How to Choose a Retirement Home

When it’s time to begin planning for the future, one of your first considerations should be your housing situation. While many seniors choose to stay at home, there are plenty of benefits that go along with choosing to live in a retirement community. Not only do you get to enjoy your own private space, but you also have access to a social network and amenities you may not have at home. Further, living in a planned housing environment provides an additional layer of safety, which is increasingly important as you age.

Not all retirement homes are alike

It’s easy to assume that all retirement homes and independent living communities are alike. While this may be true to some degree, not all offer the same level of service and convenience that you might expect. Plus, there are other considerations that can’t be overlooked. A few of these include location, the number of residents on site, and whether or not the community offers continuing care.

Location is key

Once you decide to find a retirement home, you’ll need to determine where this home will be. Think about the activities you enjoy. If you are an outdoorsy person, for example, you’ll want to stick to an area with a temperate climate so that you can enjoy hiking, biking, and other sun-soaked activities year round. If your goal is to be close to family, you may have more time to visit if you stay within an hour’s drive of the bulk of your children and grandchildren. Location is also essential if you require health care specialists that may not be available in your retirement home of choice. Before you sign a contract, check to see if the services you need are accessible nearby and if local providers accept your Medicare plan. You can do this on Medicare.gov.

Budget matters

Now that you have pinpointed a general location, you can refine your selection based on your budget. According to CNBC, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Georgia are home to four of the most affordable places to retire in America. But even within these towns, your cost of living will be determined primarily by your retirement community and your current expenses. No matter where you are, there are retirement homes in a range of prices, but it can take some research to determine which is the best value.

Future considerations

When it’s time to choose a retirement home, you must consider your current needs and wants as well as what you might need to live safely and comfortably in the future. If you would like to stay in one location, your best bet may be a continuing care retirement community.

The AARP explains that there are three types of continuing care contracts: extended, modified, and fee-for-service. Extended care is typically considered the most expensive, but comes with all of your future needs prepackaged, included assisted living and skilled-nursing care. A modified contract is available for purchase in set terms. When the term is over, service may be continued, but pricing is not guaranteed to be the same as the initial contract. The most budget-friendly option is a fee-for-service contract, although depending on your future health, assisted living and skilled nursing services may exceed the amount you saved when you first enrolled.

Lifestyle

Your lifestyle is a part of you, and you likely won’t be happy in a retirement community that places significant restrictions on things you consider crucial to your happiness. For example, if you have a pet, you should be aware that not all retirement homes allow animals. Among those that are pet-friendly, you may be limited on the types of pets you can have with you. Some enact breed and size restrictions, while others limit residents to only one dog or cat. Sixty And Me also points out that senior-oriented communities are usually not generationally mixed. If you enjoy being around children or plan to have your grandchildren stay with you, you will need to confirm that this is allowed.

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Benefits of choosing to live in a retirement community

There are many benefits of living out your senior years in a home designed specifically for your changing needs. These include:

  • Access to recreation and socialization. Elder Care Alliance asserts that seniors with a strong social support network enjoy better physical and mental health than those who remain isolated throughout their golden years. Living in a retirement home or continuing care community offers you virtually unlimited access to social and recreational opportunities. Many campuses provide a rotating selection of onsite sports and fitness classes, arts and crafts, game nights, and much more.
  • Safety. Retirement homes are geared toward seniors 55 and over. For this reason, they are designed with mobility, vision, and cognitive function in mind. Your retirement home will likely have wider doorways and more accessible bathing facilities, which can come in handy if you use a walker or wheelchair. Further, since transportation is often provided to offsite activities, the need to drive is greatly reduced or eliminated. As your health changes, getting behind the wheel can put you at significant risk of having an accident, thanks to slower reflexes and issues such as hearing loss and vision decline.
  • Less maintenance. Depending on the type of living situation you choose, you most likely won’t be required to do your own lawn or home maintenance. This means your retirement days can be spent focusing on friends, family, and fun.
  • It may be less expensive than staying at home. If you require assistance with cooking, cleaning, and medication, you will likely have to pay someone to provide these services. Combined with a mortgage, utilities, and other homeownership costs, these expenses can add up quickly. Many retirement homes include these services in their monthly fee.

One of the most important things you can do when it’s time to choose a retirement home is to begin planning early. It is not uncommon for retirement or planned care communities to have a waiting list of up to six months. You likely will not be able to choose your new accommodations on Monday and be moved by the weekend. Narrow down your choices at least a year in advance, if possible, and then pay each a visit. Most have open-house days a few times throughout the year, or you can schedule a private tour at any time.

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What to look for when you visit

On the surface, many retirement homes will appear to be the same. During your visit, pay close attention to the environment:

  • Is it clean?
  • Do the current residents look happy and engaged?
  • Does it offer all of the activities you would like to do?
  • How is the food?

Take a checklist with you so that you will remember to ask questions that can help you make a more informed decision.

The decision to choose a retirement home is one that should be made with careful thought and consideration. No two are alike, and location, pricing, and amenities vary greatly. It pays to know your options, and know them in advance so that you can be comfortable with your choice today and in the future.


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Retirement Home Checklist

The following checklist can help you as you search for a retirement home that meets your needs and budget. Print it out, and take it with you as you tour each campus. Make sure to ask plenty of questions about resident lifestyle, private and community living spaces, accommodation options, food, safety, activities, and medical care availability.

Community name:
Contact name:
Address:
Phone:
Website:
Date visited:

Question: Yes/No Notes, Impression
Is this facility Medicare- and Medicaid Certified?
Are there multiple levels of care that can grow with me as needed?
Are memory care services/accomodations available?
Is it close enough that my family and friends can visit often?
Are the interior and exterior clean?
Are the residents in good spirits? Are they interacting with the staff and each other?
Is smoking restricted to outdoor areas?
Is the furniture up to date and clean?
Are the staff warm and caring?
Can I easily identify each staff member by a name tag?
Are the staff trained, and is their training updated often?
Does the retirement community background check staff members and verify references before they are hired?
Are nurses and/or doctors available 24/7?
Will I have a social worker?
Does the campus have a high turnover ratio?
Do I have access to transportation and planned outings?
How much does it cost? Do my entry and monthly fees cover everything I will need?
Does it appear overcrowded?
Are common areas set up for senior safety?
Are exits marked?
Are there smoke detectors and sprinklers throughout?
Are the hallways and entrances wide enough for a wheelchair to maneuver comfortably?
Are there grab bars in the bathrooms?
Are residents given daily food choices?
Can the retirement home accommodate my special dietary needs?
Do residents have any say in planned activities? Is there a dedicated activity coordinator?
Will I have opportunities to volunteer in the community, such as reading to school children?
Are the outdoor areas accessible and well lit at night?
How often is the emergency evacuation plan reviewed?
Are flu shots and other preventative and health maintenance services available onsite?
Can I still see my own doctor?
Where is the nearest emergency room, and does the retirement home have a good relationship with it?
Was I shown the latest inspection reports? Were all infractions corrected?

Additional notes or further questions: