Finding ideal senior living options can seem like an elusive or overwhelming task. Depending on your situation, you may be looking for senior living in a crisis situation, hurriedly searching for communities from your laptop in a hospital waiting room. Or you might be looking for senior living in a more relaxed way, with plenty of time to consider factors like location and community culture. Both situations take a similar path, full of phone calls and tours, even if one may seem more stressful than the other.
If you know that you desire the added security and socialization that a senior living community lifestyle can provide, you have already made the first step in determining what to look for when searching for senior living options. Spread ahead of you are plenty of questions and decisions, but you can be confident that you will be able to find a community that offers you the healthy and happy lifestyle that you prefer.
Before you begin searching for specific communities, be sure that you know what level of care would best work for your situation, both short-term and long-term. If you are searching for a limited amount of assistance in a social and engaging community, you might consider independent living. If you are looking for more assistance with managing some daily living tasks or medical conditions, you might find that assisted living gives you the extra help you prefer. For those with a memory care diagnosis or memory care concerns, memory care communities offer specialized care and a unique environment to keep residents safe, calm, and engaged. Finally, if you need even more assistance with chronic medical conditions that require hands-on assistance or monitoring by medical professionals around the clock, skilled nursing facilities are ready to help you stay as healthy as possible.
After you have narrowed down the level of care that you believe best suits your situation and long-term plan, you are ready to begin the process of choosing the best community for you. As you start your process, remember that you are not only looking for a lovely environment and living space, you are also searching for a community that will keep you engaged with neighbors and the greater community. Your choice should leave you feeling safe, valued, and excited to start living in your new home.
Where to start
The Internet and a simple Google search are excellent resources when you just begin searching for the right community. Most websites will provide information such as location, amenities, care options, and entertainment details like activities or nearby attractions. Aside from the community’s website, read online reviews in order to get a sense of the quality of care and staff.
Although print brochures, virtual tours, and online marketing materials are great in order to help narrow the search, nothing can beat checking out a community in person. Go on a scheduled tour with a community representative who can answer all your questions, but also pop in at other times, perhaps during a group activity or at mealtimes so that you can see firsthand how staff and residents interact. Don’t forget to ask a relative or two to go along with you—you can benefit by hearing their impressions. If you are serious about a senior living community but a little unsure, see if you can book a temporary stay—it will go a long way toward helping you make up your mind.
What to look for
When taking a tour of a potential community, there are several general things to evaluate by simply looking around and asking the right questions. By beginning the tour with direction on what to look for and inquire about, you can ensure that the community that you or a loved one will call home is as comfortable as possible.
For most, being surrounded by staff members who are kind, sociable, and caring would trump living in a swanky environment any day. So, right from the start, observe how you are greeted by the receptionist and take note of how the staff members engage with residents. Do they come across as curt, cold, or dismissive, or are they friendly, nurturing, and patient? Also, be sure to ask about the staff-to-resident ratio—even the most caring workers may have little time for social interaction if they are running in all directions in order to meet the needs of more residents than they can handle.
Typically, it’s a good sign if the community leadership staff—managers and directors—return phone calls promptly and courteously and answer all your questions. Ask to meet the executive director and the resident care director on your tour and then take note of how they greet you and whether or not they reach out to residents who come across their path. Also note if residents know who they are, as the best leaders in senior care are those who are out and about with the residents and staff on a daily basis. Finally, watch how leadership interacts with the staff in the community. Does the administrator know the names of the nursing aides and housekeepers? This attention to his or her staff could indicate a culture of teamwork and compassion, which only benefits residents.
Dropping in at a residence several times should give you a general idea of the community’s social atmosphere. Are residents out and about, talking and laughing with each other, or are you left with the impression that people pretty much keep to themselves or sit around sleeping all day? If you feel comfortable, strike up a conversation with a resident or two for insight on the community. Because mealtime is a great opportunity for candid conversation, another option could be to ask if you can join some residents at their table for lunch or dinner.
Keep in mind, though, that as people give their opinions, they are bound to also talk about what they find wrong with the community. But this isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker. It’s only natural that people will like some parts of their home while they don’t like other parts. It will be up to you to weigh the good comments against the critical to form your overall impression of the community.
Some senior living arrangements, such as residential care facilities, don’t offer much in the way of amenities. This is not the case with assisted living communities. In addition to housekeeping and laundry services, these communities typically offer everything from wellness centers and gyms to chapels, hair salons, and concierge services. They also usually provide plenty of common spaces, such as living rooms, libraries, business and Internet centers, and clubhouses.
Surroundings and environment
There is no one type of senior living community—the design, ambience, and atmosphere of each one varies, ranging from high-rise apartments in the middle of a bustling downtown to campus communities surrounded by trees and greenery. As you begin your tour of the community, ask yourself if the setting appeals to you. If being outdoors is important, make sure there are plenty of gardens and patios as well as places in which to sit in the sun, stroll around, or even do some gardening.
When you go inside, what is your general impression of the building itself? Do you find the decor attractive and homey, or does it have an institutional feel? You may run across some communities that almost resemble a vacation resort—keep in mind that the fanciest places are not necessarily the best communities. What is most important is that the building is clean and fresh-smelling and in good repair. Also, check that there is good natural and artificial lighting. Sunlight does the mind and body wonders! And listen around in order to ensure that the noise levels are tolerable.
Although you should thoroughly check out the dining hall, the living rooms, and other common areas, pay particular attention to the apartment model that you are shown. This quick checklist will help you examine the space for comfortable, private living:
- Can you imagine your furniture in it?
- Do the suites come with a kitchenette or at least a microwave and a mini-fridge?
- Is there adequate storage space?
- Do all apartments come with a telephone, cable or satellite TV, and Wi-Fi?
- Do you like the decor?
Activities and entertainment
No senior living community will make you participate in an activity if you don’t want to, but do recognize that taking part is often the quickest way to feel more at home. With that in mind, look at the community’s events calendar in order to see if the community’s events appeal to you. It’s usually a good sign if the community offers a diverse range of activities, including ones geared to small interest groups (think bird-watching, book, or knitting clubs) as well as larger, more inclusive events like garden parties or holiday celebrations. Also, check to see if there are scheduled outings for trips to museums and the like. On the tour, you may be able to speak to the activity director in order to find out if the preferences of residents are taken into account when developing the calendar. The best communities interview new residents and families to learn what they like to do as well as what they used to like to do. These interviews are used to build community activity calendars so that there will be activities of interest for everyone.
After you have taken time to tour communities and observe everything from the staff to the activities offered, you are ready for some time to reflect and make a decision. Everyone will make their decision a bit differently, weighing some amenities or experiences more heavily than others, based on their own preferences and intuition. As you make your decision, consider involving trusted family members or friends. This additional input from the people who know and love you the most will give you guidance and encouragement.
If you find yourself torn between two communities, unsure of which one to choose, call both communities to set up a time to have lunch or attend an activity. Often, you can make a better decision if you get to know who your neighbors will be; immersing yourself in the community via a lunch date or activity can give you a glimpse into how you may fit in your new community.
Chances are, by the time you weigh the opinions of your loved ones and medical team, you will know which option is best for you. Now you are ready to make the move happen, giving yourself the opportunity to make new friends and settle in your new home.