As you shop around and speak with communities about what they have to offer, keep this list on hand. Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions! Remember to keep detailed notes on each community. This will help you compare communities as you narrow down your choices.

1. Pay attention to the residents and the staff.

How are the staff members interacting with the residents? Do they greet them and know them by name? How does the staff interact with each other? Do the residents seem to be gathered in common areas socializing with each other? Not running in to residents on your tour is sometimes a tip that people spend a lot of alone time in their own individual apartments. Ask to speak with current residents and to even bring your family member back for a meal or an event. Ask how staffed is screened and trained at the time of hiring, and how much additional training they receive each year. Make sure background checks are completed at the time of hire.

2. Ask questions about the pricing structure.

You want to be sure you are comparing apples to apples when it comes to pricing. Ask what is included in the monthly fee? And, even more important, ask what is not included in the monthly fee. You don’t want to be surprised with parking garage fees, cable bills, and more when your first bill arrives. Don’t forget to ask about the contract. Is a lease required? What events would allow you to break the lease if necessary? Also ask about if there are yearly rent increases and how much they average.

3. Look ahead. Your family member is independent now but what programs and services are available when they need additional services.

Are you allowed to hire a home care agency if your loved one needs a little extra help? Can the community arrange for transportation to and from doctors’ appointments on short notice? How are medical emergencies handled? If your loved one is under the weather, can a meal be delivered to their room and what is the fee for doing so? Ask what their plan is for aging-in-place.

4. Investigate social, educational and recreational opportunities.

Ask to see the calendar of events and have your family member come back to participate in one. Look carefully at the calendar. Are the activities all happening during the daytime on weekdays? Or are there weekend and weeknight events as well? If religious services are important to your loved one, are those offered at the community or is transportation available to take them to a local church? Are their planned outings to local attractions and shopping centers? What about on-campus clubs and groups such as card clubs, craft groups, and resident gardens?

5. Explore dining services and taste the food.

For older adults living in a care community, this is often one of their top two complaints. What is the quality of food? Is a dietician involved in planning menus? What meals are included in the monthly fee? Can additional meals be purchased? Observe a meal. In an independent setting, the evening meal is usually a social event that residents look forward to. Do they seem to be content, relaxed and enjoying the experience? The evening meal should feel like dinner out at a nice restaurant.

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