October 31, 2023 —As you plan for retirement living and compare communities, learning what to look for in a senior living community is key to finding a place you can call home.
Consider these questions to ask of each community you visit and understand why you need to know the answers before you make your decision.
Six Senior Living Questions to Ask (and Why They Matter)
1. What Type of Community is This?
You may not realize it, but several types of senior living communities exist. Some communities operate using a rental model, which charges month-to-month rent. Other communities have an entrance fee model, where you pay an up-front fee and then a monthly service fee. Some offer only independent living, so you will need to move should you require any assistance as your healthcare needs change. Finally, some communities offer independent living along with higher levels of care, all on the same campus.
A Life Plan Community (also called a Continuing Care Retirement Community, or CCRC) offers independent living and higher levels of care, typically including assisted living and memory care. However, not every community offers these options.
Why it matters: You may be perfectly healthy today. But if you and your partner, if you have one, move to a community that offers only independent living — and then one of you needs assisted living or memory care — it may mean a move away from your home, and possibly living separately from your partner to access that care.
2. Is it a For-Profit or a Not-For-Profit Community?
Another difference in communities is whether they are for-profit or not-for-profit. For-profit communities have shareholders to whom they are accountable, and there is often a focus on making money. Not-for-profit communities of course need to stay financially solvent too but are grounded in their mission and do not have shareholders, so their primary stakeholders are the residents themselves.
Why it matters: If you feel strongly connected to the mission of a not-for-profit community, this may impact your interest in living there. Many not-for-profit communities will allow you to age in place, even if you outlive your financial resources.
3. How Much Does It Cost to Live in a Senior Living Community?
Most Life Plan communities have an entrance fee – or an up-front cost to reserve your specific residence – as well as a monthly fee. Each community has various services and amenities that fall under this fee. When searching for communities, be sure to understand the pricing model.
Why it matters: When vetting your options, you’ll want to compare amenities across communities to see which ones you’d take advantage of, as you want to use what you pay for. You may also find that CCRC’s entrance fee is comparable to or less than the sale of your home and the monthly fees are comparable to your monthly expenses at home, with the added security and peace of mind of the available healthcare.
4. What Does the Location and Surrounding Area Offer?
If you’re unfamiliar with a community’s location, be sure to pay close attention to the town it’s located in as well as the surrounding area. This is a place that will become your home and you want to make sure it’s the right fit for you.
Why it matters: Certain locations are not for everyone. Some people want to join a spa-like retreat, more distanced from the hustle and bustle of the city, while others want to live in a high-rise, city-like environment where they can walk to everything.
5. What are the Senior Living Dining and Culinary Services?
Some communities don’t offer a meal plan as part of their senior living contracts. Instead, you’ll have to prepare all your own meals in your residence or pay a la carte every time you eat at the campus restaurants. Others may offer one meal a day or dining credits to be used throughout the month, allowing flexibility for when and how much you’ll take advantage of the on-campus options. Also, the type of dining venues usually varies quite a bit between communities. You may find formal sit-down restaurant-quality options, casual bistros, coffee shops, bars, grills, and even juice bars. Or you may find just one dining venue option.
Why it matters: You’ll want to know what the food is like — from the type and quality of the ingredients to where it’s sourced to how it’s prepared and served to how often you can expect to be eating it. Are you a vegetarian, or do you have any dietary restrictions? You’ll want to know what’s available for you to eat and how responsive the community can be. You want to be sure you’ll feel good enjoying this food often.
6. How Does the Community Differ from its Competitors?
Many communities are crafted to appeal to as many people as possible, which sometimes means the options are more generalized to a mass audience, rather than a specialized approach for a specific affinity group. They may point to their multiple dining venues and choices of floor plans. Ask to review residency contracts and a list of services and amenities they offer.
More and more, communities are created around a specific theme or target audience are emerging – such as a commitment to sustainability or to intergenerational integration. Consider asking about the senior living community’s mission, vision, and values. Ask what principles the community has been founded upon. And inquire about a community’s commitments to its residents and the greater neighborhood.
Why it matters: These types of questions show whether the community, at its core, is aligned with your core values and if you are likely to find people with whom you will share commonalities and find interesting to live with. It can indicate how residents and employee team members will be treated.
As you compare senior living communities, exploring the costs, services and offered, and discovering the environment you wish to live in and the people you wish to surround yourself with are important. Answering these questions can help guide you to the right community for you.
These are just six questions to ask when comparing senior living communities.
Once you decide what type of community fits your wants and needs, find out how you can get a better feel for it firsthand.