The Senior Living Process from Start to Finish

resident being welcomed by caregiver while getting out of her car

Senior living communities offer adults a new way to look at health, overall wellness, and social life in their retirement years. Thanks to today’s senior living solutions, there are many lifestyle options, local communities, and floor plans to choose from. However, one thing remains clear: when it comes to looking at senior living communities, the earlier the better. 

In fact, the sooner you choose a community, the sooner you are able to benefit from the resources, amenities, services, and friendships they offer. There’s no time like the present to begin researching senior living options in your desired location so that you can begin experiencing community life.

The process of choosing a senior living community is full of various steps and considerations. We’ve lined up the full senior living process for you so that you can feel empowered and excited as you embark on this new chapter.

1. Research Your Options

Senior living offers a variety of services, support, and amenities designed to enhance wellness. It’s important that you choose the one that is best for you or your loved one so that you can have the optimum experience. 

Knowing the type of lifestyle option that you or your loved one needs is the first step in building a list of potential communities in your desired location. There are four main lifestyle options available in the senior living industry:

Independent Living

Independent living is ideal for the active older adult who wants the benefits of maintenance-free living and a home that features easy access to amenities and services like housekeeping visits, transportation services, and a carefully curated event calendar full of new opportunities. Living in an independent living community is similar to living at home—all of the independence but without the hassle of keeping up with household tasks. Plus, there are plenty of friendly neighbors to get to know!


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Assisted Living

Assisted living features all the perks of independent living but with the additional reassurance that comes with having trained caregivers available to offer personalized around-the-clock assistance. Residents can receive support while completing daily personal tasks, medication management, or other services in order to enhance independence and feel their best. Assisted living is perfect for any adult who could benefit from additional support, now and in the future.

Memory Care

Memory care is a specialized type of community designed specifically for those living with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia. These communities offer comforting routines paired with homelike touches to meet the challenges that come with cognitive decline. Memory care communities are staffed with specially trained caregivers who are experienced with personalized methods of interaction. Residents also enjoy a robust life enrichment calendar full of purposeful and engaging programs, events, and trips into the greater community.

Skilled Nursing

Skilled nursing offers skilled care around the clock from nurses and caregivers. Residents are typically at a skilled community for one of two reasons: 

  • To partake in inpatient therapy sessions in order to get stronger before returning home 

  • To receive skilled nursing services in a long-term setting

It is important to note that skilled nursing communities are not the only type of senior living to offer on-site physical, occupational, or speech therapy. Many assisted living and independent communities offer this service as well. However, skilled nursing therapy services are often more intensive and typically take place after an extended hospital stay, surgery, or procedure.

How Do I Choose?

If you aren’t quite sure which senior living lifestyle option is your best choice, consult with a physician who knows your situation. A physician can know more about your situation and what challenges may arise in the future, giving them the opportunity to create a well-rounded recommendation.

Once you know what option you are searching for, you can begin to research communities in your desired location that offer it. You might want to search for a community that is near your favorite town or that is convenient for your loved ones when they visit. Or, you might want to relocate to another state in order to take advantage of a milder climate or to be near loved ones.

Compile a list that includes the community name and contact information for each option, so you can refer back to it during your decision-making process for senior living.


2. Begin Touring

Once you have a list of local communities that offer the lifestyle option you are seeking, it’s time to learn more about each one. The best way to experience life in each community is to schedule a personalized tour. 

In-Person or Virtual Tours

Most communities (like assisted living and memory care) offer both virtual and in-person touring options so that you can choose what makes you feel most comfortable. Of course, there are benefits and drawbacks to both a virtual and in-person tour. You must decide which option would suit you best. 

When it comes to virtual tours, these can be quite helpful for more than just reducing contact during the COVID-19 pandemic. You might like a virtual option if you live far away or cannot get to the community easily. You might also prefer a virtual option after you have an in-person tour so that you can show your loved one the community more easily, without having to physically return to that location.

In-person tours can be quite helpful as well, because you not only get to see the amenities and apartments for yourself, but you also get a closer look at life inside the community. During your tour, you are able to observe residents enjoying daily activities, catch a glimpse at the meal being served, or observe an activity while it is happening.

No matter if you choose in-person or virtual for your initial tour, you can always schedule another tour at the communities on the top of your list. In fact, taking multiple tours of a senior living community is quite common and a wonderful way to get all of your concerns or questions addressed.

Questions and Observations During the Tour

During your tour, you will hear the community team members highlight the services and amenities that you can enjoy there. However, it’s also important to observe how the community looks, how the residents are interacting, and what is happening while you are there.

Here are a few questions or observations to keep in mind as you are touring:

  • Dining experience: The dining experience is an important part of senior community life. Be sure you take a look at the menu to ensure there are options to choose from at each meal. Observe how the meal is presented and how the dining room feels. Are residents socializing while sharing a meal? Do they seem engaged and happy? 

  • Life enrichment: A community’s life enrichment program should be exciting and feature opportunities you are interested in as well as new programs that pique your curiosity. Ask to see an event calendar and ensure there are programs available throughout the week, including evenings. You also want to be sure there is a way for residents to provide input or ideas for new programs. Look around for independent leisure opportunities as well, like a fully stocked library, nature trails for walking, or cozy living rooms to relax in.

  • Support or assistance: Finally, if you are searching for an assisted living, memory care, or skilled nursing lifestyle option, you will want to observe things like how caregivers are interacting with residents. Do caregivers seem to genuinely know the residents they are serving? Do the residents seem safe, happy, and comfortable? 

3. Ask Final Questions

Once you have your ideal community picked out, it is time to schedule another opportunity to sit down with a community representative to ask any final questions or address any concerns you might have.

This is the time to nail down any financial questions, including how much the monthly fee is as well as if there are any additional out-of-pocket costs that might be charged on top of that monthly fee. This is also a great time to select your apartment floor plan, ask about availability for move-in dates, and even schedule a time to attend a program or a meal to start meeting new friends long before you are an official resident.

Pro tip: Ask if the community has special programs to ease the transition, such as a money-back guarantee or an option for new residents to invite their loved ones to stay with them for the first few days after they move in.

4. Make the Commitment

When you’re ready, you’ll commit to a community you love. This senior living commitment process typically includes choosing a final floor plan, signing a contract, and paying your first monthly fee. You’ll also likely need to schedule assessments with your physician or with a community team member so they can begin to get to know your needs better prior to your move.

Because you’ve planned ahead of time and are choosing a community before you have a personal medical crisis looming, you’ll have time to accomplish these tasks without feeling overwhelmed or overly stressed.

If you are choosing a community while a loved one is in the hospital or after a crisis situation, you might feel rushed. Be sure to ask for assistance or referrals as needed from the senior living community. The team there is ready to help make the process as smooth as possible. 

5. Start Planning

Now that you have the move-in date on the calendar, you can prepare yourself or your loved one for the transition. Start by preparing the house to be put on the market if it needs to sell, as well as choosing what belongings can be right-sized so that you are taking the perfect amount to the senior living community.

Here are a few tasks to think about during this transition period:

  • Order and send out change of address cards.

  • Hire a professional organizer to assist with the process of right-sizing.

  • Ask for referrals from the senior living community for vetted moving companies.

  • Set dates to stop service for things like utilities, Wi-Fi, gym membership, meal delivery services, and so forth.

  • Attend a meal or event at your new senior living community once every few weeks before your move so you can begin to see familiar faces and know your way around.

6. Moving Day and Beyond

When move-in day arrives, it is common to feel excited, overwhelmed, and nervous. It’s certainly a busy day, but remember that the senior living community team members are there to take the stress away. Moving day is the time to settle into your new place. It’s also the start of an exciting few weeks of settling into life in the community and meeting key members of the team that will serve you.

During the first few days at the senior living community, you will meet team members who come to introduce themselves and get to know you. The information you give them will help them serve you better and anticipate your needs. You’ll also have time to introduce yourself to new neighbors, begin enjoying meals in the dining room, and become a part of community life.

Getting Started with Your Senior Living Selection Process

If senior living sounds like something that would meet your lifestyle goals, why not start researching your options now?

Begin by getting to know more about the types of lifestyle options available by downloading our free resource, Understanding Senior Living Lifestyle Options. You’ll get our expert information about expectations to have for different options, as well as how to know which might be best for you.

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