Choosing the Right Retirement Community: How to Live Happily Ever After

How to Select a Retirement Communityz


Choosing the right retirement community is hard – it’s like trying to find the perfect job. There are over 12,000 communities in the United States – each with different attributes such as amenities, culture, cost, and more. For many seniors, the retirement home they select is often times where they will live for the rest of their life, so picking the right one is crucial to them and their families.

This week, our team sought out the top senior living experts and asked for their advice. Read on to learn which factors are the most important and what questions you should ask when evaluating a retirement community.

Bill Martin, CEO

Bill Martin

There are three primary factors that will begin to define your choice: geography, health, and finances. Once you have determined the best location (should your parent move closer to you?), the level of health care that is needed (some form of independent living, assisted living or memory care), and a realistic budget (how much money is available divided by your best guess at life expectancy), then you can begin to assess the intangibles that make the difference between a senior living setting in which your parent will thrive and one in which she will be miserable.

By all means, accompany your parent on a tour of each senior living community you are considering. Take the first tour with the sales rep, then go back for lunch or an activity, then drop in unannounced. Talk to the residents and look behind the curtain.

And most importantly, talk to different staff members and observe the relationships between the staff and the residents. Because it’s not the billiard table or the jewelry making class or water aerobics or even the size of the apartment that makes the difference. It’s the quality and compassion of the staff with whom your parent will interact every day. That will ultimately determine his/her, and your, happiness.

Anthony Cirillo

The Aging Experience, President

The Aging Experience

Quality of care is important. When evaluating a continuing care retirement community, you want to evaluate the health care quality of its assisted living and nursing home components. The latter is the easiest as the government posts ratings on “Nursing Home Compare.” That just scratches the surface. You also need to talk to health care professionals, discharge planners and friends and family caregivers to understand more about the health care quality.

On the other hand, quality in a stand-alone retirement community with no medical or health component is different. But you can still assess quality. For example, the Eden Alternative has identified Dimensions of Wellness that older adults should have in their lives. They include:

  • Identity-having individuality
  • Growth-the ability to develop and enrich your life
  • Autonomy
  • Security-freedom from doubt, anxiety, fear
  • Being Connected
  • Having Meaning in Life

Can you assess these? Yes, by asking the right questions, talking to other residents and spending time at the places you are considering. Which brings us to another important item – culture.

Culture is a nebulous thing. It is more something felt in your gut. As you evaluate communities, use all of your senses. Are the residents happy? Is management out and about interacting? Is there a truly person centered approach to care? Are the activities meaningful? You can see that with your eyes and hear that in your ears. When you say “I have a good feeling about this place” then you are on to something.

David Solie

Author, Educator, Speaker

David Solie

When considering a retirement community, most potential residents inquire about

  1. Types of accommodations (independent living, assisted living). This should also include information about the community’s financial strength.
  2. Amenities (wellness resources, enrichment programs). This should also include information about availability, frequency and content.
  3. Cost (monthly fees, additional fees). This should also include information about what is included in the monthly fee as well as a schedule of all additional fees.

While this is good starting point, I have the following 10 questions particularly useful in the vetting process:

  1. What input is allowed by residents?
  2. How do I maintain my freedom and independence?
  3. How will you help me continue my interest in wellness and fitness?
  4. What are your five most popular programs in your community
  5. How do you cater to my special dietary needs?
  6. Do you have set menu that repeats itself or you have real variety in your food and allow feedback from your residents on a regular basis?
  7. How do you accommodate couples if one is social and one is not?
  8. Will my pet be welcomed there?
  9. What kind of emergency response systems do you have?
  10. If I don’t have a car or can’t drive, how do I get around to my appointments, errands, etc.?

Jennifer Prell

Elderwerks, President

Jennifer Prell

When looking for a new retirement community ask yourself who you’d like to live with and what your future looks like.  It’s very important to know who you are as a person.  Some people are very active, like conversation and want an area in the building where they can socialize and have a drink before dinner.  Others are more introverted and would prefer a quiet setting where they can sit and read a book, paint, knit or just walk along flowered paths.

Some communities are built so you can age in place and stay forever.  They are more expensive than other types of senior housing but may be a good choice for you and your spouse.  If you and your spouse are younger seniors and are relatively healthy a continuous care retirement community might be a good choice for you.  If you are solo and a little older you might want to think about an independent lifestyle building where you have your own leased apartment and can live there for most of your life or leave if you choose to.

Make sure the community you are looking at is one that meets all your needs spiritually, physically and mentally. It’s not just a place to live – it’s your happily ever after.

Brad Breeding

My LifeSite, CoFounder

Brad Breeding

If you are researching a retirement community for yourself or a loved one you know the process can be overwhelming. Some retirement communities cater to those who are able to live completely independently, while others cater to those who seek access to care services, either today or in the future.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of important factors to consider in your research:

What does the monthly fee include?
Some senior living providers operate under an all-inclusive model, whereas others have a base fee plus additional charges for other services.

How will my monthly fee adjust if I require care services?
If the senior living community you are considering offers independent living and care services, such as assisted living, you need to know how your fees will increase if you require those services.

What are the stipulations for receiving a refund of my entry fee?
Some retirement communities, typically referred to as CCRCs or life plan communities, require an entry fee in exchange for priority access to a full continuum of care. If some or the entire entry fee is refundable you should find out exactly what must take place before the refund will be paid.

Is the community well-managed, both operationally and financially?
Remaining financially viable over the long term requires a dedicated and experienced management team. This is particularly important for CCRC who have essentially promised to provide housing and healthcare for life of the resident.

I hope these questions help you gain a little more clarity about this important decision.


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