Consumer Guide: Senior Living Communities

Senior Living Communities

Choosing a senior living community can be a challenging decision, whether you are looking for yourself or a loved one. With so many options available, it can be difficult to know where to start or what to look for.

When looking for a community, it’s important to start with your needs and preferences. Consider the level of care and support you or your loved one require, as well as any specific amenities or services that are important to you. Some other factors to keep in mind include the location, cost, quality of care, staff qualifications and training, and the overall atmosphere and culture of the community.

It’s a good idea to visit several communities in person, if possible, to get a sense of what they are like and to ask questions of staff and residents. By taking the time to research your options and carefully evaluate each community, you can make an informed decision that provides you or your loved one with a comfortable, safe, and supportive environment for years to come.

Tips From the Experts: Key Factors to Consider When Looking for a Senior Living Community

Note: Any item listed with an asterisk (*) below is a NAOSA Gold Standard of Professional Practice™ and is required for NAOSA professional membership. For more details, please visit the NAOSA Consumer Guides page.

Start the search early

Don't wait until a crisis occurs to start looking for a senior living community. Planning ahead can help you make a more informed decision and can also help reduce stress and anxiety for you and your family.

Research the community's reputation

Look for online reviews and ask for references from current or past residents and their families to get a sense of the community's reputation for quality of care and overall satisfaction.

Take a tour

Visiting communities in person is an important part of the decision-making process. Make sure to take a tour and ask plenty of questions about the facilities, services, and staff.

Consider the level of care needed and ask for recommendations

Different communities offer different levels of care and support. Be sure to consider you or your loved one's specific needs and choose a community that can provide the appropriate level of care. Although more appealing, an independent living situation may not be the right choice for someone with high physical or cognitive limitations. Be aware that fair housing laws may prevent communities from recommending one level of care over another, so be sure to ask directly for recommendations.

If you have either physical or cognitive limitations and are moving into independent living, be sure to consider costs for home care. You may find that the bundled pricing model in a higher care setting is less expensive than paying by the hour for home care.

Receive full disclosure on how deposits are refunded*

Many communities require an upfront deposit before you move in. Be sure to ask how this deposit is refunded and when it is refunded. Many mistakenly assume that deposits are automatically refunded upon leaving a residence. While this may be the case in some communities, many communities will not refund until after the prior residence is again occupied. Additionally, you may not be eligible for a refund if you moved from one residence to another in the same community or moved to a higher level of care.

Be sure to receive a full disclosure of anticipated monthly costs*

Obtaining full disclosure of anticipated monthly costs, especially for care and assistance is crucial because it allows you or your loved ones to plan and budget for their living expenses. This is a requirement of all NAOSA member communities. You and your family need to understand the full cost of care and assistance to make informed decisions about which community best suits your needs and budget.

Ask for the monthly cost, a full breakdown of what is included in the monthly cost and most importantly, any anticipated additional costs that are not covered in the monthly fee. Providing this level of complete transparency about costs will build trust and credibility with residents and their families and will also help avoid misunderstandings, surprises, and financial strain down the line.

Ask for the Medicare Star Ratings of skilled nursing facilities

If you are looking for a skilled nursing facility or an independent living community that also offers skilled nursing (such as a continuing care retirement community), be sure to ask for the community's CMS Medicare Star rating. The CMS Medicare star rating system for nursing homes is a quality rating system used by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to evaluate and compare the performance of nursing homes that participate in Medicare or Medicaid.

Nursing homes are rated on a scale of one to five stars, with five being the highest rating. The Star rating system assesses various aspects of the nursing home's performance, including health inspections, staffing, and quality measures. The ratings are based on a variety of data sources, such as health inspections conducted by state survey agencies, staffing data submitted by the nursing home, and quality measures collected through resident assessments and Medicare claims data. The star ratings are intended to help consumers and their families make informed decisions about choosing a nursing home, as well as to encourage nursing homes to strive for improved quality of care. Nursing homes that achieve higher star ratings may be more likely to attract residents, while those with lower ratings may face increased scrutiny and oversight.

Move before you have to move

Finally, if you have decided to move to a community, make the move while you can still enjoy all the amenities a community has to offer. Many individuals wait too long which may impact not only your ability to fully participate in activities but also your ability to meet other residents and be a fully participating member of the community.

There are many other risks to putting off a move. These risks include a decline in health, an accident that severely alters your health, a decline in the housing and other financial markets, and lack of inventory at your community of choice, among others. Delaying a move may also place a burden on other family members, especially adult children. If you are ready to move, experts agree, don't put it off, move while you are able.

Questions or comments? Are you a professional in the senior living field?
We welcome your constructive input to assist in the protection of all consumers. Please contact us.

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NAOSA requires members to act in utmost good faith when working with clients. Members must agree to act in a fiduciary manner in a way that the member reasonably believes to be in the best interest of the client. In addition to compliance with all federal and state regulations, each professional member of the National Association of Senior Advocates must also follow and act in accordance with the NAOSA Consumer Guides published herein.  Members who are found not in compliance with these standards will be censured, with membership subject to revocation.


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