How to Choose a Senior Community

Story by Mimi Greenwood Knight

Gone are the days when living into your 70s, 80s, or beyond meant a life of rocking chairs and bingo halls. For thousands of American seniors each year, moving to a senior living community means a second retirement where they’re free from the worries of home maintenance and domestic chores — a lively, fully-engaged life without cooking, cleaning, laundry, or even changing a lightbulb or air filter. Today’s retirement communities are a hub of activity with exercise classes and cooking demonstrations, educational seminars and musical entertainment. There are outings to museums, theaters, and restaurants. And likeminded people with whom to socialize.

The time to shop for a retirement community is long before you — or a loved one — needs one. And a good place to start is by asking family, friends, and valued advisors, such as a trust officer, estate attorney, or your doctor, for their recommendations. You may look on the Internet, in senior directories, and local publications, and begin compiling a list of potential communities.

Consider location and proximity to loved ones, care services, amenities, and activity schedules. Then make some visits and get a feel for the culture of the community. Pay a formal visit or two to talk to the staff but plan some “pop-ins” as well. Eat a meal there. Attend a scheduled event. Mingle with residents and ask questions. Are residents offered rides to doctor’s appointments, the grocery store, or to volunteer around town? Are grandchildren allowed to have sleepovers? Is there a nice, scenic outdoor area? Is there a library? A gym? A game room? A salon? Is there medical staff on-site, and how often?

Take finances into account. Many seniors find that when compared to the monthly expenses and upkeep of a house, they spend less per month at a retirement community and gain countless additional benefits. There should be someone available in the community to help determine which retirement lifestyle, floor plan, and care services best match your needs and budget.

Inquire whether any communities you’re considering are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF), an international, independent, not-for-profit organization that accredits providers of human services focused on the areas of rehabilitation, employment, child and family, and aging services. CARF accreditations tells you a community measures up “behind the scenes” in over 1000 different standards.

You might also ask whether a potential community is an age-in-place community, which means should the time come when you or a loved one would need to transition into memory care or hospice, you’d able to do so within the community, and not have to be uprooted. Do the communities provide a secure, on-site memory care area, as well as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s care, should you reach a point where it’s needed?

Most seniors who move to a retirement community don’t do it because they have to, but because they’re ready for the vibrant, engaging life they can enjoy there. Putting in the time now to find the right community can mean all the difference when the time comes.