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If you are beginning to research senior living options for your loved one, you already know it takes just one online search to begin feeling overwhelmed. Although it’s excellent news that multiple senior living communities can exist in each town or city, more choices only make your decision process seem like an insurmountable task.

Fortunately, you can narrow down your choices based on a few essential criteria, making your decision process much more manageable. You can begin to make the most of your research if you know how certain senior living communities in your area are different from one another. It’s these differences that can help you make a confident decision, because you’re choosing a community that suits your loved one’s needs and financial goals. 

Here are just a few ways senior living communities in your area differ from one another, and the criteria to help you narrow down your choices.

Differences in Care Provided

Perhaps the biggest differentiator when it comes to senior living communities is the type of care provided for residents. In general, there are three main types of senior living communities: independent living, assisted living, and memory care. Many senior living communities offer multiple options so each resident can enjoy the environment, the programs, and the support staff that can meet their needs.

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Independent Living

Independent living communities offer maintenance-free living for older adults who are looking to say goodbye to the responsibilities and chores that go along with homeownership. These communities offer a variety of amenities and services, but they aren’t designed to offer extensive care or assistance to the residents.

Assisted Living

Assisted living communities offer the same perks and services as independent living communities, but with the addition of caregivers available around the clock. Caregivers are there to provide the right amount of assistance to residents who need a helping hand with activities of daily living like showering, bathing, dressing, toileting, or mobility. Residents also enjoy planned events and programs, along with three meals per day served in a bustling dining room with friendly neighbors.

Memory Care

Memory care communities are specially designed for adults living with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia. These communities offer environmental enhancements to meet the challenges that often come along with various stages of cognitive decline. Caregivers, nurses, and other team members who work there also receive extensive training focused on best practices of dementia care.

Skilled Nursing

Finally, skilled nursing facilities feature a clinical environment staffed with nurses and caregivers around the clock, similar to a hospital. These facilities offer skilled care for those who are living with complex medical conditions or chronic pain and need significant assistance with medication management, disease management, and therapy services. 

Skilled nursing communities often offer both short-term and long-term services such as rehabilitation. Short-term rehabilitation is often provided in skilled nursing communities but can also be provided in other community types by rehabilitation professionals that those communities contract with or have on their staff. Short-term stays are often useful for adults who have been in the hospital for an elective surgery or extended illness and need to gain back strength or mobility before returning home. 

How Do I Decide Between Them?

If you aren’t sure what type of senior living community would meet your loved one’s current and future needs, talk about it with their physician. These professionals not only know your loved one, but they also can give a recommendation about which type of community could support your loved one now and in the future.

Additionally, talking to representatives from local senior living communities is always also a good idea. They can often give you a more specific and real-life idea of what type of care your loved one needs, and who offers it. 

Differences in Dining

At any senior living community, meals are just as much a social opportunity as they are a time to get delicious food. Senior living communities may offer up to three meals a day for residents—especially in assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing—but not all dining experiences are created equal.

Key Dining Elements to Look For

You can make certain observations that help you know which community offers an exceptional dining program. Look for a senior living community that offers a choice when it comes to entrée selection, as well as a community that makes sure every dietary prescription is met with a flourish.

Exceptional communities offer a well-thought-out menu full of comforting classics, seasonal fare, and new entrées to keep residents excited about coming down to the dining room for a meal with their friends. Finally, be sure you look for a community that welcomes family members to dine with residents when seats are available.

Differences in Social Opportunities

Studies have proven that seniors who develop meaningful relationships with peers are less likely to live with depression, cognitive decline, and heart disease. However, fostering friendships can become challenging as we age. This is where exceptional senior living communities rise to the occasion, offering residents multiple events, programs, and trips throughout the day that encourage them to connect with neighbors, learn something new, and pursue favorite hobbies.

Key Social Opportunities to Look For

Look for a senior living community that has an active event and program calendar for residents. Ask to see a current event calendar and determine if the programs offered are interesting and inspiring. Calendars should include offerings each day, even throughout the evenings and weekends. Family members and other visitors should also be welcome to attend events or programs if they would like to do so.

Differences in Training

When it comes down to it, a senior living community is built on a foundation of caring, friendly, and well-trained team members. From the housekeeping team members who provide regular services to residents, to the kitchen staff who prepare meals, to the caregivers who offer a helping hand without compromising independence, the team members are the ones who are the heartbeat of a community.

Key Team Member Training to Look For

Excellent patient care begins with an educated and empowered team. Inquire about training programs for team members to ensure the team receives ongoing educational opportunities so they can learn about senior health topics and best practices for care. You might also inquire about educational programs or support groups for family members. 

Finally, an empowered and educated team makes a genuine effort to get to know the people they serve. Look for team members interacting with residents, offering a smile and a wave, or sharing a joke together. These are a few indicators that can point you to an exceptional senior living community for your loved one.

Your Next Steps

It can feel overwhelming as you start to look for senior living communities. However, you don’t have to start your research alone—we’re here to offer expert help. 

Download our free guide, 5 Steps to Choosing the Right Senior Living Community, to learn more tips and tricks from our experts. The more you are empowered as you begin your research, the more likely you will be able to make a quick and confident decision with your loved one.

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