How to Find the Right Senior Independent Living Community

What to Look for, What to Ask
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How to choose the right senior independent living community can seem enormously stressful -- how can you tell in advance which community is right for you? After all, what seems fabulous to your best friends might seem stuffy or overly lively to you, and vice versa.

The good news, though, is that if you ask enough questions and spend enough time visiting each community, you'll know when it feels right. To get you started, here's a checklist of what to research online, questions to ask about independent living facilities over the phone, and what to look for when you visit.

Before You Visit

1. Narrow your search by area

  • Is the community in a town or community that you like or have heard good things about?
  • Is the location convenient for family and friends to visit?
  • How far is the nearest airport, and is it an airport with frequent, reasonably priced flights?
  • Is the area safe, with a low crime rate? (Use websites like Crime Reports, Trulia, and Neighborhood Scout to check crime rates and safety records.)
  • Is this a locally operated community, or part of a regional or national chain?
  • If it's part of a chain, is it a well-respected name you trust? (Check reviews of the brand, not just the individual community you're considering.)

2. Next, narrow by community

  • Is the community gated or open?
  • Are there age restrictions on this community?
  • Is the community close to shopping, restaurants, a medical center, and other services? Try using websites and apps to explore the neighborhood virtually.
  • What are the housing options, and do they suit your needs? (For example, if you prefer a house or detached townhome, are these available?)
  • Is this a continuum of care community (CCRC)? (Are there other levels of care available, such as assisted living, should you need it?)
  • What is the cost range, and is there a buy-in fee?
  • Is there a meal plan, and how flexible is it? If so, what are the dining facilities like?
  • Check reviews: What are the comments and reviews from the Better Business Bureau, your local Area Agency on Aging, and here on Caring.com?

3. What to ask when you call

  • Are you currently accepting new residents?
  • If not, is there a wait list, and how long is the typical wait? (Remember, many people join wait lists at several communities, so the list may be shorter than it seems. It's always worth getting on the wait list if you're interested.)
  • What services and amenities are included in the price?
  • What services are available for additional fees?
  • What types of payment do you accept?
  • Do you have any programs to help with the transition process?

During Your Visit

4. What to ask about the community

  • Is the neighborhood quiet and pleasant?
  • Is covered parking available, and is it free or is there an additional charge?
  • Is there easy access to public transportation?
  • Are the buildings and grounds clean, spacious, and well maintained?
  • Are the common spaces in the community pleasant and appealing?
  • How many rooms are available where you can visit with other residents and with visiting family members?
  • How extensive are the outdoor areas for recreation, exercise, and visiting?

5. What to ask about the apartment units and fees

  • Do the accommodations include a wide range of housing options, including smaller apartments or studios should you wish to downsize?
  • Were you invited to view all the different types of units available?
  • Are there handicapped-equipped units, should you need one at some point?
  • Is there adequate storage space in the unit, or is additional storage provided?
  • How are the views -- do your windows face a garden or other green space?
  • Are dogs, cats, and other pets allowed and, if so, are there limits on type or size?
  • Will you be allowed to have visitors at any time and overnight, or are there curfews or other rules?
  • Is there a homeowners' association with membership fees?
  • Are there homeowner rules about upkeep and decorating?
  • Will you be required to have renter's insurance?
  • Are housekeeping services available, and at what price?
  • Which maintenance issues are you responsible for and which are included with the unit?

6. What to ask about food, activities and social life

  • Will your visiting family members be invited to join you for meals?
  • Do the residents seem to like the food?
  • Is there a community center and, if so, how large and well equipped is it?
  • Is there an extensive, varied schedule of classes and activities, including some that interest you?
  • Are there evening events, such as movie nights and performances by local theater, dance, and music groups?
  • Is there a gym or fitness center?
  • What types of additional recreation facilities are offered?
  • If there's a sport you enjoy, such as swimming, tennis, or golf, is there a pool, courts or a course?
  • Are there media and computer rooms available?
  • Is there a private dining or community room available for family and other large events?
  • Are there religious services in the community or nearby?
  • Is there a barbershop and beauty salon in the community or nearby?

7. What to ask about community staff

  • Is there an activity director or staff members charged with organizing and leading activities?
  • What's the staff turnover rate?
  • Are background checks performed before hiring staff? If so, when and how?
  • How much training do staff members have?
  • Does the community work with an agency or registry that provides in-home care companions in case you need assistance in future?
  • Is there an RN, LVN, or CNA on staff?
  • Is there a clinic or medical unit within the independent living community?
  • If so, what specific services are available from doctors, nurses, physical therapists, and others?
  • Is the community affiliated with a hospital or nursing home if more care is needed?
  • Does the community work with an agency or registry that provides nursing and medical assistance in case you need it in future?

8. Forms to ask for

  • Copies of leases, contracts, etc.
  • A recent list of weekly activities and events
  • A recent weekly menu of meals and snacks
  • A copy of the Resident Bill of Rights
  • A copy of the most recent survey results from state regulatory inspectors

Write down all the answers to your questions as you go, and keep a checklist like this for each independent living community you visit. If your visit was scheduled ahead of time, it's a good idea to return for an impromptu drop-in visit to see if your experience is just as pleasant. (If you're told you can't come in for an unscheduled visit, that's a very bad sign.)

Once you've narrowed your choices down to a few favorites, schedule in-depth follow-up visits and dig a little deeper.

Start your search for an independent living community.


Melanie Haiken

Melanie Haiken discovered how important it is to provide accurate, targeted, usable health information to people facing difficult decisions when she was health editor of Parenting magazine. See full bio