A: The trick is to find the good independent living community that makes your family member happy and provides good health care if it becomes necessary. If they cannot provide the care if or when it becomes necessary, your family member will have to move unless the community allows you to pay separately for a home health aide.

Let us start with the health care side first:
What services does the community provide? Ask specific, detailed questions. Some suggestions are below:

Do they have staff who can supervise medication? What EXACTLY can they do to supervise the medication? Can they open the pill bottle and hand your family member the pill? Can they open the pill bottle, but your family member has to get the pill out of the bottle him or herself? Can they not even open the bottle? I know this seems silly, but someone who has arthritis or a weak grip may have trouble opening the bottles. Also, some people lack the dexterity to get the pills out of the bottle. Different care providers have different kinds of licenses which may not allow them to even touch the pill bottles.

How many meals do they provide daily? Weekends? Snacks? Can you pay extra to get more meals? What about purchasing meals for guests?

If someone is sick and cannot make it to the dining room, will someone bring a meal to his or her apartment? How much extra does this cost? Is there a limit to how often they will do it?

What are the emergency medical procedures? I do not mean “is there a call button.” I mean, if there is a medical emergency with your family member, what exactly does the facility do? Calling 911 is an obvious answer. What, if anything, do they do beyond that?

Will they provide transportation to or from doctor appointments?

How is the organization staffed on a regular basis? During evenings and weekends? How many nurses are on duty?

Is there access to a medical staff of board-certified geriatricians? Consulting specialists? Nurse practitioners? While the facilities may not provide the care themselves, some actually have partnered with medical practices that have offices on-site.

Are there any routine medical services and facilities available on-site (for example x-rays, dental, auditory testing)?

Does the organization have an affiliation with any medical schools or clinical research programs?

How are medical situations handled if they are beyond the organization’s capabilities? If a resident needs to go to the hospital or a specialist, are they accompanied by a staff member from the organization?

Does the organization offer physical, occupational, and other therapies? How often?

Do not forget the social side of the equation.

A word of warning. Don’t be overly influenced by the decorations. Many facilities look prettier than others but don’t provide the care that is needed as your family member age is in place. I often joke, although it’s not really funny, that people are swayed by a $24.99 vase from the local discount store. If it’s bright and pretty and has pretty flowers in it, people automatically like the community better. Don’t fall for the trap. And, high ceilings don’t necessarily mean that the rooms are any bigger. I appreciate the effort to make the places look nicer, but that is not the primary requirement.