What Is a Senior Living Community? Is It Right for My Parent or Loved One?

Most of us know that a senior living community is for seniors 55 years and older, designed to suit various levels of lifestyle and care. Beyond that, it’s easy to get confused as to what makes a senior living community, and what you and your loved one should look for when narrowing down your choices.


If you’re at the point where you’re asking Google if your parent needs senior living, you have probably already assessed their needs on some level and are trying to make sure it’s the right choice—before you start having difficult conversations or touring communities. That’s why we’re clarifying what to expect when it comes to senior living communities, and we’re explaining the different types of lifestyles and levels of medical care available, including independent living, assisted living, memory care, and personal care.

Once you know a little more about what to expect from a senior living community, you can make an informed decision about whether or not it’s the right avenue for your parent or loved one. 

Does my loved one need a senior living community?

We’ll start with the important decision that weighs everyone down: Does your parent or loved one need a senior living community? It’s often not a simple “yes or no” question, but if you’re clear on what to expect from a senior living community, it can make the decision easier.

First, if you haven’t done so yet, take your parent’s or loved one’s physical and medical needs into consideration. If your loved one already requires some sort of care, including help with everyday activities, you likely have a ballpark idea of what their day-to-day needs would be in a senior living community.

If you’re not sure which everyday activities they need help with—if anything—begin with an evaluation. Physicians and other healthcare professionals often measure a senior’s activities of daily living (ADLs) or instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) to determine how much care is needed.

Although only healthcare professionals can make a professional diagnosis or recommend care levels, you can use the same list of ADL and IADL questions they do to get a better idea of your loved one’s needs. There are even downloadable lists available.


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What Are the Senior Living Lifestyle Options?

In most senior living communities, lifestyle options include the following:

  • Assisted Living, which balances a senior’s need for care with their need for independence. Each resident in an assisted living community has a lifestyle designed around what is appropriate for their wants and needs.

  • Memory Care, which helps seniors with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. Like assisted living, memory care is tailored to the individual, keeping them safe while still empowering them to enjoy activities they love. Memory care services include specialized and certified memory care staff and physician and nurse visits.

  • Independent Living is for active seniors who are ready to leave behind the hassles of owning a home for a maintenance-free life where they can just do what they enjoy.

  • Personal Care can get a little tricky, because the definition varies by state. But in general, personal care is there to provide expert support for aspects of daily life that have become difficult, based on the senior’s needs. For more details about personal care, check your state regulations.

For more detail on the difference between these care types, we wrote this detailed guide to help you understand senior living options as well as this article on the difference between independent living, assisted living, and memory care.

Get your free guide, and learn how to choose the best senior living option. 

Dilemma: Your loved one needs help with daily activities, but you're not sure they'd enjoy senior living

It’s easy to think of clinical and hospital-like images when we think of senior living—how many times have we seen that portrayal in movies or TV shows? It may make for dramatic fictional storylines, but the truth is that today’s senior living communities resemble resorts more than hospitals, and they have a lot to offer just about every senior.

Let’s do this—take a look at this list. Do any of these words and phrases fit your parent or loved one?

  • Loving
  • Fun
  • Sassy
  • Active
  • Sometimes aggravating
  • Always talkative
  • Quiet but social
  • Quiet but not very social
  • Depressed
  • Prankster
  • Happy
  • Grouchy
  • Athletic
  • Couch potato
  • Foodie
  • Proud
  • Hippie
  • Old fashioned

If that seems like a wide, random range of different types of people and personalities, it’s because that’s who you’ll find in senior living communities. Today’s senior living communities are well equipped to meet the lifestyle needs of a broad range of people. 

With today’s amenities and services, senior living communities can help your loved one live their best life. There’s truly a community for almost any “type” of person. It’s just a matter of finding the right community.

What should you look for in a senior living community?

If you’re just starting out, the first thing to look for in a senior community is a place that has the services to meet your loved one’s medical and physical needs. For example, take these questions into account:

  • Do they need medication management?
  • Do they need help with their IDLs? Examples of IDLs include cooking, cleaning, and managing transportation.
  • Is memory care going to be necessary?
  • Are there dietary needs that should be considered?

After assessing your loved one’s needs, do research on communities in your area that offer services to meet them. Most research can be done online, but it never hurts to reach out and have a conversation with a community representative to get the information you want. 

When you have compiled a list of places that may meet the medical and physical needs of your loved one, it’s all about what they just plain like, and what will make them the most comfortable. Consider factors such as the following:

  • Is the community close to your family, so they can still be as connected as they always were?
  • What is the family visit schedule like? 
  • Are there common rooms to host events such as birthday parties?
  • Does the community offer amenities that are important to your loved one? This could include:
    • Yoga
    • Cultural outings 
    • Chef-quality food
    • Transportation to off-site activities
  • What types of apartments does the community offer? Consider personal preferences when taking this into account, such as:
    • A garden view
    • Easy access to activities and other amenities
    • A balcony or patio

Tip: Take Advantage Of Virtual Tours 

When you get to the point of touring communities, you can always do a virtual tour. Although communities take steps to ensure you can tour them safely in person, even during a pandemic, most communities now offer virtual tours. It’s safe and convenient—both you and your sibling in another state can tour a community at the same time.

Want more information to help with your senior living decision?

Even armed with more information, finding the right senior living community for your parent or loved one can still seem daunting. It’s one thing to make a list of what you need, but another thing altogether to find it. There are so many options! Just doing an internet search for local communities can be overwhelming.

With a little guidance, the process can be a lot less scary and painful. Recruiting siblings or other family members to help make the decision can take away some of the burden, but the enormity of the decision still looms. However, if you break it down into steps, it can be a lot easier.

We’ll help get you started with those smaller, more manageable steps with our guide, 5 Steps for Evaluating and Choosing the Right Senior Living Community. Take what you learned here and use this guide to help you—and your loved one—move forward. 

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