Choosing the right senior living community is a very important and personal decision. While the COVID-19 pandemic has forced changes in the process, staff at senior living communities are implementing creative ways to inform prospective residents about their communities. For some, this includes virtual tours. For others, in-person visits with safety precautions are allowed.
No matter how a senior and family members learn about these communities, the tips below will help in selecting the community that best meets the senior’s needs.
What to Look For When Touring Senior Living Communities
1. What does the senior want?
According to Sarah Zimmerman, Sales Counselor for Bethesda, seniors most often become residents in independent living because of the social activities it offers.
In some independent living communities, residents still participate in activities with the safeguards of masks and social distancing. Even though external activities have been curtailed, these residents are still enjoying interacting with their friends.
As a first step, she suggests assessing senior needs and interests. What does the senior want in terms of activities, amenities, location of the community, and services? Use that as a baseline when touring senior living communities.
For example: If dining and cuisine are important, ask if you can try the food. Some communities can make special arrangements for visitors and prospective residents to get a taste of the cuisine.
2. What is the layout?
Is the community large or small? Are there plenty of ramps, wide sidewalks, and short access routes for residents to common areas like dining rooms, libraries, coffee bars, and activity areas for seniors with mobility challenges? Are elevators close to all these common areas with relatively short hallways to the elevators? “You can have a beautiful dining room and great activities, but if mobility issues keep a resident from accessing them, they are probably going to isolate themselves,” Sarah says. “That’s the last thing we want. Our goal is for residents to be fully engaged in what we offer.”
3. Overall appearance.
Are the common areas attractive, clean, and popular with the residents? Use your senses. What do you see, smell, and hear while in the community? Also, speak to the residents to learn their opinion of the care and services they are receiving.
Masks may be required for all visitors and residents in common areas, but Sarah stresses the importance of talking to residents when possible to find out what they think. “These are the people that live in the community day in and day out, and what they feel about their care and support is very important to hear,” she says.
4. Assess the staff.
Observe the interaction between staff and residents. Is it friendly? Do they know each other by name? Sarah suggests asking staff and employees how long they have been with the organization. “If a housekeeper has been with the community for 15 years, that says this person is satisfied with the care and services the community provides and is committed to maintaining that standard,” Sarah says. She adds it’s also important to meet with the General Manager of the community.
5. What does the community provide long-term?
When the senior’s physical or cognitive health declines, what provisions for assistance are available within the community? Can accommodations be made, or will the senior be uprooted and forced into seeking a place within another organization? “When this stage is reached, the resident already has challenges,” Sarah says. “If at all possible, you don’t want to add to their burden by requiring them to move somewhere outside of the senior care organization.”
Find out what medical care and support services can be provided within the independent living community. “Determine if the senior care organization can keep a couple together, even if the husband or wife needs additional care.” Sarah says. “Whenever possible, you want to keep them in an environment with their friends and the people they socialize with, while bringing the necessary care and support into their apartment. It means a lot that couples can age in place together in an independent living community.”
Review Other Information Sources After Your Tour
Along with the virtual and general tours, what other information is available from the community that the senior and family members are considering?
Some communities have a full-size display unit—an apartment that seniors and family members can walk through. FaceTime tours are options to show a prospective resident an apartment that is being considered.
In addition, the community should provide a packet that includes information like floor plans of various apartments, a map of the building, a copy of the activity calendar, and a dining menu.
Also, check out the community’s Facebook page for photos of activities.