When shopping for banks and shoes, we scrutinize for the best fit at the best price. When hunting for a retirement community, how do we decide what’s suitable? Should family members have a role?
Experts say that honest and proactive discussion with family before moving anywhere is best. However, this isn’t always an option. Geographic challenges arise when children don’t live nearby. Anxiety and differing opinions between spouses or among siblings can complicate matters. Adult children may struggle to recognize that their parents are entitled to autonomy and dignity. Increasingly, there aren’t children in the mix – “elder orphans” are making decisions solo. For everyone, it’s often tough to face the disruption of leaving a familiar home for a different setting.
I asked 8 qualified experts – residents of local retirement communities – for their perspectives. Some moved in to their communities recently, others have been there for many years.
KV: What’s the most important factor: location, price, or amenities?
Hilda, age 102. “Visit a number of places to see what they look like, location is important. I researched a long time on my own. When children are involved, make sure to talk to them about their budget and expectations if your resources are limited. Once you move in, it’s up to you how to get along with other people. Like any neighborhood, it’s a melting pot.”
Katya, age 85. “My children decided for me. Safety was a big concern and they understood that need. I also preferred to be with people of my own faith.”
Dorothy, age 94. “It’s more important that the facility be comfortable rather than fancy. Evaluate what you previously considered necessities, such as cooking, and how you can adapt. Be prepared to get rid of stuff, it’s not essential and you won’t miss it.”
KV: What if you don’t fit the “typical” profile?
Ruthie, age 73. “I’m younger than most residents, which was a hard adjustment. I wanted a place with views, good food and nice people. There were no children to help me. My friends are now my family.”
Bob, age 80. “My wife died and I was forced to move by my children. This is where my mother lived 20 years ago, so I wanted to come to this community. I had no other place to go. I’m satisfied.”
Suzy, age 89. “I was recently widowed when I decided to relocate. I looked at 4-5 places. I would say shop before you need to have someone else do it, especially your kids. The ability to access higher levels of care onsite was a big factor for me.”
KV: What about couples?
Goldie, age 88. “I moved here with my husband, then he died. Beware that many places can’t accommodate couples, especially when one partner gets sicker and needs to live in a different unit. My children were in agreement on everything, it made the transition much easier. Don’t just listen to the marketing pitch – speak to residents who live there.”
Priscilla, age 96. “I had a husband and also friends who lived here, I knew I would fit in. My children didn’t influence my choice. Make sure the residents at the community are people you want to spend time with.”
My personal family story
My elderly parents had been researching housing options for years and disagreed on priorities. I tried to block the logjam with no success. It ultimately took a crisis, my mother’s death, to force a decision. At age 90, after 66 years of marriage, my father moved to a retirement community ideal for his needs and embraced a new independent phase. And I learned that although planning is great, life decisions sometimes take their own course.
Tips for the next step
- Searching for a new home takes effort. Start early before it’s an emergency.
- The involvement of family members may help – or not. Don’t make assumptions, talk to your parents (or kids) as feasible.
- Do your research! Good information is available online as well as through local community aging and housing agencies.
- An advocate may be able to offer focused assistance. See Resources for some ideas.