When you’re ready to make the shift to senior living—or to help someone you love make the transition—it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the options. Senior living has come a long way from the days of sterile nursing homes and quiet active living communities. Seniors now have virtually limitless options. But the vocabulary can be confusing, and choosing the right community for your needs can feel daunting. Here’s how to begin your search.
Identify Your Needs
Whether you’re a healthy, active senior looking to escape the stress of maintaining a household or a caregiver to a senior with advanced dementia, there’s a community that can address your needs. Begin your search by listing those needs. A senior who just wants to be less isolated might thrive in an independent living community. Someone who needs help with tasks of daily living may find the right balance of independence and support in an assisted living community. Seniors with dementia may be happier and healthier in a memory care community.
Not sure how to decide which is right for you or your loved one? Check out our Senior Living Options Quiz.
Decide on the Right Amenities
The great thing about senior living communities is that they allow seniors to pursue interests and hobbies they might never have enjoyed at home. Master gourmet cooking or eat a nutritious, delicious meal in a beautiful dining hall. Take a yoga class. Stroll through verdant gardens. Spend all day laughing with new friends.
Every community offers a unique set of amenities. Make a list of what matters most to you. Some questions that can help you choose the right amenities include:
- What tasks do I most want to avoid? For instance, a senior who hates cooking may love a community with a gourmet chef.
- Are there hobbies or interests I want to pursue in my retirement? Think not only about the hobbies you currently enjoy, but also about the skills you’d like to master.
- Do I prefer a lot of planned activities? If so, a community with an active social calendar might be a great fit.
- Are there lots of places I want to go outside of the community? If you love shopping, volunteering or other outside activities, choose a community with easy transportation options.
Establish a Budget
Budgeting for a senior living community can be tricky. Begin by looking at how much you have available in savings and how much of that savings you’re willing to spend. Consider also that you’ll likely have more money to spend if you sell your house. Long-term care insurance will pay for many communities, so if you have insurance, now’s the time to contact your carrier.
For seniors on a limited budget, Medicare may pay for all or a portion of assisted living or memory care. Some disability policies, including some VA disability benefits, may also cover care. If you’re not sure where to begin, consider meeting with a financial adviser or a lawyer who specializes in elder law and estate planning. They can help you explore your options and offer tips for affording the home of your dreams.
Select the Right Location
Where do you want to live? Are there nearby attractions you hope to walk to? Which locations will be most convenient to family members? There’s no single “right” location that will work for everyone. Instead, you’ll need to take into account factors such as access to buses or rail lines, how close the community is to your loved one’s home or job, whether nearby traffic might pose a transportation barrier, and similar factors.
Try visiting the community during rush hour to get a feel for what traffic is like at its peak. This can help you and your loved ones determine whether visits may be difficult at certain times of day.
An internet search can help you begin identifying your options. However, the best source of information comes from people you already know and trust. If you have friends already living in communities, visit them. If you love their homes, then you may have a ready-made friend in a great community. Doctors often know the best communities, and community leaders such as pastors or other people who work with seniors may have the inside scoop on local communities.
Focus your efforts on people whose opinions you trust and who have a similar lifestyle to your own. A stellar recommendation may mean little if it comes from someone who cares about very different things.
Visit a Community
Narrow your list to two or three candidates. Then visit those communities. There’s no way to know what life is like in a given community until you’ve checked it out yourself. Ask about a busy time to visit, since that’s a great chance to meet residents and ask questions. Then eat a meal. This gives you a feel for the quality of the food.
Ask plenty of questions, and ask to see a unit similar to one where you might live. It can also be helpful to take someone you trust with you, since a trusted friend or loved one may think of questions you would never consider. Then trust your gut. Ultimately, the transition to senior living should feel like something to look forward to. So continue looking until you find a community that you’ll be excited to call home.