Deciding to look for a senior living community for your loved one may be a difficult choice to come to terms with. It also brings up a host of new concerns, especially about finding the right senior living community for your loved one. Where do you even start?
To ensure the community has what your loved one wants and needs, undertake this search together. You can both go into this process with confidence by making sure you have the right mindset and knowing the questions you should ask.
To make your process easier, we’ve pulled together top tips and questions about senior living to help you find the best community, with the best care, for your loved one.
What are the lifestyle options?
Seniors in assisted living get the medical and other support they need for daily activities, while also having access to things like enriching activities and fun social events. These seniors may also receive additional support, like memory care or skilled care.
If your loved one is a sassy senior who doesn’t require active levels of assistance, independent living is ideal. Many seniors choose independent living because they’re tired of maintaining a home and want a life with fewer chores and complications.
Seniors who require supportive senior living have the same needs as those in assisted living, but they also receive help with the cost. It’s not separate or different—supportive living is simply a cost-effective way to help seniors age in place.
It’s often difficult for families to know the right time for memory care. If you feel your loved one is no longer safe to live at home on their own because of memory-related issues like Alzheimer’s or dementia, memory care can make their life—and yours—easier.
Personal care empowers seniors to live more independent lives by helping them with medical support and any other support they require for daily activities. By making sure every need is met, seniors who get personal care enjoy a lower-stress life.
Seniors who need skilled care have their medical needs met by skilled or licensed medical experts. This can include wound care, regular injections, and more.
Not sure which lifestyle option is right for you? Learn about your options and get personalized results in about 4 minutes.Take the Assessment
Is the senior living community able to provide the care your loved one requires?
Each person has their own unique needs, wants, and care requirements, and it’s important to make sure that the community you choose can meet them. There are many signs that your loved one may need senior living, but determining what lifestyle will fit their needs may not be as clear.
Start by asking yourself the questions below so you’re able to communicate your loved one’s unique needs to the community as well as ask the community how they’ll meet these needs.
Is your loved one’s chronic health issue getting worse?
It bothers you to see it, but yes, your loved one’s condition is undeniably worse, and treatment is becoming more complicated. Your loved one may need personal care.
Can your loved one still take prescribed medications as instructed?
Have they been missing doses or taking too much? If medication management has become an issue, look for an assisted living community that provides medication management (which is not to be confused with medication administration).
Are daily household maintenance tasks keeping your loved one from enjoying the things they love?
If Mom is tired of cleaning a large house or Dad is done with mowing the lawn, independent living may be the right choice. Seniors who choose independent living often just want a lower-maintenance lifestyle with opportunities for new experiences.
Have you noticed your loved one repeatedly forgetting about what they were doing in the middle of a task?
We’ve all had moments of walking into the kitchen and asking, “Now, why did I come here?” But if that happens to your loved one frequently, and they can’t answer their own question, memory care might be necessary. The day-to-day consequences of memory problems only get worse if you and your loved one try to deal with it alone. Make sure the assisted living senior community you choose has excellent memory care support.
What is the quality of life like in the community?
The ultimate goal of this process is finding a high-quality senior living community for your loved one. When you’re ready to tour communities, keep your eyes and ears open for these important things.
Share a meal with your loved one.
Food is a central part of life, so make sure you and your loved one share a meal together at the senior living community. This will give you quality time together and provide a glimpse into how the food is in the community. Ask the staff questions about the menu, such as if they accommodate dietary restrictions, if they provide menu alternatives and menu variations, and whether the menu is focused on promoting health while still tasting delicious. Take note of the quality of the food service, the feel of the dining room, and if you’d want to eat there again.
Note the sounds, sights, and smells.
Some things about community quality are obvious, like cleanliness. If the community isn’t visibly clean and doesn’t pass the “smell test,” ask the staff about it. This will help you determine if the smell or visible grime is just a one-time event or if it’s a larger, regular problem. Keep asking questions about peculiar smells, sights, and sounds until you receive an explanation you’re comfortable with.
Ask about the night shifts.
Not only is proper sleep crucial for seniors, but proper overnight care is also. What duties will the overnight staff perform? Make sure that the answers leave you feeling good about your loved one’s overnight safety and sleep quality.
Inquire about ongoing team member training.
To stay up-to-date on best practices, senior living community staff need ongoing professional training. Ask how often staff is trained and what type of onboarding training they receive. This will help you discover if care will be consistently good, no matter who is working each day.
Ask about the availability of memory support experts.
Are there available experts with special training in care for residents with Alzheimer’s or dementia? If your loved one needs memory care, make sure the community you choose is set up to meet all of their current and future needs.
Pay attention to staff interactions.
This is a biggie. Definitely ask specific questions about their approach to staff interactions, but mostly, keep your eyes peeled and note what you see. Observe how the staff interacts with the residents and ask residents about the care they receive and if they like it. This will help you determine if the staff is kind and cares. Residents who are satisfied with their care and appreciate the staff will give you an enthusiastic response, which will tell you a lot about if the community is right for your loved one.
Positive, productive staff interactions are crucial to ensure happy senior community residents. Does there seem to be a genuine connection between the residents and the staff? Are staff members responding to residents in a timely way? If your loved one needs an additional service such as a duty companion, what does that process involve?
While you’re visiting the community, evaluate the number of staff members and the care they’re administering. Are staff levels adequate to meet the needs of the residents? Is there a high quality of care? Plainly explain your loved one’s needs and ask very specific questions about what staff will be there to meet them.
Combine your observations, answers, and your gut feeling, and let that guide you—and other family members—to the right place for your loved one.
What amenities does the community offer?
Not all senior living community amenities are created equal. Most senior living communities offer at least some basic amenities, but make sure you are clear on what a specific community offers. Amenities and services vary by senior living community, and they can come with associated costs.
Consider different options when looking for a place that’s right for your loved one. Most senior living communities include these basic services:
- Pharmacy access
- Diet and nutrition guidance
- Physical, occupational, and speech therapy
- Assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs)
- Mental health services
- Safety and security
- Dining with personalized options
Depending on the senior living community, there may be extra costs and fees for the following:
- Maintenance, services, and special activities
- Vehicle storage such as a carport, garage, or parking space
- À la carte services like dry cleaning, meal delivery, haircuts, and massages
- Pet rent and a pet deposit (pet policies vary, so ask the sales team about pricing and restrictions)
What enriching leisure activities are offered?
Focusing on physical and medical needs is important, of course, but leisure activities are just as important. The impact of leisure activities on older adults’ cognitive function, physical function, and mental health is scientifically proven. However, we don’t really need science to tell us that human connection and fun are must-haves for happiness.
Today, senior activities and our perception of what activities seniors enjoy have been completely reshaped by baby boomers. Look past the stereotypical shuffleboard and think yoga, meditation, arts, and sports. If your loved one loves yoga, make sure the community you choose gives them the opportunity to keep doing yoga.
In senior living communities, life-enriching activities that often come at no additional cost can include:
- Social and family events
- Happy hours
- Book and walking clubs
- Exercise, wellness, and fitness activities
- Movies and live entertainment
- Arts and crafts
- Guest lecturers
- Religious services
What is the move-out policy?
It seems strange to think about move-out policies when your loved one hasn’t even moved in, but this is a key question to ask the community. For example, if your loved one’s care needs change, are they going to be able to meet these needs or will your loved one need to move? Is there a 30-day move-out notice? What steps does the senior living community take when determining if they’re still able to provide care for a resident?
What is the cost of the community?
Because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to care, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to pricing. The cost of a senior living community is unique for each resident and depends on a number of factors, so it’s important to understand what the cost currently is and how that may change in the future depending on how your loved one’s needs change. Some of the factors that impact pricing include:
Lifestyle and Care
The lifestyle level as well as the unique care and services your loved one requires will impact the price. Some families may get a bit of sticker shock when they find out the cost of the community, but it’s important to keep in mind the cost of at-home care may be more expensive than a community with trained staff and around-the-clock care.
Location and Cost of Living
Similar to real estate, the location and local cost of living affect the cost of the community. Even within the same state, you’ll find that rural areas are generally not as expensive as cities or suburbs.
Luxury amenities and services are going to result in an increase in cost. However, it’s important to think about easy access to wellness resources, transportation, housekeeping, and other amenities when it comes to your loved one’s well-being.
Get help pinpointing the senior living community your loved one needs.
Now that you know what to ask and what to look for in a senior living community, take a deeper dive into the nuances of each senior living community lifestyle and care type to pinpoint exactly what your loved one needs.
For more information on each of the care types and what they include, start with our guide WHAT MAKES CEDARHURST DIFFERENT FROM OTHER SENIOR LIVING COMMUNITIES?.
*Originally published January 2021. Updated June 2023.