What to Look for in a Retirement Community?

What Should You Look for in a Retirement Community?

There are many things to consider when looking for a retirement community for yourself or a loved one. Although many places have similar features and services, there are also many differences. So, you may be saying, “What do I look for? What questions should I ask?” Hopefully this part of the series will help you with that.

In your initial contact to a community or facility, there are a few things that you should find out first to determine if it may be an option for yourself or your loved one, and if you want to pursue it any further. From the previous segments of the Senior Lifestyle Options Series, you have been able to better determine the level of care you need to be looking for, so you will able to call places that offer that level.

In the initial phone call, you will want to know:

  • What services do they offer?
  • What type of setting it is – apartments, rooms, private, semi-private, private bathroom, shared bathroom?
  • Are there any openings? If not and there is a waiting list, how long is the waiting list and what is involved in getting on the waiting list?
  • How do you pay? Are they private pay? Are they subsidized? Do they require an upfront entrance fee? Is there an application fee or security deposit? (The next part of the series will cover financing senior care.)

Answers to these questions should give you some basic information to determine if it is a community or facility you should consider. The next step would be to have information sent to you so you can review it thoroughly. However, if due to timing, you need to move the process along more quickly, it would be wise to schedule an appointment for a tour during this initial call.

Another option that you might consider, rather than calling, may be to spend a day driving around to different communities or facilities to pick up information and ask for a tour. Although this is something you can certainly do, it is a more prudent use of your time (and gas) to make a call first.

There are several reasons an initial phone call is suggested.

1) You might be spending time looking at places that aren’t the right fit for you or your loved one. 2) It may be that the financial structure is not affordable for you. 3) They may be full, with a waiting list, and you are looking for something right away. 4) Staff responsible for giving tours and providing you with the information necessary to make a decision may already be meeting with other interested seniors.

Keep in mind: this is a very big decision with many different factors to consider. You want do your research and use your time wisely looking at the most appropriate options.

If you are having information sent to you, review the literature and, if it seems like it would be a good fit, make an appointment for a tour. Plan on about an hour for the tour and to ask questions. If you are looking for a loved one, it is probably best to look at several places yourself. Then, narrow it down to two or three that you think would be the best options to take your loved one to see.

Before your visit, it is a good idea to prepare a list of questions to ask. The literature you’ve received should help you develop questions of your own, and the internet is also a good source for this. We’ve provided a brief list below of key questions we would suggest:

  • Is the community/facility for-profit or not-for-profit?
  • Who provides the services offered? Is it in-house staff or is it contracted out?
  • In assisted living or skilled nursing, what is the staff-to-resident ratio?
  • What services are included in the cost? What other expenses would there be that are not included in the cost?
  • Get specifics of the services. For instance, find out if transportation is provided, what distance is included, and how many times can it be used. For meals, ask about dining room hours, what type of meal plan there is, etc.
  • Get a full explanation of the financial structure. What are the fees? What is refundable/non-refundable? What type of increase can be expected each year? What income and/or assets are needed to live there? What happens if you or my your loved one runs out of money?
  • What type of activities are offered?
  • What happens when more care is needed?

As you arrive for your appointment, look at the grounds and surrounding area. Is it well-kept; is it safe? As you enter, look at what type of security they have. Can you freely walk in or are the doors locked and you have to be let in by staff? Observe how you are greeted by the staff and how the staff is interacting with each other and the residents who live there.

While you are waiting, if there are residents around, talk to them. Find out how long they have lived there and how they like it.  You can learn a lot from them. Once the staff member who is giving you the tour arrives, be sure to spend some time talking about what you or your loved ones’ needs are. It is important that the staff knows what you are looking for and what is most important to you.

On the tour, what you observe is as important as the questions you ask. Things to pay attention to and think about include: Is it clean? Is the staff friendly? Are the residents happy? Is it bright and cheery? Does the staff address the residents by name?

Also, during your tour, pay attention to the type of information you are being given. Is it the nuts and bolts or is it fluff? Are they pointing out to you that the facility is very clean or the food is very good? You will be able to observe if it is clean. If you are able to have a meal during the tour, you will know if the food is good. You can always ask a resident what they think of the food and you will most likely get an honest answer. This is nice to know, and most people, of course, will choose a place that is clean and has good food.

What should be most important to you are the details of the care you or your loved one will receive and how well the staff will be able to meet your needs. Here are some suggestions to learn about that.

  • In looking at a room or an apartment, look at the quality of construction and how sound-proof it is.
  • Look at room sizes. Will it accommodate your furniture and belongings?
  • Look at the view, if that is something that is important to you.
  • Find out if the apartment or room is furnished or unfurnished, and if it is furnished, whether you can bring any of your own furniture.
  • Again, we remind you – during your tour talk to residents whenever the opportunity arises. As mentioned earlier, they can offer a much more realistic feel for the lifestyle offered there.

After the tour, be ready to walk away with lots of information. As you review the information you received and the notes you made, don’t hesitate to call back if you have questions. You want make sure you have everything you need to make the best decision.

One thing we’ve learned over the years, though, is that as important as all the details are, you often know which is the right place for you or your loved one the minute you walk through through the door. It just feels like home!

The GreenFields Continuing Care Community is located on 5949-5979 Broadway in Lancaster, offering independent living apartments at GreenField Manor and assisted living apartments at GreenField Court. The GreenField Health & Rehabilitation Center provides skilled nursing care, inpatient rehabilitation services and outpatient therapy. GreenField Terrace provides enhanced assisted living and memory care. To learn more about what The GreenFields has to offer, call the Senior Living Department at (716) 684-8400.

Hear this topic as presented on WBEN radio.

The GreenFields resident



5959 Broadway
Lancaster, NY 14086

The Niagara Lutheran Health System does not discriminate in the admittance of residents or the hiring of employees relative to age, race, creed, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, sexual preference gender, gender identity, blindness, handicap, sponsor, marital status, or religion.

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