One of the very first steps you’ll want to take as you consider moving to a senior living community is to tour a variety of communities, see what they have to offer, and determine which best fits your individual lifestyle, expectations and personality. Below are some key factors to keep in mind and use as points of comparison as you evaluate each of the communities you visit.
Take a close look as you do your walk-through. Do the common areas, dining room, halls and homes appear fresh, clean and well-maintained? Are there any strange odors? Is there plenty of natural and artificial light? How do the outdoor spaces and parking area look? Are the grounds inviting and attractive?
Make sure to get an introduction to the management team. If possible, speak with the community’s executive director, the director of activities and events, and the Wellness Coordinator. Does management conduct resident satisfaction surveys? If so, ask to see them. You should also inquire about residents’ involvement in community management. Is there a resident council that works with the management team to identify opportunities and solutions? It’s also helpful to speak with personnel to learn about terms of the contract, rules of the community, rate structures, and payment requirements.
The attitude and friendliness of the staff can play a key role in the day-to-day engagement and happiness of the residents of a senior living community. So, as you meet with staff, what are your impressions? Are you warmly greeted? Does the team appear to get along with each other? When they interact with residents, do they give them their full attention? Does the staff seem to know residents’ names? Find out about the staff to resident ratio, how staffing patterns are established, and about the experience of the staff. Is it a mix of seasoned pros and energetic, young employees?
Make sure your tour includes a view of the community’s outdoor areas. Are there paths to walk or places to sit, relax and socialize? Is it close to grocery and department stores, restaurants, parks, and entertainment and cultural options of particular interest? Is it close to your or your loved one’s preferred place of worship? Are there hospitals and medical centers in a close proximity?
Living spaces in senior living communities can vary widely depending on level of care. With that in consideration, judge accordingly. In general, you can look for things like individual unit climate control, availability of natural light, private locking doors, handrails in the bathroom, an emergency alert system, available storage, cleanliness of the unit, and whether décor and colors have been updated/upgraded (carpets, walls and countertops or surfaces).
Make arrangements prior to your visit to have a meal at the community. You’ll have the opportunity to try out the cuisine for yourself and meet some of the residents in an informal setting. Ask them their opinions about the dining experience at the community. Chances are, they’ll be honest! Also, you’ll want to find out about the dining plan, hours, procedures, options (do they serve 3 meals a day?), and how the community approaches serving residents with specific dietary restrictions.
A great way to learn about community activities is to review the monthly calendar of events. Do the activities seem to match your or your loved one’s interests? What activities happen daily, weekly, or monthly? Are there trips and outings? How well are activities attended? A good way to get a feel for how the community—and particularly the staff—handles activities is to watch one in action, or even better, participate in one if you can.
Amenities and Services
Amenities and services can vary widely from community to community. Some things to consider are whether utilities are paid, if the community offers shuttle transportation, and what laundry services are provided. What about housekeeping and linen services? Is the community pet-friendly? Is there an elevator and full handicap accessibility? Are religious or worship services available onsite?
Some communities are integrating the latest technologies into residences for faster, easier access to information and assistance when it’s needed. These “smart apartments” often feature voice command devices that can control everything from lights and heating to music and TV, as well as connect residents to services and departments throughout the community. Ask about how technology is being used to support and benefit the lifestyle of residents and what you might be able to expect in the future.
Safety and Security
Safety and security are obviously important in a senior living community. You’ll want to explore the security and emergency procedures. How do residents contact staff if an emergency occurs in living areas? Is there an emergency alert system? Is staff available to help 24 hours a day? Do staffing patterns differ at night? Is there a registered nurse onsite? Are bathrooms fully accessible with convenient grab bars? Is there a sign in/sign out desk for visitors?
After taking so many specific criteria into consideration, it can still come down to how the community makes you feel. Look beyond the lobby décor, the services and amenities, the activities, and the manicured grounds. Can you see yourself or your loved one living here? Do you find it truly inviting—a place where you’ll feel comfortable and at ease? Really consider whether this is a place where you’ll be able to enjoy your life and be happy.
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