Why Is Assisted Living So Confusing?

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Why Is Assisted Living So Confusing?


Summary: As we have developed our assisted living directory over the years, we have learned one invariable truth about this industry – it can be very confusing. We’ll try to shed some light on why it can be so confusing, and where to look for answers.

We’ve been working on this site for over 9 years now, at the time of this writing. We’ve written articles, researched facilities, and we have fielded numerous questions about anything and everything having to do with assisted living. In all of this time, one thing has become abundantly clear about the assisted living industry – it can be very confusing, and often times creates more questions than it provides answers for.

Yes, Assisted Living is Confusing! Why is this?

We have to remind ourselves first of the nature of assisted living – it isn’t like purchasing a TV or booking tickets for a trip. Finding the right assisted living facility for yourself or especially for a loved Yes, Assisted Living is Confusing!one can be one of the most important decisions of your life. There are so many choices out there, and unfortunately – there are some bad choices. This is due to this being an industry that is perhaps not as regulated or monitored as it should be in some places – or even over-regulated in others.

Placing mom or dad in a facility has to be the right choice the first time. Most facilities require that a long-term lease, contract or agreement be signed – contracts that can themselves be very tedious and confusing. If you move a parent into a facility, it is not an easy task to move them out into another facility if the first one doesn’t work out well. Many seniors are very immobile or disabled, and many siblings that are caring for them might not live in the same area as mom or dad – so this decision is one that you need to hit out of the park on the first swing. The end result is simply having mom or dad be happy, healthy and safe.

But it’s not so simple

Speaking of regulation – the assisted living industry has laws that vary widely from state to state – adding to the confusion. In some states, like Michigan, assisted living facilities aren’t even recognized officially under that name – instead, they are called “adult foster care” homes. Many of these homes market themselves as assisted living facilities, since that is what most people know them by – but they are not licensed as such. State laws vary widely on who can be licensed for assisted living, and what credentials or background the facility owners and operators must have to operate a facility. In some states, a “facility” may simply be a residential home that has been converted into an assisted living “facility” – and may only be able to care for a few residents – and offer minimal services. If you are a son or daughter living in Arizona, for example, and you are looking for a facility in Florida, you’ll need to be aware that there can be a completely different set of standards that facilities may operate under between the states.

Note: Some lobbying groups have pushed for federal oversight of assisted living – which has it’s fair share of proponents and opponents.

Who is an expert?

We really don’t know of many people who are really truly experts in the assisted living industry. There are many who claim to be experts, but really, do most of them have a degree or the experience to back it up – we’ve found most often that the answer is no. There are a great many people who are very knowledgeable about a piece of assisted living, but very rarely the whole puzzle.

We have found that in many cases, people who have worked in an assisted living facility for many years leave to author books, blog, or offer assisted living placement services – often times nurses or administrators looking for career changes. Of course, these people will have a valuable and unique view on the intricate daily workings of an assisted living facility – however, will they be able to answer questions about your Medicare policy or long term care insurance? Maybe not.

Can the Internet Help?

If you are like most people, the first stop you’ll make when trying to find answers is the internet. Type “Assisted Living’ into a search and the results alone are enough to confuse anyone. Many of the top results are assisted living sites, but really – do they offer answers? Often times not. Many of the top rated sites are simply referral sites that attempt to collect your information to resell to facilities or other interested parties. Of course, some referral sites do this in an ethical way, making sure you are aware that your information will be passed on. Others do not operate this way, and can create a lot of trouble for your inbox and voicemail. We typed in “Assisted Living” today, and the first result was a referral site. The Assisted Living Federation of America, a very reputable source for information on assisted living was down towards the bottom. Working from the internet will take a lot of patience, a lot of reading (privacy policies) and a lot of information and fact checking.

Can I just ask the facility for answers and help?

Asking a facility questions about care, insurance or any other question relevant to assisted living can be helpful to an extent – but you have to keep in mind that most facilities are biased – in that they have a commercial and monetary interest in speaking with you. Many times, they will tell you what you want to hear if they think it might result in filing a vacant room at their facility.

    We’re confused too!

    It takes an enormous amount of time to really get to the truth of assisted living and all of the different facets, laws, standards and variables that are involved. We’ve been researching and writing about assisted living for years, and we are still far from knowing everything about it! Most sons, daughters or caregivers also don’t have the time necessary to do all of the footwork and research needed to make the right decision for their loved one. Mistakes can be made, money wasted and harm can even come to the loved one you are trying to help if the wrong choice is made. We’d like to help you in your journey to making informed decisions with the following suggestions:

  • If you are looking for answers from a person or company, especially an online source, try to find out if they are for-profit or non-profit. If they have a commercial interest, then what they tell you will most certainly be biased.
  • Many states and cities have a Department of Aging, or a Department of Health and Human Services Department. Usually, they have a website that lists facilities, and if they have had any problems with health or safety. Many of them have people working for them that can help direct you or to answer questions.
  • Many states have an Assisted Living Association – or something similar. These are usually good websites to check out for state-specific questions and answers related to assisted living. For example, the California Assisted Living Association website clearly states their mission, goals and services and information about any events, workshop, conferences or trade shows – all great opportunities to learn more about assisted living in California. See if your state has a reputable association too!
  • The Assisted Living Federation of America is a good national site that’s been around for a while. You can find out exactly what assisted living is by definition, and can search for facilities nationwide. In addition you can find out what the State Regulations For Assisted Living are for each state on ALFA’s site, including Licensing.
  • There are some great tips on theNational Institutes of Health website about assisted living, choosing a facility, financial issues (including paying for long-term care) and even a glossary for long term care.
  • If you visit a website, and it asks for your e-mail address, or any other personal information, make sure to read their Privacy Policy if they have one (they should). This will tell you how they will use your information and if they resell or distribute it to third parties.
  • Always try to get a second, third and fourth opinion if you can!
  • If you are thinking about opening your own assisted living facility and don’t know where to start, or have questions – make sure to read our “How To Open An Assisted Living Facility” article. The numerous comments are also insightful and helpful.
  • If you have gone through the process of finding an assisted living facility for yourself, a friend, or a loved one, we would love to hear about your experience – and please us know where you found reputable help and answers by commenting below!

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