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How to Search for the Right Senior Living Community for You

Considering moving to a senior living community?  You probably have a lot of questions. How do I find the best situation for me?  Where do I look?  Where do I start?  It’s a big decision and there are a lot of factors to consider.

One thing is for sure, it’s never too early to start planning. Take a look at these tips to help you get started.

Define Your Priorities

Start by defining what you absolutely must have in order to feel comfortable and happy in your new home. This list could include proximity to family members, organized social events, accessible shopping areas, or on-site amenities such as fitness equipment. Keep these ideas front and center as you make your plans. Then, make a second list of nice-to-haves. A scenic view, outdoor seating, or an easily accessible ATM machine may be important but not as crucial.

 

Know Your Options

Most importantly, you want to think about what level of independence and care you want and need, now and in the future. When it comes to senior living communities, there’s no end to what they offer or how they are organized. Here are the most common types of senior living options available:

  • Age-restricted housing Age-restricted housing simply means that in order to be able to rent or buy in the housing complex, you have to be at least a certain age, usually fifty or fifty-five years old. In this type of setting, residents may have entirely separate units, or they may live in a more apartment-like setting. Often, aged-restricted housing offers common gathering areas and social activities. Pricier options can include anything from tennis courts to swimming pools and more.
  • Assisted-living facilities Assisted living facilities offer an array of supports for seniors with a wide variety of needs. Assisted living have staff available around the clock. When needed, they assist with daily living tasks, such as bathing, dressing, and providing meals. In most assisted living facilities, residents have their own room or apartment.

Quality assisted living facilities provide numerous opportunities for residents to socialize and engage in enriching activities that benefit their physical, emotional and cognitive health. Residents have individual care plans for each resident. They place a premium on the rights of their residents to self-determination. They encourage residents to have a say in their care plan while also involving family members in the process. Residents are free to accept some services offered, but opt out of others.

  • Nursing homes Often confused with skilled nursing facilities (which provide short-term acute care following a hospital stay), nursing homes offer long-term care daily living and medical care for elders with significant physical or cognitive impairments. Some specialize in certain health conditions, such as dementia, while others do not. Nursing homes are staffed by nurses, aides, and attending physicians, with 24-hour nursing care. Most offer on-site physical and occupational therapy.
  • Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) CCRCs encompass a range of independent living and care options, all in one general location. They have independent living options, assisted living and nursing home facilities that provide a continuum of care if and when a resident needs them.

People often choose a CCRC because they know their needs will be addressed with a minimum of change thrust upon them and their families. Living in a CCRC gives some people peace of mind to know where they will be if they ever need increasing care.

Do Your Research

Once you have an idea of what type of community you are looking for and where, it’s time to do some research.  This is true, especially if you are looking at options that include daily living support services. You want to be sure you are comfortable with those who will be offering you care.

There are a multitude of resources you can use to find reviews, rankings, and accreditations for senior living facilities. There are so many that it can be overwhelming. To keep it simple, start with the following:

  • Word-of-mouth

No one has the skinny on what it’s really like to live in a senior facility than the residents who live there. If you know someone who already lives in the type of facility you need, and it’s in the location you want, ask them what their experience has been. Ask: Is the facility clean? Do you enjoy living there?  Are the people who provide services kind and upbeat?  What are the downsides of the facility? Ask your doctor if they have any recommendations.

  • Research the accreditation process in your state

We agree, this sounds like a royal pain in the backside. Not exactly how you want to spend an afternoon, but it’s worth taking a look at which agency in your state (this is not done federally) is responsible for monitoring the quality of senior housing.

This resource from After55.com gives a state-by-state breakdown of the agencies you can contact in your state. Once you have an idea of who’s in charge and what accreditation means in your state, you can look for facilities that meet the highest level of accreditation. Some states don’t require accreditation at all, but quality facilities often go through a voluntary process, indicating their commitment to higher standards.

  • Your local senior center or veterans’ affairs officer

These are probably two of the most underappreciated civil servants you have access to in your community. Senior centers (sometimes referred to as the Council on Aging) have helped countless people navigate the process (and paperwork) of senior housing. The VA is available to assist vets in everything from applying for disability benefits, to applying for financial assistance for senior housing and pointing you in the direction of a good elder care lawyer.

If your local council on aging or veterans’ affairs officer doesn’t have an answer you need, chances are they’ll research it for you, or at least refer you to someone who can help.

  • View websites of facilities

Of course, everyone is going to try to put their best foot forward on their web page. Take a look, though, at some places you are considering. You may be able to take a virtual tour, or at least see photos, to get a lay of the land.

More importantly, take a look at the “About Us” section or their mission statement. These can tell you a lot about their philosophy and whether you would be happy in their facility.

Schedule Some Visits

After you’ve done some research and you have an idea of what you’re looking for, schedule a visit with at least a couple of facilities. Grab yourself a three-ring binder and keep notes on your visits. The facilities will give you a lot of standard paperwork and some of their own, and a binder helps you keep track of it all.

Be ready with your criteria and questions. Some of the things you’ll be looking for are:

Is the facility clean?  Is it bright and cheerful or dark and drab?

How do you like the people you meet?  Are the staff members warm and welcoming?  Do they seem like they genuinely enjoy working with the residents?

Does the staff demonstrate respect for the residents?  Do they encourage resident’s independence?

Does the staff look holistically at their residents’ well-being?  Do they concern themselves with mental and emotional well-being as well as physical health?

If you meet other residents, what do they have to say about the facility?

Do you see people gathering in common spaces?  

Are safety protocols easy to observe—fire extinguishers, proper exit signage, well-lit hallways.

Are individual units spacious enough for your comfort?

What range of services are available?

Don’t Go It Alone

When you are ready to look at alternatives to your current living situation, don’t go it alone. Call on friends for advice. Enlist family members to take on specific tasks—online research, making calls, etc. Take advantage of the services you are entitled to as a senior. Finding the right senior living situation is worth the effort.