Choosing a Senior Living Community: Where to Start

Updated on August 4, 2016

Brad Bio Pic copyBy Brad C. Breeding, CFP®

The phrase “senior living” is used to cover a vast array of housing options for older adults and the differences between one type to another may at first be difficult to distinguish.  If you are researching senior living communities for yourself or someone else here are three basic questions you need to consider in order to make to be sure you are heading down the right path;

1. Are you (or your loved one) able to live independently? 

Starting with this question helps you determine right away the type of community you should be researching. If the answer is no to living independently, then the most viable options likely include an assisted living facility or skilled nursing center. Both of these options may also offer memory care services or even have a separate memory care section within the community.  Staying in the home may also be an option if care needs are more limited in scope and arrangements are in place for in-home care, provided either by a family member or a paid caregiver. This choice, however, can become more difficult to manage as care needs advance.

If the answer is yes then the options likely include active adult living communities, independent living apartments (rental retirement communities), co-housing, senior living co-ops, or continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs, also known as “life plan communities.”)

With each of these options, new residents are able to live fully or mostly independently. In some cases, residents own property and in other cases, they pay monthly rent. In the case of co-ops, residents actually own shares of a corporation that holds all the on-site properties. With regard to CCRCs, residents often pay an entry fee and pay monthly fees.

2. Do you want your next move to be your last one; whereby future healthcare needs can be met within the community you live?

If you are able to live independently today but do not want to move again later if you should require advanced assisted living or nursing care, then a CCRC may be a viable choice. CCRCs are unique from other senior living options because they are the only type of provider that contractually provides access to the complete continuum of care, beginning with independent living but also offering assisted living, memory care, and even skilled nursing care, all on one campus. In exchange, the price to live in such a community can be quite high. Entry fees can range anywhere from under $100,000 to several hundred thousand or more, depending on the location, contract type, services, and amenities. Prospective residents usually have to qualify financially and also pass a health assessment before being accepted.

Aside from CCRCs, many independent living communities offer limited assisted living services in residents’ apartments when needed, often provided by an outside third-party. These communities, however, are generally not equipped to provide higher levels of care, so residents may not be able to remain in the community if care needs advance.

3. What forms of payment are accepted?

For seniors who live independently, most of the applicable senior housing choices are private pay. This means that residents pay the cost of the monthly fee out of pocket. The exception to this would be in the case of low-income or affordable senior housing, whereby the cost is government subsidized or discounted according to the level of personal income.

For those receiving assisted living or higher forms of care, many facilities accept Medicaid, Medicare, and/or Veterans Administration assistance to help cover the cost of such care. Medicare does not cover assisted living but will cover all or some of the cost of skilled nursing (medical) care for up to 100 days. On the other hand, Medicaid, a government safety net for the financially destitute, will likely cover the cost of assisted living and unlimited skilled nursing care if the person receiving care meets the financial means test.

In summary, the three questions described above can help you avoid wasting time researching providers that are not a good fit for your needs or those of a loved one. Choosing the right community the first time is important as it can save you and your family a lot of headaches, and possibly money, down the road.

Brad is the President and co-founder of My LifeSite, a company that develops web-based tools and resources designed to help families make better-informed decisions when considering a Continuing Care Retirement Community. He is also the author of a book released in 2014 titled, “What’s the Deal with Retirement Communities?” and speaks regularly for retirement living providers, industry trade organizations, life-long learning classes, and other groups across the country.


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2 thoughts on “Choosing a Senior Living Community: Where to Start”

  1. My parents are getting older, and we are looking to move them into a senior living apartment complex near my husband and me. We want to make sure that they will be comfortable in the apartments we choose. Like you said, because they are both still independent, options include active adult living communities, independent apartments, cohousing, etc. We will have to consider these options.

  2. My mother is a widow. We are looking to find her a senior independent living community where she can be with others with similar interests. Like you said, we will want to consider the possibility of needing future health care and look at facilities that offer both independent and assisted living.

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