What You Can Expect From a Great Assisted Living Community

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Best Assisted Living of 2016

It’s time. Whether it’s due to a recent fall, a trip to the emergency room or it’s been a slow decline, you’re ready to search for a senior living community for your loved one (or maybe for yourself or a dear friend). You may have just a handful to choose from nearby, or there may be dozens in your area. You go online or look at the brochures and you just feel…overwhelmed. How do you find a good one, the right one? What qualities matter the most?

Consumers have a voice when it comes to what you want and need in today’s care communities. According to the latest statistics from the Administration on Aging, people over 65 represent 14.1% of the population, and those numbers are on the rise. By 2040, the aging segment of the population is projected to grow to 21.7 %. Today’s senior living communities are listening and responding to the growing needs of an aging population.

Family members of those in assisted living or memory care communities have shared what they value in these communities. They want their loved one’s needs and concerns promptly addressed. They’re looking for a homey atmosphere, pet-friendliness and opportunities for their loved one to to practice their faith. Connections matter, too. Staff members who know everyone’s name and bring a smile to work every day make a major difference.

Some communities are nestled in cities with nearby cultural opportunities, others have built their own village atmosphere with luscious grounds, golf courses, fishing ponds and more activities than the local Y. What really matters is that more care communities today are investing in connecting with residents. Staff members at Caring Star communities are applauded for considering their residents a part of their extended family and treat them with the compassion, kindness and care they would want their own loved ones to receive.

SEE ALSO: Find Assisted Living Near You

Choosing an assisted living or memory care community is a big decision, so it helps to have first-hand information. Finding a home where your loved one (or you) “click” can take some trial and error, but no one wants to go through the hassle and adjustment of moving their loved one from place to place.

What’s the alternative? First-hand knowledge from someone who lives at the community, someone who’s visited or has a friend or loved one living there. Someone willing to share much-needed insight on what makes a community a Caring Star.

Caring.com’s Senior Care Directory includes communities across the country and consumer reviews that can offer the insights you need to make an informed decision. Family members and residents have let us know how the 2016 Caring Stars take it a step further than your average assisted living or memory care community. The reviewers have spoken: these communities are the best. What matters most when it comes to senior living communities today? Here are the top trends in reviews of Caring Star communities for 2016:

1. A small (ish), “homey” atmosphere

Garden homes. Cottages. Ranch-styles. More and more seniors and their family members are considering small(ish)-style senior living arrangements. Why? Because it feels more like home. It’s not just about the size of the community or its floor-plan, it’s about the atmosphere—from the care staff, to the food and maintenance staff, neighboring residents and visitors. Many communities provide a common area where residents can get to know one another by sharing communal space such as a living room, back porch or garden area.

SEE ALSO: Find Assisted Living Near You

Every community has its own feel. You sense it when you drive onto the grounds, step into the foyer, sit down for a meal in the dining room, go for a walk or visit a room. It’s home -- a place where residents and staff are connected. A place to treasure old memories and make new ones.

“My first thought when my husband and I saw New Day Cottages was that we really could live there. It's small which I really like,” says Sherry, a recent visitor of New Day Cottages in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “The place was just very nice. It's clean, open, and bright. I can say that it's very inviting and home-like.” She also found that the staff had a lot to do with the feeling of hominess. “I think they truly have a heart for their residents. I have been there when crises come up with a resident. The staff maintain a calm and welcoming attitude.”

Smaller communities can help to ease the transition of moving. William, a visitor of Acacia Springs in Las Vegas, Nevada comments, “I visited Acacia Springs, and it's a very clean and welcoming environment. It is small enough that it would not be overwhelming to someone new to that environment.”

Providing much-needed support and thoughtful details matter. “They were garden homes…People came and mowed the lawn and shoveled the sidewalks,” a relative of a resident at Robin Run in Indianapolis said. “There was a pond out back with ducks and there were two elderly sisters that were living together.”

2. Issues dealt with promptly

It’s awful to wait, to wonder if your message was received, to worry if your concerns will ever be addressed. Today’s top-rated senior living communities know that dealing with issues promptly and professionally is important. Whether it’s pain or medication issues, food or minor repair and improvement issues, nothing feels better than knowing you’ve been heard and that the situation is being addressed. That’s why 2016 Caring Stars like Brookdale Chatsworth in Chatsworth, California, get high marks—they’re quick to respond. Marilyn shares her mom’s experience:

“We asked for a couple of things to be added like an extra bar in the bathroom for the shower, and they have it done on the same day. When we have something that needs to be repaired, the person comes in and fixes it the same day.”

Azalea Gardens of Gonzales in Gonzales, Louisiana receives high marks for their thoughtful interactions with their residents, shares one visitor.

“The staff at Azalea working together are hands-on, compassionate and patient care givers. They strive to give each resident personal individual attention to encourage a resident's growth in self-esteem, self-worth to become a part of the assisted living community.”

Family members of loved ones with dementia, Alzheimer’s and other memory disorders rely on staff to keep them informed. Heritage Green Assisted Living and Memory Care at Lynchburg, Virginia is one community known for impeccable care.

“Staff members encourage participation and the medical team responds efficiently to questions and concerns. The overall cheerfulness and happy feel of the facility is welcoming to Mom and makes her feel proud of her home,” one family member shared.

3. Pet-friendliness is preferred

Growing numbers of seniors can’t imagine a meaningful life without their pets. A “fur baby” provides a sense of comfort, continuity and security to a senior’s (and anyone’s) life. As a reflection of this, more and more communities are welcoming residents’ furry friends. That’s a huge bonus for many seeking a senior living community, shares one family member of Sterling Aventura care community in Sterling, Florida. “What first attracted me to the place was they accepted pets -- dogs specifically -- and my aunt has two dogs.”

More and more communities have a pet all the residents and families can enjoy. “They also had a little dog, which really got them 200+ points in my opinion,” says Eric, a visitor at Sunrise of Fresno in Fresno, California. What if you find your pet’s needs challenging? Some communities today will help out.

“The place is animal-friendly, so if you have a pet or a dog, they will walk them there, which is unusual,” says Keith, who has a family member residing at Belmont Village Green Hills in Nashville, Tennessee. Keeping a beloved pet can help ease the transition to a new place, and it’s something families mention time and time again.

“Our uncle has a little cat, and we were relieved to see that he could keep her with him. We really liked that each resident is treated as an individual. The care levels are adjusted as necessary -- and the environment seemed caring and warm for all the residents that we saw,” shared a niece of a man living at the Cottages at Quail Creek in Amarillo, Texas.

4. Opportunities to Practice Your Faith

Practicing a religious faith is something valued by many, and the communities featured as Caring Stars this year offer ample opportunities to do so with religious services and celebrations. Family and friends are invited to attend, and these special days are something everyone looks forward to.

“There’s a chapel, so the opportunity to practice their faith and work within the community is an important factor for them [my parents],” shares a recent visitor of the Brothers of Mercy Sacred Heart Home in Clarence, New York. Being able to practice their faith is something the residents at Heritage Elm Grove of Elm Grove, Wisconsin, appreciate, too.

“They were offering cooking classes and a Catholic service every Friday, which is something that my grandma was very interested in… They have a good relationship with the churches and a couple other organizations right in the community,” said one resident’s granddaughter, Maureen.

“And one thing which I like a lot is when I went to my church, the one they hold that The Brennity the bus came and dropped people off. It was impressive. In case I could go there, I know I could go to Sunday mass,” shares Joyce, a recent visitor of The Brennity at Tradition in Port Saint Lucia, Florida.

5. It’s Connection that Counts…Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Isn’t it amazing when someone’s face lights up at the sight of you? Or you hear your name being called from across the room? Nothing matters more than to be known. When someone really knows you, they’re more likely to be able to tell when your color is off, listen to your voice and realize you’re struggling with depression, or intuitively know it’s time to call a family member or doctor. It’s these people-to-people relationships that matter most---the friendly care staff, or maintenance person who knows everybody’s names, doles out hugs, breaks out in song, and makes sure little details don’t go unnoticed.

Kathy, the Activities Director at Massey Springs in Bowling Green, Kentucky, is among those praised for making sure her residents are spoiled.

“She approaches the residents as if they are her own family. Kathy provides a great variety of activities that meet the specific and unique desires and needs of the residents, understanding that one size does not fit all. She is warm and affectionate with residents, knowing that often older folks are lonely or have outlived many of their friends or close relatives and lost their past active lifestyles,” shares Linda.

And oftentimes, that affection is mutual. Many staff members love their job and adore their residents and families. They remember birthdays, dress up for holiday events, and take the time to play a board game or pick out a special outfit for an upcoming event. EPOCH Assisted Living at Brewster Place in Brewster, Massachusetts, is one community that sets the bar for this personal approach.

“My soon to be 88-year-old mother transitioned from her home in the Berkshires to Epoch this past June. I kid her that she now lives in a beautiful palace where many nice people accommodate her every need. She jokingly reminds me when her "crown" requires polishing! The amazing staff know all the residents (and their families) by name,” the granddaughter of a current resident shared. “It’s not my job” isn’t something you’re likely to hear at a Caring Star community.

A family member of a resident at one Caring Star community, Sunrise of Blue Bell in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, applauded one particularly attentive staff member named Elaine. Elaine happened to be in the kitchen one morning when she noticed a resident in need. Caring Stars often get enthusiastic reviews. Why? Families appreciate when the staff goes above and beyond. The care staff of Walden Place in Cortland, New York are praised for their thoughtful care.

“Mom is happy and feels she is home! Thank you…for giving me peace of mind and accepting mom as one of the family. If you are looking for a loving place with fun, laughter stimulation, wonderful care, great food, and sense of family; you will find it all at Walden Place,” shares an adult child. Abby and Michelle of Caring Star Abby’s Place in Grand Prairie, Texas, are another example of the premium placed on compassionate senior care.

“Abby and Michelle have been consistent, compassionate, professional and very caring in dealing with mom. They understand her needs and ours and have allowed us to establish trust in their work, training and experience. They maintain an open line of communication regarding mom’s care and all her needs whether they be physical or emotional,” said one adult daughter.

It’s a great feeling when you finally find a senior care community that feels like home. There’s a reassurance that comes with knowing your loved one is safe and thriving, and knowing what you and your loved one values is the first step in finding a caring community that fits your needs. These are just some of the qualities reviewers have shared that makes a community a Caring Star. Finding a caring home that will be just that—a home—is worth the effort. To peruse the full list of 2016 Caring Stars and find one near you or your loved one(s), click here.

Best Assisted Living of 2015

If you're starting the search for a senior care community for yourself or a family member or friend, you know that it's a daunting task. Where to start? How to find the information you need? And how to decide which community is the perfect choice for you or your loved one?

Happily, there's no shortage of assisted living and memory care communities to choose from. According to the National Survey of Residential Care Facilities, there are more than 31,000 assisted living communities in America, providing care for close to one million seniors.

Next: Assisted Living Trends -- Caring Stars of 2014

And there's an enormous range of options -- your loved one might be happiest in a big city high-rise with access to urban amenities, or in a smaller, more homelike environment, or in one of the larger campus-like communities with extensive indoor and outdoor facilities. More choices come when you think about activities -- from classes to fitness activities to cultural and social events, most senior living communities provide all sorts of ways for residents to be active and engaged and to enjoy each other's company.

And of course there's the bottom line: We all want our loved ones to be safe; healthy; and cared for by warm, caring and attentive staff.

With that said, there are some communities that stand out from the crowd, where the environment is that much friendlier, the staff that much more invested, the atmosphere warmer and more inviting. And there are those personal, hard-to-define characteristics, too; you want a place where your loved one will fit in and find friends, where the staff seem to "get" your loved one's needs, a place family and friends feel comfortable visiting and hosting family celebrations.

Thanks to the recommendations, ratings, and information provided by older adults, family caregivers, and senior care experts on Caring.com, we have the insights you need to choose just such a community. These tips come from real people like you -- people whose parents, family members, and friends have moved into these communities (or folks who live there themselves), and who come back to share their experiences with others. Using their ratings and reviews posted in Caring.com's Senior Care Directory, we've selected 2015’s Caring Stars, those communities that go above and beyond when it comes to assisted living and memory care.

They vary enormously in size, style, location, and amenities. But thanks to the feedback provided by Caring.com users, we can spot certain qualities these communities share that make them distinctive from the others.

Here are five top trends in senior living reviews that offer insight into what families really want, value, and appreciate when choosing an assisted living or Alzheimer's care community for a loved one.

1. Well-Trained Staff Readily Available for Care Needs

Knowing that your loved one will have someone on hand as needed is extremely important, say Caring.com families. Many reviewers cited the availability of care staff when awarding a facility high ratings.

Excellent care was particularly important to many whose loved ones had health issues, and they cited the availability of healthcare professionals and transportation to appointments as important to them. As one reviewer of American House Sterling Heights said, "They had medical staff on hand 24/7, and doctors come in once a week."

Proximity to healthcare facilities was also mentioned in 5-star reviews: "Abingdon Place is right next door to most medical facilities that the elderly would need. There's the eye doctor, general practitioners, cancer doctors, and X-ray. Right next door, there's also a Walgreens. It's like 100 feet out the front door."

Many family caregivers also complimented facilities for their use of emergency response systems such as monitoring devices and call buttons. Said one caregiver about Cherry Hill Senior Living, "They gave my Dad a necklace with a call button for any emergencies. There is also a button in the bathroom right by the shower between the shower and the toilet ... They do have RNs on the floor, and for him that setup is perfect."

For those whose family members have Alzheimer's or dementia, it's important to have staff well trained in dealing with memory issues. As one caregiver put it about Highgate at Vancouver, "One thing that is important to me is that they are taking charge of Mom's meds, because sometimes her memory is not good enough and she makes mistakes."

Having qualified staff there and easily accessible to support their loved ones helps ease worry for family caregivers. As one family member said of Pocasset Bay Retirement Living, "The competent staff call her by name, and she gets her vital meds right on time, three times a day. One of the most valuable things in life is simple and straightforward peace of mind. Our mom is very well cared for, and we have that all-important peace of mind knowing she is in a beautiful, well-managed place."

2. A Comfortable Environment That Feels Like Home

Feeling comfortable and "at home" was also highly important to residents and their families. Many reviewers recommended communities because of special homelike features, such as having pets or being able to tend gardens.

"The place did not look clinical but more like a home. The residents were allowed to put their own personal photos in their rooms ... They also had dogs for the residents, which they could feed," said one family member with a loved one at Pacifica Regency.

At Ponte Palmero, it was the community's roominess and layout that inspired positive ratings: "It has outdoor covered walkways between apartments ... Every resident has a little patch of garden if they want to do their own gardening and pots. Also they have garages," said Donna. Another resident's loved one added, "Coming from her own home to a spacious two-bedroom apartment was very important to her and it was easy for her to make the adjustments."

3. High-Quality Food and a Nice Dining Room Where Family Is Welcome

Across the board, great food is prized when choosing an assisted living community. And it's important that outside family and friends be welcomed in the dining room, at events, and for activities.

For Brandywine Assisted Living at the Gables, many family members and visitors wrote reviews lauding the senior care community for hosting seasonal events such as Thanksgiving dinners and holiday parties to which families were invited to dine and join in the music, games, and other festivities. Providence Place of Hazleton likewise received positive feedback for its welcoming, high-quality dining: "The food was delicious. I often attended meals with my mom, which was no problem at all. There were always plenty of choices!" said one family member.

4. Cleanliness and Safety

These two qualities were mentioned often in consumer reviews, with many family members saying they'd performed careful inspections with attention to these details before choosing a community for their loved one. Family members recommended communities for having bright, well-furnished, and tidy community spaces; spotless kitchens and dining rooms; and sunny, spacious rooms. Many family caregivers appreciated facilities that had wide hallways and rooms designed to accommodate wheelchairs easily in all areas -- and complained about those that didn't. Some residents at The Bristal at Westbury wrote reviews noting how much they appreciated the staff keeping their new home clean. "The facility is beautiful. They do everything for you -- laundry, meals, cleaning. It's like living at a beautiful palace. My life is so much easier, with no stress and no worries."

5. Plenty to Do and Staff Helping Residents Take Advantage of Activities

Many reviewers raved about the extensive menu of activities and facilities available at their loved ones' assisted living communities, such as this family caregiver in a 5-star review of Bridges by EPOCH at Westford: "The activities are perfect. They have crafts, music and entertainment, exercise, and cooking classes. They have a walking club, a gardening group, and they also have outings. Every week they go out to lunch or a concert. There is a lot going on." Another family member raved about the activities and engagement for her father at Morning Pointe of Hixon: "Whether it is in-house games, art projects; outside visitors who play music, sing songs, show off animals, etc. -- there is always something occurring in the Activities Room. Couple that with consistent outside activities such as road-trip lunches to some great restaurants around our region or simply a driving tour, the overall activities program at Morning Pointe is fantastic. As a family, we love knowing that our father is active, engaged, and not just sitting in his apartment all day."

As much as the actual activities offered, reviewers also appreciate staff that encourages residents to be as active as possible, and who take the time to check in and help make that happen. Said one family member of a resident at The Village at Brookfield Common: "My great-grandmother enjoys the daily activities that the facility provides and she always makes an effort to be as active as possible, even though she is pushing 95 years old! I think that this has a lot to do with the staff; they keep her and the other residents motivated to continue to live their lives well into their later years."

Another thing family members and visitors mentioned is their appreciation at being invited to participate in resident activities. "Once a month or once every two months, the families can come and they put on meals and have some activities going on so that everybody can be involved in, and it's a very nice thing," said a family member who's loved one is at Pelican Bay.


These trends are just some of the qualities and best practices that stood out among this year's Caring Stars. Peruse the state-by-state list, read reviews, and add a comment or two on this article about the senior living services that rise to the top for you and your family.

Best Assisted Living of 2014

This year's list of Caring Stars include the best senior living communities in America. Whether you live in the north, south, east, or west, you can read how actual residents, family members, and visitors feel about the quality of care as well as the staff and amenities.

Next: Assisted Living Trends -- Caring Stars of 2013

The Caring Stars of 2014 are the best senior living communities in America. Selected and reviewed on Caring.com, they make up an impressive list of assisted living and memory care communities across the country. Whether you live in the north, south, east, or west, you can read how actual residents, family members, and visitors feel about the quality of care as well as the staff and amenities. We've even taken the next step for you and identified living trends that reviewers value most in each region. Whether you value personalized care or impressive amenities (such as on-site beauty salons and an array of exercise, education, and entertainment programs), or whether affordability is something you're looking for, you'll be able to find assisted living and memory care based on what you and your loved ones value the most.

The South: Warmth, Food, and Commitment

It's the sense of southern warmth that distinguishes Birmingham, Alabama's Brookdale Place at University Park. This lovely senior living community is described as gracious and elegant, with inviting grounds and lots of amenities. One family member said, "There was always an employee helping someone who needed help.... Almost every day the residents will meet up in the lobby and talk about life.... The staff is known for being well-educated, and they're intelligent and sensitive."

Southern food at its finest is how the residents and visitors of Countryside Lakes in Port Orange, Florida sum up their dining room cuisine. "There are waiters and waitresses. I had lunch there and food was absolutely fabulous. It was like eating in a ten-star restaurant in Manhattan. We were served at individual tables with silverware and crystal and everything," one visitor noted. The food reflects the quality of care and attention. Family and friends look forward to visiting. Karen B., a daughter of a resident, says, "My mom is happy and so am I!"

Praised for combining Southern warmth with outstanding commitment to its residents, Peregrine's Landing at Peachtree Creek in Smyrna, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta, specializes in memory care. Claire, a daughter of a resident, is impressed by those who care for her mother -- the caregivers, the nursing and med tech staff, the chef, the activity director, and the administration. "They offer an amazing assortment of programs every single day.... I find my mother, who can hardly speak a chain of words that makes sense, saying, 'This is a wonderful place to live.'"

East Coast: Amenities, Passion, and Environment

Amenities, amenities, amenities! At quality assisted living communities, gone are the days when elders sit in the halls with nothing to do. Seniors and their loved ones appreciate activities that enrich the days and provide lots of choices. As reviews of their community detail, the residents of Heartlands at Ellicott City in Ellicott City, Maryland, are having a blast. Reviews praise the days for being chock-full of fun offerings -- game time, movie nights, exercise classes and equipment, beauty salon, shopping, and day trips. "My father mostly enjoys that there's a lot of musical entertainment.... They do the bingo, the trivia games. You can attend mass or any other service three times a week at different times. They have buses that can carry even those who are in wheelchairs. They can take them shopping. You just sign up, and all of that is included," says Laura, daughter of a current resident.

A genuine passion for care. It shows when somebody really cares, and that kind of attitude ripples throughout the community. Whether it's resolving an issue quickly or paying attention to the details that help make someone feel important, Sunrise of Basking Ridge in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, is applauded for going the extra mile. "I saw a genuine passion to care for the residents. They all knew each by name and greeted them with a smile," says a former volunteer who has a grandmother living at Basking Ridge. "I feel it is an extremely fine institution that truly cares about the people it is caring for."

A safe and stimulating environment is important for those who have family members with dementia or Alzheimer's, and Sterling House of Punta Gorda in Punta Gorda, Florida, receives praise for offering its residents a safe envriornment and stellar care. "They had walkways for the patients and they had yards with walls around them where the patients can sit on a swing or picnic table. To be able to go outside by yourself or with somebody else and be safe means a lot," said one reviewer after visiting the community.

Midwest: Easy Transitions, Happy and Affordable

An easy transition. Making the difficult decision of moving a loved one is dreaded by many family members, but Spring Hills Middletown of Franklin, Ohio, is appreciated for doing everything possible to make sure that change is a welcome one. "Kit and her team made my mother's transition from living on her own in Cleveland, Ohio, for all of her almost 89 years comfortable and seamless," says a daughter of one of the residents. "I cannot imagine a more comfortable and homelike facility, and the team cares for their patients as if they are truly family. The facility is warm and cozy, clean, and, above all, welcoming."

Happy residents and staff. When you're happy, you want to tell someone, and that's exactly what the residents and family members of American House Sterling Heights in Sterling Heights, Michigan, feel about the place they call home. Reviewers praise this community for knowing that communication among staff, residents, and their family members is vital. "The staff were wonderful people who really deeply care for the residents. They were especially caring when my mom fell and baroke her femur last year. She is back on her feet again now with their help. We would recommend this facility to anyone!" says Susan, daughter of a resident.

Affordable quality care. St. Monica's in Racine, Wisconsin, is considered a community gem. It's known for quality care, and it also offers residents and their family members a great value. "This is a wonderful facility and the best buy for the money in the area. The sisters who run the home are very caring and compassionate," says Eileen, family member of a long-term resident. A current St. Monica's resident also raved, "The nursing staff is awesome. The place is so clean. Of all the places around, St. Monica's is the most affordable.... They really seem to go out of their way for me. I'm surprised because I didn't expect that. I am happy staying here."

Southwest: Personalized Care and Pet Friendly

Personalized care is how Elmcroft of Arlington in Arlington, Texas, is described. Elmcroft takes pride in treating residents as "the accomplished individuals they are." They integrate memory care residents with assisted living residents and offer each person 24-hour personalized assistance. "Because each resident's care is personalized, no two residents are cared for in the same way. [My mother] has formed relationships with her caregivers, her nurses, and her housekeepers. She has even made friends with several of the residents.... Previously, she would sit and stare with little to no expression on her face. Now she smiles and greets people as they walk into the room," says Lea, a family member of a current resident. "Having to move my mother out of her home and place her with strangers was probably the hardest decision that I have ever made. It is a responsibility that I did not take lightly. Moving her to Elmcroft was the best decision that I could have made for her and for me."

Pets allowed! More and more assisted living communities are opening their doors to furry friends, and this trend helps make a senior feel at home. Fellowship Square in Mesa, Arizona, is among those communities that welcome pets. You may find residents and their pets sharing conversations and good times in comfortable gathering rooms or outside on the palatial grounds. "The residents we saw seemed happy, active! I even saw a couple walking their dog. Extraordinary staff, seemed very compassionate, friendly, cooperative.... Residents actually approached us not a few times but several times to welcome us 'home,'" says a family member of a current resident. "My mom said more than once, 'This is soooo nice!'"

West Coast: Well-Trained Staff, Diverse, up With Industry Standards

Well-trained staff. Family members who must place a loved one suffering with dementia/Alzheimer's need assurance that the care will be the best. Sunrise of Monterey in Monterey, California, is acclaimed for making sure that the concerns of residents and their loved ones are put to rest. Linda, a wife of a resident with Alzheimer's, said, "I wanted him treated with loving kindness, patience, and respect by well-trained, compassionate people. I have not been disappointed, and this is a gift beyond price."

Meeting a variety of needs. Wynwood of Forest Grove in Forest Grove, Oregon, is praised for meeting the many needs of its residents. John, a grandson of a current resident, says, "At three in the morning, Grandma needs something and there are two, sometimes three people coming in to check on her.... I remember one time I spilled something in the room and was going to clean it up and they stopped me and cleaned it for me. All in all I believe we put my grandma in a good setting, and she will be happy for years and years."

Ongoing evaluations. Our loved one's needs and abilities change over time, and the best of the best senior living communities continue to evaluate and update the quality of their care. Atria Seville, in Las Vegas, Nevada, is noted for making sure that the residents' care is updated regularly. This ensures that they continue to be safe and that their ongoing medical needs are addressed not only by their medical staff but with the general staff. "What I like about this facility is that they evaluate her every three months to see if she needs any other type of assistance," says Donna, family member of a resident.

What the Best Communities Across the Country Share

From coast to coast, quality of care, amenities, and a compassionate staff are just few of the admirable qualities residents and their family members and friends can expect at Caring Stars communities. Like previous years' winners, the Caring Stars of 2014 continue to impress us with their dedication to seniors and their families. They represent the top 1 percent of assisted living and memory care communities in the country and are America's favorite senior living communities.

What do you most like about your loved one's senior living community? Post a senior care review to help other families in their search.

Best Assisted Living of 2013

How will you find a good assisted living community for yourself or your loved one? A place that's affordable and safe, with excellent care, warm surroundings, and a friendly staff?

With more than 31,000 senior care communities across the country, the good news is that there are lots of choices. The less-than-good news is that there are lots of choices! How do you begin your search? What do you look for -- and how do you know when you've found it?

Assisted living communities have much to offer the aging population. From yoga classes to nature trails, movie nights to computer and painting classes, seniors will find something that entices them out of their apartments and into the many gathering places most communities provide.

But it's not the indoor heated pools or fitness rooms that make for a good assisted living community -- it's when your loved one knows she belongs. It's when a staff member notices that something just isn't right and your loved one receives prompt attention. It's when other residents smile when they see her step into the dining room, or when you, the family member, know you can stop by at any time.

From coast to coast, in big cities and small towns and everything in between, there are some assisted living communities that truly shine. These are establishments that have inspired top-notch reviews from residents, experts, and families just like yours. These are the best of the best -- the Caring Stars of 2013.

Even though these providers are all over the country, it turns out that they have some important things in common. Here, we present five trends among Caring Star winners -- qualities that communities near you should have, too.

1. A clean, safe place where needs (big and small) are addressed promptly: "I feel heard."

Making sure your loved one is safe and receives prompt attention trumps the list. The best communities draw top-quality staff and keep communication open. In the words of one caregiver, they're "easy to contact and never hesitate to call if something needs to be discussed."

It's when everyone -- the director, the kitchen staff, the care aides and nurses -- goes out of their way and takes the time to do the little things that matter so much. Places where food requests are accommodated or that have "a chef who knows how to make the food sing." Places where, as one family member said, the staff is "considerate and dependable, no matter when I call."

2. Homey touches: "It feels like home."

No one wants to feel like they're living in a hospital, and they don't have to. Assisted living communities have come a long way. They feature special touches, such as manicured grounds with flower beds, gazebos and ponds, inviting décor, and "spacious, well-maintained living spaces." Where living spaces reflect residents' personalities -- like the community where "residents had several of their personal belongings displayed, such as photographs and figurines." "Placing a loved one here will help me sleep at night," one visitor said of a two-time five-star community in his area.

3. A trustworthy staff and active residents: "It feels like family."

Trusting that your loved one is receiving good care is vital, and there's nothing like being greeted by name. These are the places where "you can feel the love when you walk in the door." It's also important that your loved one find new friendships. "Several residents stopped and talked to us. It was nice to know that my grandma wouldn't have a problem meeting people" is how one granddaughter expressed it.

4. Great amenities: "I feel like I'm on vacation."

You're in for treat when it comes to amenities. Assisted living communities now offer video, audio, and book libraries; computer rooms; and classes on everything from digital photography to scrapbooking. If you're into fitness, you can swim, golf, and even take a "laughing yoga" class. And don't think you're stuck in one place: After visiting a friend at her community, one reader said, "We walked the trails that lead to the park in the back. We ate lunch in the dining area (food was great) . . . then took the facility bus ride half a mile down to the mall for shopping."

You're likely to find whatever you're interested in, whether it's church services; game nights; a 24-hour café offering beverages and light snacks; or easy access to nearby shopping, museums, music venues, and restaurants.

5. Family-friendly atmosphere: "I feel like my family and friends are always welcome."

It's tough to place your loved one in a care community, so finding one that's family-friendly helps assure you that your loved one will stay connected. "Family involvement is encouraged, and there are special family nights several times during the year, with live music, festive decorations, and a beautiful buffet," one family member said of her experience with a loved one's assisted living community. Life is sweeter when you're able to invite a friend for lunch, and when your grandchildren and even the great-grands get to visit often. Some assisted living facilities send out invitations to special events and celebrations; you can even reserve a room for birthdays and other important gatherings.

Before choosing an assisted living community, gather as much information as you can. Be sure to go online and see if there are Caring Stars in your area, and read reviews for other communities as well. Then schedule a few tours of your top selections. Print out a copy of the Caring Checklist for evaluating assisted living providers so you can make notes as you go.

While you're there, talk to the staff (include a chat with someone from the kitchen staff, care aides, the activities director, and others) and be sure to meet a few residents and their visitors. Ask for a chance to enjoy a meal in the dining hall.

And, above all else, don't hesitate to ask each community: "How many of these Caring Stars trends are you getting right?"