What to look for in a Retirement Community

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retirement community tips

What to look for in retirement communities

When you look for a retirement community, you’re looking for more than a new home. You’re looking for a support system, socialization and amenities that fit within your lifestyle, needs and budget.

Your search begins by understanding the types of retirement communities, levels of care offered at each, and whether the community is a continuing care retirement community, which we’ll explain next.

What is a continuing care retirement community?

As you do your research, you may see community websites refer to continuing care retirement communities (CCRC). These communities offer a range of living options for seniors as their needs change, from independent senior living to memory care and full-time, round-the-clock skilled nursing care.

We think a continuum of care is the most important factor when evaluating options for you or your family members, because moving can be stressful at any age. For older adults, having a full breadth of options in one location eases transitions as physical and mental abilities change.

Types of retirement communities

You’ll find many options as you explore the best solution for you or your family member. Someone who’s still active but wants to relieve themselves of the burden of taking care of a house may be more inclined to seek out independent living.  

Independent living: Independent living communities offer all of the comforts of home, plus a dedicated staff, restaurant-style dining, Life Enrichment Programs, housekeeping services, transportation, on-site beauty and barber shop, and more.

Assisted living: Senior Lifestyle’s assisted living communities have everything that independent living communities have, plus Supportive Living, personal care, and  assistance with daily activities such as bathing, dressing, and medication management.

Memory care: For Senior Lifestyle communities that specialize in memory care, explore our award winning embrace program.

Cost and value of retirement communities

The second-most important factor in evaluating a retirement community is not only cost, but what you get for the cost. Ask the community team members for a summary of what services are included each month. Do they include:

  • Utilities, telephone and cable
  • Housekeeping
  • 24-hour security and emergency call services
  • Laundry services
  • Transportation services
  • Meals and snacks
  • Social and cultural events, activities and programs
  • Health and wellness centers and programs

Do a side-by-side comparison of your cost of living in your current home versus the cost to live in a retirement community, and if you own your home, don’t forget to adjust for the costs of homeowners’ insurance, mortgage (if you have one) interest and property taxes. You pay none of that when you live in a Senior Lifestyle retirement community.

Financial services for retirement living

Look for a retirement community that puts your best interests first. They should have an advisor on staff or in partnership, who can help you understand financial resources to help with senior living.

For example, our advisors at Senior Lifestyle have helped families understand how life insurance policies may be leveraged to help pay for the cost of care. Other options to ask about are bridge loans, VA benefits, and reverse mortgages.

You should also ask your financial advisor or accountant about tax deductibility of certain fees or portions of fees associated with CCRCs. Some of these fees are considered medical expenses and may be deductible.

Reputation and history of the retirement community

As you evaluate options for you or your family member, ask how long the community has been in existence, how long the management company has been with the community, and how long have employees been on staff?

Read online reviews and, if you read something negative about a community you are interested in, take the review with you and ask the staff to talk about it. Sometimes the way a business responds to negative reviews says more about them than the negative reviews themselves.

Access to health care

How close is the nearest hospital? Is transportation to doctor and medical appointments provided, or is there an extra charge? What healthcare services are offered onsite? For example, does the community employ physical therapists?

Food, dining and socialization

How are meals planned? Does the community employ a chef? What is her or his experience, and how do they address dietary needs? Is the food good? Try to arrange a tour during lunch or dinner, and ask if you can join and sample the food.

More importantly, are mealtimes fun? Does the community encourage socialization, and how are new residents introduced to existing ones?

What does a typical day look like at the retirement community? Are there a variety activities for residents, based on their physical abilities as well as their interests?

Family visits

Are there any restrictions with family visits? Most retirement communities are very welcoming to visits from family members, but some may have preferred times for visiting hours. If this is important to you, ask about these time slots.

Senior living culture

This may be the most difficult feature to describe or measure. It’s that “it” factor that you felt when you bought your first home and knew, “this is the one.” How do you know if the retirement community’s culture is right for you? Sometimes it’s just a feeling, but we have some advice to help you if you’re on the fence.

Visit more than one community, and try to visit each more than once, at different times of the day. Observe the residents and staff. Do they seem happy? How does the staff respond to your many questions? Do they take the time to explain their answers, and do they seem to care if you understand?

Rules and guidelines

Before you sign any agreement at any residential living community, thoroughly review the rules and regulations to make sure you have no surprises. Examples might including understanding the community’s rules for visitors, parking, pets, leisure activities, and transportation.

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