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Touring a Senior Living Community: What You Need to Know

senior lady relaxing on a couch while drinking coffee

Finding the right senior living community is an important decision. It has the potential to affect the whole family and is something worth careful thought and consideration. When seniors and their children approach a senior living tour with open minds and the willingness to consider all options, it’s more likely to result in a move everyone feels good about.

While family members may have different views on what constitutes “the right place,” it’s easy to agree on the fundamentals. The community should be a place where your loved one can live comfortably and happily. It should be a place where they feel safe, and ideally, it should provide a continuum of care if their health needs change.

Before You Visit

The first step in researching is to ask friends, family members and co-workers for recommendations. Reading online reviews of communities and seeing what others think is also a good place to start. Create a shortlist of senior living communities for personal in-person tours. Remember that for many communities, it’s also easy to request an online tour via videoconference if you’re in a different location.

You may be looking at a community based on how close it is to a familiar neighborhood or to loved ones, its religious affiliation, or simply because it’s the most affordable. These are valid considerations, but don’t let those be the only ones. The first priority is to confirm the community’s quality, safety and reputation. Then, during your senior living tour, keep the following 10 tips in mind:

1. First Impressions

Is the community clean and well maintained? If you’re touring in person, be aware of unusual sights, sounds or smells in the community, and ask your residency counselor about them. These could be a one-time occurrence or evidence of a larger problem. Look for ramps, handrails, elevators, wide doorways and hallways, and other clues the community accommodates residents with mobility challenges.

During your senior living tour, observe the staff members. Do they greet you warmly and introduce themselves? Are they professional in their appearance and behavior? Is there a genuine rapport among staff members and residents? Friendly, welcoming daily interactions with staff members make a big difference in making each resident feel safe and comfortable in their senior living home.

2. Levels of Care

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 70% of people over age 65 will need some type of long-term care during their lifetime. Senior living communities typically offer a range of health services in one location to support a person’s changing needs as they age. Find out what levels of care are located on the community’s campus and what medical services are available. For all seniors, especially those experiencing dementia symptoms like wandering, security is a high priority. Find out if there are emergency alert systems, circular hallways, or visual cues like color-coding to make it easier for a loved one to navigate.

3. Care Staff

Families often turn to senior living communities to provide more comprehensive, around-the-clock care for their loved ones. It’s important to assess the staff members’ knowledge if a loved one is moving into a higher care level. Find out if staff members who may be caring for your loved one are licensed, have passed background checks, and are fully trained in their area of expertise. Do they attend ongoing training, and how many hours of training do they receive? What is the staff-to-patient ratio? Are individualized care plans created for each patient? How do staff members manage disruptive or inappropriate behavior from residents? There should be a high quality of clinical skill, but also soft skills like approachability, empathy and patience.

4. Residences

Many communities post floor plan layouts on their website. If you have a floor plan you like, ask to tour the specific residence you’re interested in during your senior living tour. What activities and amenities are walking distance from the doorstep? Can you hear the neighbors next door? What are the views from the window? Pay attention to details like windows, walls and appliances — are they clean and well maintained? Are interiors well lit? Does the community have a policy to repaint each residence and update appliances if needed before a new resident moves in? Are residents allowed to personalize their home? Are pets welcome?

5. Food

Dining is an important consideration! Try to sample the food or tour the dining areas during a mealtime or social hour. Peruse the menus to see if they’re appealing. Is the dining room clean and bright? Do residents appear to be enjoying their food? If you or your loved one has a special diet, can the kitchen accommodate it? Are snacks included with the meal plan? Is there a private dining room where you could host a family gathering or celebration?

6. Outdoor Areas

You should make it a point to visit the grounds as well as inside the community on your senior living tour. Paths and gardens should be well maintained and outdoor spaces provided for recreation and relaxation. If you or your loved one enjoys gardening, find out if there’s a community garden and what can be grown. Notice the guard gate and other security monitoring. Ask how guest access to the community is controlled and whether there are any incidents you should know about.

7. Activities

What social, cultural or recreational activities interest you? If possible, review the community’s calendar and plan to take part in an activity during your tour. Whether it’s a fitness class, luncheon or resident meet-and-greet, note the turnout. Is it well organized and well attended? Are residents genuinely engaged and enjoying the company of their peers?

8. Resident Satisfaction

Current residents will be your best resource for candid information. A senior living tour is a good opportunity to approach them and ask how they like living in their community and what life’s like from day to day. What do they think of the meals, fitness programs, and other services offered in the community? Do they have a spouse or relative in another level of living; for example, assisted living or memory care; and what is that experience like? How did the community handle the lockdown and the pandemic? Is there a high staff turnover? Do they feel safe and satisfied in the community, and are they content they made the right choice?  

9. Affordability

To understand the affordability of the senior living community under consideration, start by calculating your or your loved one’s current cost of living. How much goes toward rent or mortgage, property tax, HOA fee, utilities, and insurance? What is spent on home and yard maintenance, repairs, replacements, etc.? How much does it cost to own, run and maintain the car? And finally, what are the grocery, dining out, recreation, fitness and entertainment expenses? Compare the total with the senior living community fees. Depending on your budget, a senior living community can be a surprisingly affordable alternative.

10. Personal Value

However, cost aside, what’s important is the value a senior living community represents to you. More and more seniors are choosing to move when they’re healthy because they decide for themselves how and where they want to live. They enjoy the independent living lifestyle and know their children won’t have the burden of responsibility for their care if they experience a change in health. Similarly, their children are relieved that their mom or dad is living comfortably in a setting where there’s good food, opportunities for social activities and personal growth, and medical care in case of an emergency. It’s impossible to put a dollar amount on the quality of life and peace of mind a senior living community provides.


Schedule a Senior Living Tour at North Oaks

As you sift through the information you glean from exploring each senior living community, give yourself time to consider all the facts, and tune in to your intuition. Many of our residents tell us, “I knew North Oaks was the right place the moment I walked in the door.”

Come and discover our welcoming, inclusive community for yourself. Let us show you around, introduce you to residents over lunch, and give you the answers you’re looking for. Contact us for your personal appointment at 410-472-5489.