Life in a senior living community is all about cultivating new friendships, enjoying a maintenance-free lifestyle (so long, household chores!), and having wellness amenities available only a few steps away from your home. While some people call these places senior living “facilities,” we don’t use that term. These vibrant hubs of activity and wellness are communities full of interesting neighbors and new opportunities.
For some, senior living can also mean having a trustworthy caregiver available to provide additional support or the relief that comes with knowing someone is always there to check in or be available in case of an emergency. No matter what has drawn you or your loved one to senior living, you might find that sifting through all the options available can be slightly intimidating or confusing.
We’re here to help by providing you with a quick guide to finding the senior living communities near you and how to choose the best one for your specific situation.
Know Your Options
Before you can begin searching for senior living in your desired location, you need to know what option will suit your needs now and in the future. In general, there are four types of senior living communities: independent living, assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing. Knowing which type will give you the support you need and the amenities you want will help you narrow down your choices before you even sit down to research communities near you.
Independent living communities are ideal for adults who want to enjoy maintenance-free living and have access to amenities and opportunities that will enhance their lifestyle. Independent living communities vary in size and cost but often feature amenities ranging from saltwater swimming pools to putting greens to multiple restaurants on-site.
Assisted living communities are perhaps the most popular type of senior living option out there. These communities offer many of the amenities and opportunities available at an independent living community but with personalized caregiver support around the clock. Many communities have lighter care options meaning assisted living communities are quickly becoming serious competition for independent living.
Memory care communities are designed specifically for those living with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia. Team members are trained on cognitive health best practices, and a comforting daily routine helps to meet the challenges that can come with dementia.
Finally, perhaps the only time the senior living field uses the word “facilities” is to describe skilled nursing facilities, or SNFs. These communities offer around-the-clock skilled nursing care to support residents who require complex disease management or who need clinical interventions.
In some cases, senior living communities offer multiple options on one campus or in one building. This is especially convenient if a couple wants to move to senior living, but they have different needs, or if you want the confidence that you won’t have to move again if your needs change in the future. If you aren’t sure which type of senior living could be best for you or your loved one, talk to your physician or begin touring communities to get a better sense of the services and amenities they offer.
Perhaps most importantly, don’t be afraid to tour and learn. There are many ways to engage with a senior community, including opportunities to try the lifestyle before you commit to it by eating meals and attending events at potential communities. Always take your time researching. Look early; you are under no obligation to move until you are ready.
Location and Floor Plans
Now that you know what type of senior living to look for, you can begin to narrow down your list further based on your desired location and the type of home you are looking for.
First, let’s talk about location. Just as with any real estate, location is a key factor in determining what senior living community you choose. You might want to pick a community that is in your favorite neighborhood or one that is located close to family members. Or, you might want to try out a new location entirely in order to be near your doctor or have new opportunities. In any case, begin your search by looking for senior living communities in your desired location—or in a close radius—that feature that type of support you or your loved one need.
Next, look at the floor plans available to see if they suit your preferences. For example, having access to outdoor space, such as a patio off your living room, might be a top priority. You might insist upon plenty of natural light, modern appliances, or an extra room for an office. In any case, look for a home that will meet your needs while still being conscious that a move to senior living is often a welcome opportunity to rightsize your space and possessions.
Pro tip: Senior living will almost always involve some manner of downsizing. Most seniors, however, live in full-family homes with an abundance of unused space. That’s why we say “rightsizing.” Don’t necessarily assume you need a large floor plan to enjoy a comfortable, engaged lifestyle. Taking time to rightsize your space and possessions will give you renewed energy and a fresh outlook.
Amenities and Services
Next, it is time to review the amenities and services available at the senior living communities on your list. Amenities and services are a crucial part of the senior living lifestyle, giving residents the opportunity to stop spending time on household chores or tasks and instead use the time to pursue new hobbies or favorite passions.
Amenities vary from senior living community to senior living community, but it is common to find state-of-the-art fitness centers, outdoor walking paths, salons and barbershops, and welcoming restaurants on-site. You can also find shared spaces such as private theaters, libraries, living rooms, and recreation rooms.
Senior living communities also focus on hospitality services to ensure residents have an exceptional experience every day. Communities feature concierge services, transportation around town, housekeeping visits, laundry services, and maintenance services.
For those living in assisted living or memory care communities, caregiver support and assistance are truly some of the best features. Each resident receives personalized assistance for tasks such as dressing, bathing, and grooming. Some residents might require brief verbal reminders while others may need more hands-on assistance; no matter what type of support they need, getting it can often mean increased energy and feelings of well-being. This is why so many residents flourish in a senior living community when compared to needing to do everything on their own at home alone.
Finally, many senior living communities have a range of technology to assist with oversight of health and wellness. While some feature basic paging, others use cutting-edge passive monitoring systems to detect falls or predict medical concerns so the community team can follow up appropriately. This 24-hour emergency response offers residents and their family members peace of mind.
Older adults often have shrinking social circles, which can sometimes leave them feeling lonely, isolated, or just wishing for a busier social calendar. Having an active social life is an important piece of healthy aging; the benefits of connecting with peers are just as important to overall health as a balanced diet or regular exercise program. In fact, older adults who are socially connected to peers can enjoy benefits such as decreased risk of dementia, lower risk of heart disease, and a lower risk of depression and anxiety.
Making meaningful connections with peers and cultivating new friendships is even easier when you have like-minded neighbors down the hall in a senior living community. Senior living communities also feature events, programs, and opportunities for residents to get to know one another over a concert, art workshop, or a beer tasting trip to a local brewery.
Look for a senior living community that features a vibrant and busy social event calendar with offerings on and off campus throughout the week. Remember, resident interest and input should set the calendar of events at any community. It is perfectly reasonable to have your preferences, desires, and hobbies as a part of the community’s event programming. Speak up and share your talents and interests; everyone will benefit from what you have to offer.
Dining Opportunities and Experiences
Senior living communities offer a variety of dining options and flexible plans for residents. Be sure to find a community that will give you dining experiences to nourish your body and your spirit.
Senior living communities have far too long relied on all-day and restaurant-style menus and meals. Look for a community that features a wide variety of made-to-order restaurant options and unrestricted access. The 21st-century approach to senior living is offering true restaurant experiences.
You’ll find communities with al fresco dining options as well as quick grab-and-go bistros where you can get a cup of coffee and a cup of yogurt before your morning exercise class. Of course, there are on-site restaurants that offer comforting and seasonal entree options to enjoy at a table with friends. Further, many communities can accommodate a variety of diet preferences and prescriptions ranging from vegan to low-sodium to lower-sugar options.
Meals are an important part of community life, so be sure you try a few meals before you commit to the community. Schedule times when you can attend a meal on-site to experience the menu and the atmosphere and meet a few potential neighbors.
Now that your list of potential senior living communities is shorter than it was when you first started your research, it’s time to begin touring communities. If you have one takeaway from this article, don’t wait to start the tour process. The earlier you begin researching, the better. You are not obliged to move just because you research and tour. In fact, you’re in great company if you don’t move urgently. Seniors in crisis move in 30-60 days, and seniors who control their decisions take 18-24 months! Some even can take years to make a move.
A tour of a senior living community allows you the opportunity to learn more about that community, meet residents and key team members, and ask questions you might have. We recommend touring communities more than once and even scheduling a time to eat a meal or participate in an event at a community, which gives you the chance to experience the lifestyle for a few hours.
Take advantage of all the opportunities to participate and learn about senior living you can for as long as you need. Go beyond the standard options of formally touring and dining. Participate in events, take trips, make friends, regularly attend social hours, or join a group or club. Treat the senior community as your personal senior center—that way, you are comfortable with the community, have good associations with new friends and neighbors, and can make a decision at your own pace.
Have more questions? Find a community near you and reach out to schedule a tour or speak to an advisor so you can learn more about what life is like here, our amenities and services, and information about how to schedule your personalized tour.