What to consider when choosing an Adult Family Home in the Shoreline area

Before we delve into specifics about what to look for, let's draw a few comparisons between what Washington State considers an Adult Family Home, a nursing home, and a retirement community.

A retirement community can be almost any type of dwelling, with a focus on senior citizens there. While there are state rules about what can and must be included, a retirement home is more like a hotel, of sorts, than like an Adult Family Home. Adult Family Homes are far more regulated – hard as that might be to believe – than retirement communities. Firstly, and this is probably the most important aspect, an Adult Family Home can be home to no more than six actual residents. That doesn't include the staff, of course, but it does put a serious limitation on how big it can become. It also put a bit a pressure on the owners and managers of the AFH (Adult Family Home) because they must spread the cost over a maximum of six individual incomes. There is pressure, therefore, to cut corners everywhere, because the top level income for the residence as a whole is to all intents and purposes fixed. That's why you must choose carefully. A well-run AFH can still make a profit, but only because it is well-run, not because they cut every corner possible. So here's what to look for:

General cleanliness

Every AFH worth its salt must be spotless. Older people cannot afford to get sick as easily as younger people. (We all know this – as we age, recovery time for any illness is usually longer). So you must reduce where possible the chances of passing illness from one resident to another, as well as from, for example, dirty kitchen countertops. Ask about their cleaning procedures. Do they employ outside help? How often, for example, does the general living area get a deep clean? What product are used to clean the place? Organic, person-safe cleansers are better than toxic chemical-based cleaners.

Does the home have 'wake staff'?

Wake Staff are not often spoken of, but are a critical safety and security aspect of any Adult Family Home. In many cases, the 'action' happens at night. A resident gets up in the middle of the night to visit the bathroom, and falls. How long will be be before help arrives? A Wake Staff would be able to assist immediately. It also helps with security, and a sense of safety at night. This all helps make the stay far more comfortable and supportive for every resident.

How is the food prepared, stored and served?

It's usually OK to freeze some food. It's hard to bring everything straight from the market to the cutting board, but food can only stay good in a freezer for so long. Ask about the life cycle of the food, and how food in the freezer is labeled and dated. How much of the food comes from cans, and how much is natural.

What food choices are available for the residents?

Some AFHs have a take-it-or-leave it selection for their residents. That's a difficult option for most seniors because almost everyone in their later years has some issues with some kind of food. Diabetics, for instance, have to manage their food intake. What if a resident is on a vegetarian diet? Or simply prefers to eat 5 small meals a day instead of 3 big ones? What about the favorite 'midnight snack'? Make sure your adult family home provides what your resident needs. It's much easier to ask ahead of time, than to move out later.

What are the noise levels – day and night – in the actual room your resident will live in?

Some people are more sensitive to noise than others. And just because someone is hard of hearing doesn't mean everything is just quieter. It usually means certain frequencies are impacted more than others, which means a resident might have a sensitivity to, for example, barking dogs, but not to lower-frequency truck noises. Be sure to let your resident know what it's like day and night before committing. Check out the neighbors, and take a note of how much traffic goes past. Be sure to find out if the street they are on is a thoroughfare during rush hour traffic.

Is the bathroom properly equipped for safety and convenience?

Elderly accidents are very often in the bathroom. A little water on a tiled floor, poor lighting and an infirm step are a potentially lethal combination. Rails, non-slip mats and great lighting are all good safety aspects of a good Adult Family Home. Check out the bathroom – the exact one your resident will be using – and it should look very different to what non-seniors might be used to.

Easy to get to?

Many adult children, friends and other relatives of AFH residents want to visit their loved one regularly. Others are not as interested. If proximity is important to you, time yourself on a drive from and/or to the residence. Is parking adequate? Are their strict visiting hours, or can you show up at any time. Some visiting time rules are indeed important. If your resident likes a good night's sleep every night, noisy visitors of other residents at all-hours might be a problem.

Medical staff available, or at least close by?

Some AFHs have actual medical staff. A nurse practitioner will be able to do a lot, and immediately, whenever the need arises. Ask, too, about the regularity of visiting doctor check-ups.

Excursions, exercise, and other activities

A good AFH will take their residents on outings. It might be simply to a shopping mall, a downtown play, a park or beach. It might be simply a walk round the neighborhood. Some seniors are less willing to exercise, so make sure your resident gets the exercise they need, even if it's under a little pressure.

Some AFHs also provide entertainment. It might be a laid-back piano player twice a week, or it might be bingo or other form of entertainment. Ask about what is available, and what is scheduled to happen for sure!

Ask about the management team and staff

If possible, interview the actual people who are likely to be taking care of your actual senior. As someone once said, you can see a lot by observation, so try to simply get a feel for how much they love their work and how good they might be with senior citizens. Some employees are in it for the paycheck; others care deeply about those in their care. Yes, staff may not be there forever, but at least, you'll get an idea about how the AFH management team hires!

It's a Big Decision. Yes, you can move again if things don't work out, but once your resident moves in, they begin to bond with other residents, and it can also be traumatic to move, especially for any person in their later years. You might also see if you can get a sense of the other residents in the home. If it's predominately extremely health-challenged people, and your resident is still active and healthy, it might be challenging. Try to get a sense of how the existing residents are doing.