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Tips on How to Start Your Senior Living Search

Use these 12 tips when searching for a senior living community. Know your needs, budget, and desired location to make an informed decision.

Your search for senior living answers starts right here with these 12 tips. For yourself or a loved one … whether you’re simply curious, you’ve got a situation or a need, or you just feel like it’s time to make a plan, our tips will get you headed in the right direction. How do we know? Well, over the decades, we’ve helped thousands of seniors and their families find their way to the right choice. Are we biased? You bet. Our bias is that we want to help you choose well and make the most of the years ahead. And for that, we know that where you live matters.

Where It Begins: The Search for Senior Living

Start your search with our top 12 tips:

  1. Know What You Need. Make an objective list of services and support needed – both current and anticipated. Maintaining independence, getting help with bathing and dressing, managing medication, maximizing safety – knowing upfront what’s needed can help define budget and choice.
  2. Establish a Budget. How much can be spent on senior living each month? Many of your current homeowner expenses will be included in monthly fees – meals, utilities and taxes, for example. And as you’re planning, be mindful of other financial resources that can help, such as long-term care insurance, or the Aid & Attendance benefit for veterans and their surviving spouses. Don’t overlook any resources that can help you and your family.
  3. Determine a Location. The real estate mantra – location, location, location – applies. Is it meaningful to stay close to the current neighborhood? Is being close to a major medical center important? Or is a move in order to reposition seniors for the sake of adult children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren? Which location is “it”?
  4. List Desires. What are the “must-have” services and amenities? Your list should include whatever is non-negotiable in making this move – a community that accepts pets or offers a comprehensive wellness program, for example. You should also create a “wish list” of everything hoped for, such as an on-site guest suite for visiting family members, a fitness center with pool or an in-house branch of a favorite bank.
  5. Visit Websites. Search online for senior living communities in the desired location. The community’s website should describe services and amenities, the continuum of care available, and life enrichment programs. Some communities also provide general information about successful aging, caregiver support and senior living. Make a list of the communities you’d like to know more about – or visit.
  6. Read Online Reviews. Find a community you’d like to know more about? Check, and even Angie’s List for reviews that can tell you what current and previous residents and families have to say about the community you’re interested in.
  7. Don’t Forget About Facebook. Look up the Facebook page for each community that interests you. Read the comments. Look at the photos. See what you can learn about lifestyle, residents, activities, programs – even the quality of dining.
  8. Ask Around. Anyone who’s been through the process – whether it was for themselves or on behalf of a loved one – can usually offer helpful insights. Similarly, you can often find good information and advice from a trusted family physician or clergy member. Ask friends, family, colleagues – and you may discover ideas you haven’t thought about … and information you need to know.
  9. Make Preliminary Contact. Shorten a long list of potential communities by phoning or emailing. Prepare a list of questions, based on the identified needs, desires and budget. Preliminary contact can trim your list, while also making it clear which communities will be important to visit in person.
  10. Go Visit. An in-person visit pays huge dividends when it comes to making an informed decision. Here’s what to watch for: How do residents and staff interact? What’s the mood of the community? Are residents actively engaged, sitting quietly or out of sight? Do you see safety features such as handrails, grab bars and emergency call systems? Is it clean? Is the decorating up to date? Does it feel like a place you could call home? Are you greeted promptly and with friendliness? Ask questions and take notes – and consider bringing along a friend or relative so you can join forces to observe everything.
  11. Review and Revisit. After completing the initial round of community visits, review your notes and observations. Narrow your list a little more by identifying which communities are good options and which you’d like to eliminate. Schedule a new round of visits to your shortened list of communities, making sure you return to each community at a different time than your last visit – even consider visiting evenings and weekends. It’s helpful to see the community during the times when senior management isn’t on site.
  12. Consult an Attorney. Seek professional advice. Don’t go it alone … mistakes here can be very expensive, both financially and emotionally. Retirement community contracts can be long and complicated. So make sure you understand the ins and outs of everything before you sign anything.

You can do this. Take your time and you’ll soon find what once felt overwhelming has become a decision-making process about which you feel empowered. For assistance, use our community locator tool to find a retirement community near you.

Where You Live Matters is powered by the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA), a respected voice in the senior housing industry. ASHA primarily focuses on legislative and regulatory advocacy, research, and educational opportunities and networking for senior living executives, so they can better understand the needs of older adults across the country.