hearing – seem to have a tolerance for a far higher volume of sound than I do. So, noise levels are likely a big consideration for your loved one, so keep this in mind as you go through the selection process of an Adult Family Home, and talk to your loved one, too, about what their feelings are about noise and sound levels.

You have to do a bit of good research to get an answer to this one, because it might be quiet all day and night, except for the early morning dispatch of one hundred diesel school buses trundling past the residence every school day, then again in the other direction during the afternoon.

What is the experience of the staff currently working full time at the Adult Family Home residence in question?

Like any business, some have an excellent employee retention level, while others … not so much. A poor employee retention level suggests that management might not be doing much to keep their staff motivated, and also, the staff might not be doing good work. Unhappy or unmotivated staff can make an Adult Family Home less welcoming, safe and enjoyable for any and all residents.

What are the recruitment processes for new staff at the Adult Family Home?

If there is a waiting list of staff joining the establishment, it’s probably a good sign. I remember many years ago being involved in recruiting at a high tech firm, and one thing I learned was a good sign is when many of the staff came as referrals by other staff. It was always a sign of satisfaction of the existing staff, and it helped motivate everyone when they were working with their friends.

What education requirements are there for new staff?

You’ll be glad to know that there are minimum requirements for any Adult Family Home in the state of Washington. More is better, obviously. Adult Family Homes balance their need to remain profitable with offering a quality service and experience. Retired registered nurses are often a very good staff member, with plenty of experience, maturity and the right qualifications.

Do you have ‘wake staff’, and what qualifications do they have?

No surprise to know that many medical emergencies happen at odd hours of the night. As a friend of mine reminds me often, “nothing good happens between midnight and four AM”, and I am inclined to believe him. And in the middle of the night, senior residents often experience a problem, but are more anxious if they feel no one can help them. Yes, not all Adult Family Homes have such wake staff – properly trained and experienced staff who are capable of dealing appropriately with an emergency at 3AM – so ask if it is the case. The staff doesn’t necessary have to be wide awake all night, but they do need to be able to act quickly and effectively when they are woken up by, for example an emergency call button. They might be sleeping on a couch, and all they need to do it slip on a pair of shoes. The more ready they are the better. Every minute counts in some emergencies, so ask about wake staff preparedness.

What happens in the event of an emergency, such as a resident losing consciousness?

A well run Adult family Home will have excellent procedures, and for almost every eventuality. It might be a binder of scenarios, or an online booklet or something, but there definitely should be guidance given for the staff. The more organized and professional the organization, the better and well specified their emergency procedures will be. Ask about that, and know to your satisfaction that your loved one will have the best chances no matter what emergency arises.

Which actual room in the Adult Family Home will my loved one be in?

Just like when you’re raising kids, not every room in a house is equal. Some are quieter, while others are bigger. The bathroom in one might be superior to another. The thing is, it’s likely that only a single room becomes available at a time, so you must be ready to decide on the basis of that opportunity.

If an Adult Family Home offers a way to get on their waiting list, put your name down now, and have all this research done ahead of time. By the time a room becomes available, it can – for the better run Adult Family Homes – be filled withing a day or two.

Consider the physical location of the Adult Family Home

You can do this research without having to talk to the organization, but it is definitely a good thing to know what is within walking distance of the residence you are considering. If your loved one is able-bodied and independent, you want to know if they can easily get out and about, go to for example a Starbucks cafe. If everything is ten miles away, it might be challenging.

See you next week, when I will cover more detailed aspects of a quality Adult Family Home.