Senior living facilities have come a long way from the nursing homes of yesteryear. From meatless meals to relaxing rocking chairs, bountiful barbecues and bonfires, there are many amenities and unique offerings to take into consideration in choosing a place to live for yourself or a loved one.
But first, it’s important to ponder “what are my care needs and who can meet those needs?” said Rachel Reeves, a spokeswoman for the National Center for Assisted Living, an advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. And if an illness develops or progresses, “can you still help care for me? What does that look like as I need more assistance?”
Take a Tour
Taking a tour of a facility is the best way to get a feel for its surroundings, Reeves said. Ask to visit during meal times and test the food, talk with residents, participate in some activities and evaluate if the employees are attentive and friendly. If you do this before a crisis strikes, you won’t be compelled to make a decision quickly and under pressure.
Even better, “go and stay there for a few days,” said Jon Pynoos, a professor of gerontology, policy and planning and director of the National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modification at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. “Try it out. It’s probably a good investment.” Some senior living communities rent guest rooms; if that’s not an option, look into nearby hotels.
Think about the amount of interaction you want with other residents. “I would try to understand what my preferences are overall, whether you want to live in a totally senior complex or environment, what you value most – privacy versus sociability,” Pynoos said. And contemplate whether an urban, suburban or rural setting and scenery suit you most.
Consider the Cost
Prices vary, but average about $3,100 monthly per person in independent living, $4,800 in assisted living, and $6,400 in memory care, according to Stephen Golant, a gerontologist and professor in the geography department at the University of Florida in Gainesville. While Medicare and Medicaid typically don’t cover these expenses, long-term care insurance may help subsidize the costs.
Although meals are often included, senior living facilities have evolved to give residents more control over their food choices and activities. Residents don’t just eat in the dining room anymore. Some housing communities have set up kiosks or mini grocery stores where you can buy food and snacks to bring into your room, Golant said.
Whether you’re allowed to drink alcoholic beverages in the facility’s public areas and in your private quarters – or not at all – may be a factor to weigh before signing on the dotted line, he said.
Location, Location, Location
Also, whenever possible, selecting a facility near a family member would be ideal. Not only is management likely to be more responsive to your needs, it helps to call for emotional support and to request something you may need delivered. “It’s always useful to have a gatekeeper, a proponent, an advocate on your side,” Golant said.
What would you look for in a retirement community? Tell us in the comments section below.