Referral Services for Assisted Living & Memory Care: How They Work and Help

Last Updated: June 28, 2023


It is a reality that at some point it is no longer possible to care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s at home. The next step is finding an assisted living residence specializing in caring for people with dementia, called memory care. Investigating quality care options is a time-consuming challenge. Senior referral services can help ease this process with their expert advice and recommendations.

Many different names are used to describe the service of helping families find residences for their loved ones with dementia. A senior referral service can also be referred to as:

Assisted Living Placement Agencies

Senior Advisors

Family Advisors

Placement Management Services

Referral Agents


How Assisted Living / Memory Care Referral Agencies Work

If you are looking for a senior living residence for a loved one with dementia, you need to understand how these placement agencies work. Like with everything in life, there are pros and cons, certain agencies have advantages and disadvantages and there are individuals who are good and bad at their jobs.

Ideally, one can call an advisor and they answer immediately. After communicating your loved one’s personality, care needs, budget, and location in addition to answering some questions, they present you with a short list of memory care residences that meet your requirements. The advisor can discuss the pros and cons of each residence helping narrow the list down to one or two. A tour can be scheduled for the residences that best suit your loved one. All of this assistance comes free of charge.

The scenario that is described above can be your experience. It is important to understand this referral service process so you can decide if this is the best avenue for you and your family.


How Assisted Living / Memory Care Referral Agencies Make Money

Referral agencies provide services to families free of charge. This benefits your loved one because instead of charging families, the agencies are compensated by the assisted living or memory care residence after someone moves in. The only downfall can potentially be the ethics of the person who is providing the assistance. The negative consequences of this service are:

1. The referral agent will only refer you to residences where they are compensated for placement. Most agencies have relationships with nearly all the largest and mid-size assisted living chains. This makes assisted living homes not owned by big corporations or small board and care homes with 6 to 10 residents not included in the conversation about potential residential care options for your loved one.

2. Due to the motivation for compensation from the referral agent, it can be a good idea to spread your information around to lots of assisted living residences in the area. If there are five residences in your geographic area, and they give your information to all 5, then they will be compensated regardless of which residence your loved one moves. The negative impact of this approach is that salespersons from all 5 assisted living communities will immediately begin pitching their residences.

3. Agents are incentivized to refer you to a more expensive residence. A normal compensation fee the agent receives is equal to one month’s rent in assisted living/memory care. The more expensive the monthly room, board, and care costs, the greater the commission. Understanding this referral service process is an important problem but could be a hazard depending on the ethics of the agent.


How, When and Why Assisted Living Referral Agencies are Helpful

Establishing a Relationship

In a best-case scenario, working with a referral agent will save you time, money and find a home for your loved one. A placement agent should be able to help you with most of the following services listed below. If they cannot, do not hesitate to find another. Before talking about how an agent can help, it is important to know that you are working with an experienced and trustworthy teacher.

When you first talk with an agent, they will start asking questions about your loved one’s care needs. Before offering any information, redirect the conversation to talk about the services the agent will provide to you. Ask them direct questions like:

What types of assistance should you expect from them? Ask specifically about each item in the list below

Do they refer people to ALL the residences in your geographic area, even the smaller ones?

How long into the process do they stay involved?

How are they compensated?

Asking these questions will help you learn a lot. They help you to assess the agent’s integrity. By having stated how they will help, the agent is verbally committed to doing so. Asking these questions sets the expectations between the agent and the family and lays the groundwork for a successful relationship.


Skills and Services Provided

Finding Residences in Your Area – What seems like it should be an easy task, can be surprisingly difficult. Outside state regulatory databases, there is no comprehensive list of care facilities. Google and free assisted living/memory care directory websites are not comprehensive. However, an individual who lives locally and has years of experience will know the local residences.

Understanding Care Needs and Anticipating Future Needs – A good agent understands specifically the types of care a person with dementia requires in addition to what is and is not offered in the local memory care homes. An experienced agent should be able to anticipate future care needs. If this information is not offered, ask about how long a specific home can accommodate an individual’s changing care needs.

Matching Layout with Mobility – An agent should know the physical layout of the residences and be able to match that to the individual’s mobility. For example, some individuals need to walk a lot. A smaller home might not be appropriate nor would a larger home with long straight hallways. A residence with a circular indoor space and larger, secured outdoor space would be a better option.

Matching Preferences – Some people prefer to have lots of people around to interact with while others do best living with a few other residents. Some homes are affiliated with a religion and some allow pets. There are many features of this matching process that your agent should be familiar with.

Providing “Insider Information” – Some information is more difficult for a family to obtain and an agent should have that information available at their fingertips. For example, the number of rooms, the number of empty rooms, proximity to hospitals, reviews and complaints about the residence, staff-to-resident ratios, and staff turnover. A family contacting a residence directly may have difficulty getting direct answers, but an agent should have this information.

Arrange and Accompany on Residence Tours – All agents will schedule residence tours for the family but not all agents will accompany the family on tours. Nor will all families want the agent to accompany them. Sometimes, agents can be helpful in asking questions the family might not think of or be comfortable asking.

Understanding Pricing Structures – An agent should be able to clearly explain the pricing models of residences (all-inclusive, fee-for-service, hybrid models). An agent should help a family choose the model that fits their loved one best. Additionally, there can be many fees associated with the move in process. An agent should know the fees and which ones are negotiable.

Contract Review – Assisted living/memory care contracts are written in legalese and can be confusing. An agent should be able to explain to the family what they will receive, what is not included and costs extra, the resident’s rights, and what can get your loved one evicted.

 Beware– Some agents will immediately try to assess if a family can pay for assisted living. If they consider you to be “financially unqualified”, they may try to terminate the conversation as quickly as possible.


Understanding the Assisted Living Referral Companies and their Pros and Cons

There exist different types of companies that offer referral agent services. They are:

Large, nationwide referral companies that have hundreds of employees

Local, one-person businesses

Hybrid organizations that can offer a combination of both

It is best to decide which type of organization you want to work with before getting in contact with them because some organizations might elect not to work with you if you have already started working with someone else.

  Connect with an assisted living or memory care placement agent here.

Nationwide Organizations – There are benefits to working with a large organization. The large companies are connected with nearly all the mid-size and large assisted living and Alzheimer’s care homes nationwide. When contacting a large corporation, there will always be someone available across many locations in the United States. A drawback is that these larger companies are not familiar with smaller “Board and Care” homes (homes that service between 6 to 12 residents). Some people have complained that the larger referral agencies have a call-center feel to them. Depending on the specific agent with whom you work, this could be a good thing, because of their professionalism and efficiency. In contrast, you may not feel as though you are getting the attention your loved one requires. Nationwide companies also have an advantage if you are looking for residences outside your immediate geographic area. As they are national, they can help you locate homes perhaps in more affordable areas of the country. The two, big national players are A Place for Mom and It should be noted that there are many, many websites with different brands that are fully owned subsidiaries of these companies or have strong affiliations.

Local Agents – Before the Internet, there were only local assisted living referral agents. Local agents tend to have far greater knowledge about their communities. They also tend to be better connected with the small memory care homes. Because these agents are often single individuals working alone, they may be very busy at times and have a hard time taking on new clients. There also may be more rural areas of the country that cannot support this type of standalone business, meaning that there are no local referral agents. Generally speaking, families tend to have good experiences with local agents because of their level of knowledge and their longer-term commitments to the communities they serve. Finding a local agent is more difficult, Googling “assisted living referrals and your city name” is one way to start, although probably not a complete list. Another option is to ask around at your local area agency on aging or your local geriatric care managers (also called “aging life care professionals”).

Hybrid / Franchise Agencies – With the Internet allowing for the creation of nationwide assisted living referral companies, many local agents were forced to change their businesses. The hybrid and franchise models of assisted living and memory care referrals emerged. These are independently owned and operated referral agents who are loosely associated with a nationwide network. The result can be a patchwork of coverage across the US. Experiences are hit and miss because many local independent agents participate and the consistency with each agent is different. Therefore, it is difficult to generalize. Two big companies in this field are Seniorly and CarePatrol.