Choosing to move to an assisted living, skilled nursing, or memory care setting is one of the most significant decisions of a lifetime. Therefore, it makes sense to carefully consider all the options. One of the most effective tools in evaluating alternatives is the facility tour.
Before the Tour
Prior to scheduling tours, make a list of the 3-5 top choices. This can be done by looking over websites, reading online reviews, and asking questions over the phone. Make this part of the process more efficient using a checklist. See our blog, How to Choose? The Ultimate Assisted Living Facility Checklist for more information. This checklist can be applied to assisted living settings and to skilled nursing and memory care options.
Virtual versus In-Person
The COVID-19 pandemic forced most senior living operators to suspend in-person visits in favor of virtual tours. However, the quality and scope of virtual tours vary widely. They can range from a sophisticated, high-tech presentation to a facility manager walking through the building using FaceTime or Zoom on a mobile phone.
This variety makes it harder to make apples-to-apples assessments. However, prospective residents can manage this by closely analyzing each virtual tour and making follow-up calls to fill in as much information as possible.
As conditions allow, however, in-person tours are preferred. Even the most high-end virtual tour cannot compete with an onsite experience.
Preparing for the Tour
Prior to each scheduled tour, there are a few steps to take.
- Review the checklist for questions to be asked. Having these ready when walking in the door will provide confidence that all essential subjects will be covered.
- When scheduling the tour, ask for the proposed agenda. Don't hesitate to ask for additional tour subjects that are not covered.
- Based on the agreed-upon agenda, line up the checklist questions that apply to each area. This will eliminate the need to scan through the entire checklist looking for a specific question.
- If available, become familiar with photo, video, and audio recording smartphone functions. Using these tools will reduce the need to take written notes during the tour. Make sure to inform the facility staff of the intention to make recordings or take pictures. There may be policies about recording images or audio of existing residents based on healthcare privacy regulations. Have pencil and paper ready to make notes in situations where the smartphone recording is not feasible.
- Confirm directions to the facility to ensure on-time arrival.
- Note traffic conditions en route to the tour. Is it an easy drive? What are typical traffic conditions on that route during other times of the day?
- Consider the parking situation at the facility. Is it easy to get in and out of the parking lot?
Also, barring any medical or cognitive reasons, the prospective resident should participate in the tour. This will help set expectations and establish buy-in when it comes time to move.
As in many situations, first impressions are important. After parking, start the smartphone video or audio recording apps to capture initial reactions. This will also reduce the potentially awkward moments caused by fumbling with the phone once the tour has started.
Starting the Tour
After introductions, revisit the agenda to confirm that the tour guide agrees with all the points to be covered. Sometimes the scheduling person differs from the individual conducting the tour, so it pays to ensure everyone knows what to expect.
During the Tour
As the tour progresses, review the checklist questions for each area as it comes up. Record on the smartphone or write notes as appropriate. New questions are likely to arise in the course of the tour. Make sure the new question itself is captured along with the answer. In future tours, these new questions can be added. For previous tours, these become follow-up questions to be addressed by those facilities.
There may be ideas or questions that are awkward to bring up during the tour. Briefly write each down as a reminder to make a more expansive video or audio note recording in private after the tour.
Once back in the car, with everything still fresh in mind, video or audio record overall ideas and impressions. This is also the time to comment more expansively on uncomfortable subjects that would have been awkward to be raised during the tour.
Back at home, make further written notes from the photos and video/audio recordings. Don't delay too long in doing this. Even with actual recordings at hand, the memory of the original context starts to fade within hours. The best policy is to document all relevant notes and recordings as soon as possible after the tour to capture the optimal amount of information.
As mentioned above, note any information not covered in earlier tours to formulate follow-up questions for those facilities.
Sometimes it makes sense to make additional tours to one or two finalist facilities. A few of the reasons might be to:
- Confirm the decision of a finalist
- Show the prospective resident the top two options if they did not participate in the initial tour
- Visit at a different time of day to see if the facility provides a consistent perception of quality
Touring needs to be an essential "to do" for anyone considering the life-changing steps of transitioning to senior living. It helps to reduce the risk of anxiety that would arise from moving into the wrong environment. Older adults have multiple concerns, especially health. Finding the right senior living setting on the first try can be more readily achieved by making the most of a senior living tour.
Want to know more about which questions to ask? Download our assisted living checklist here!