Time marches on, no matter how badly we want it to slow down. The 76 million baby boomers who attempted to set the world on fire in the 1960s began turning 65 last year.

The good news is we’re living longer. More than 1.9 million Americans are aged 90 or older. And that number is only expected to rise. By the time the kids born in the 1980s starts to retire, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 9 million U.S. citizens will be 90 or older.

Unfortunately, living longer introduces new problems, as evidenced by the proliferation of cancer, Alzheimer’s and other age-related ailments. These can rob even the most vibrant senior of his or her independence suddenly and irrevocably.

That means you probably will have to weigh the pros and cons of retirement-community living at some point, whether it’s for your parents, your spouse or yourself. When you do, here are some things to bear in mind:

1. Determine your needs

You don’t have to be sick or senile to check into a retirement community. Active seniors often live in complexes that are more like college dorms, resort homes or apartment/condo units. These communities offer the benefit of health and wellness centers, cafeterias and activity centers, on-call medical assistance, chauffeurs or shuttle transportation, field trips, continuing education, full social calendars and a community of peers. They are an excellent choice for retirees who want to be around people their own age and don’t want to be responsible for keeping up yard- and housework but don’t feel “old” yet.

Some people in this category choose a floating retirement, reserving long-term cabins aboard cruise ships. Benefits include multiple restaurants and activities, as well as the ability to visit family members and new places as the ship docks in different ports.

For those with serious medical concerns, there are nursing-home care facilities, which offer various levels of care. A skilled nursing facility provides 24-hour medical supervision for long- or short-term stays. Some specialize in meeting the needs of people with mental disabilities. An intermediate care facility provides eight hours of nursing supervision a day.

2. Check credentials, references and recommendations

You don’t want to commit a loved one to a facility that isn’t properly licensed by the state or doesn’t comply with federal guidelines. You also want to ensure that the facility is secure, protects its residents from theft and physical harm, and has a positive reputation in the community.

Do a Google search on the facility name and read what people have to say about it. Has it been in the news? Do you know anyone who has a relationship with the facility? What knowledge can you glean from your friends’ experiences?

Take your site visits seriously. Taste the food, talk to the residents, look at the rooms, attend some activities. How are personal valuables secured? How much privacy do residents have? Do people seem happy? What are the visiting hours? Are there volunteers on staff? How are they (and the employees) vetted? How do residents file grievances? Is the community in a location that’s convenient for friends and family to visit? What are the perks of living there? What are the pitfalls?

Are the people, the setting and the amenities a good fit for you or your loved one? Age doesn’t matter as much as mobility and mental agility. Someone who’s 90 and still interested in going dancing will find it depressing if everyone around them is walker-bound. Conversely, someone whose interest in activities is waning might find it frustrating to be surrounded by people who are always on the go.

The best thing to do is to take a checklist with you and rate potential communities so you can compare them apples to apples. Medicare offers a printable version on its website that’s incredibly thorough.

3. Think about finances

Is the facility nonprofit or for-profit? Is it financially secure or is it carrying a heavy debt load? Are all costs covered by the residents’ fees or is there a deficit? If so, how is that gap bridged?  What kind of insurance policies does it accept?

And how will you pay for care? Is financial or federal aid available? Are the expenses set or will they escalate after a certain number of years?

Most retirement and nursing communities require an initial deposit followed by a monthly fee. What does that monthly amount (and Medicaid) cover? Will there be additional fees for activities, services or medical treatment? Be sure you know what your fees will and won’t cover and get that in writing.

4. Consider the future

Bear in mind that at some point you or your loved one will need more medical care, supervision and assistance. Will it then be necessary to find a new facility? Or does the community you’ve chosen have adaptable care choices? How does it determine when the transition needs to happen and how is that handled? Who will be authorized to make decisions about the care and treatment of the resident? What happens if you or the primary guardian becomes incapacitated? Do you have a financial back-up plan?


Remember, you need to put as much care and thought into selecting a retirement community as you did when choosing a college, starting a business or deciding to settle down with someone. You are the customer. What you are purchasing is enhanced security, quality of life and peace of mind. So don’t be afraid to ask questions, be nosy and take the time to make the right decision.

2 Comments on “Four things to consider when selecting a retirement community”

  1. Don’t forget – there are many communities developing around the metro Atlanta area that are single family detached homes. These communities offer the same great environment and like-minded neighbors, activities and events. The best part is you own the low-maintenance home. An active adult community is an excellent option to look at.

  2. That’s true. Thanks for reminding us about that. When I was shopping for my first home, I actually thought those arrangements were pretty attractive to me, even though I’m not their target market. I just like low maintenance living!

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