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Care home placement agencies can be helpful

Carol Bradley Bursack, Minding Our Elders columnist.

Dear Carol: My parents' neighborhood has changed and they feel isolated, so they've decided that they want to move to assisted living. Apparently they've heard good things about these facilities from friends, but most of these friends are better off financially than my parents. I've tried to convince them to come north to be near me, but that's not going to happen, and I have a job that I love up north so I can't move there. I'll fly down to help them decide about a facility, and again to move, but I'd like assistance in sorting the choices. Can I trust the senior placement companies that I see advertised? — PR.

Dear PR: What's happened to your parents' neighborhood is sad, though not unusual. I'm glad that they're open to change and that they still want to be active socially, and this is one area where a good assisted living facilities (ALFs) shine.

It would be ideal if your parents could afford to move to an ALF where they already have friends, so I'd advise checking those options first. Sometimes there are different levels of living within one complex. If there is no way any of these options could work, then you'll want to look for one that's still nice if not as luxurious.

Placement services have pros and cons but considering your circumstances, you might benefit. Most people seem to feel well-served by these businesses in that the agencies generally do a good job of providing information about ALFs so that you can narrow your search before you begin your on-site inspections.

The company should be able to tell you about different pricing levels of the facilities and how these costs vary between, as well as within, facilities. They should also tell you about occupancy rates and staff ratios. Additionally, they should be able to help you become more informed about contracts than the average person may be.

What could possibly be the downside? As soon as you sign up, you will start receiving calls from local care homes that are signed on with this agency. Placement businesses are paid by the facilities to list them, and while the services don't have a stake in which facility you choose, they do provide your information to all of those listed agencies that may be in the running.

For many, this is a small price to pay, but for others, it's too high. My personal view is that if you live in a midsize community, you may do as well by making your own list and conducting your own research. However, in your situation, the inconvenience of receiving what amounts to sales calls may be worthwhile.

Under all circumstances, the final responsibility for your choice lies with you and your parents, so once you have a few promising facilities on your list, on-site checking is necessary. No matter how you find the facility, ask for references and try to talk with visiting families.

You're on target with your plans. Best wishes.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of "Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories." Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carolbursack@msn.com.