I spoke to a nurse practitioner whose patients are often residents of assisted living homes. She sees the good, the bad, and the ugly on a daily basis. She didn't want to be quoted, but she offered very helpful strategies for evaluating an assisted living complex.
Take a look around without the marketing person. If possible, speak to residents and their families about whether they like about the place. It's easy to let the tour guide take over with talk of lobster tails and movie nights. Get an insider's view of what life is really like. Residents will have that; sales staff won't.
What does the fee cover? Some facilities are all-inclusive, others charge more depending on how much help the residents need with bathing, dressing and medication reminders. Do they offer transportation to doctor's visits? Are utilities included?
Ask how residents are kept safe. If you worry that your relative is at risk of wandering, inquire about how residents are secured. Are alarms constantly sounding, which is upsetting to residents? Or are patients free to roam within a certain area?
How does the staff interact with you? Do they look like happy employees? Do they greet you and look you in the eye? They should appear to be content with their jobs. High turnover is never a good sign.
Trust your gut. Is the place well lit? Do the other residents look happy? Are they out of their rooms, engaged in activities, or are they alone in the hallways? Does the place smell fresh?
You can transfer your loved one. If it doesn't work out at one place, you can always move a relative to another. Sure, it's better to get it right the first time. But nothing is set in stone.
Take a deep breath. This is tough. Slow down, take care of yourself, don't fall victim to a sales pitch, and remember, you're doing a great job advocating for your loved one.