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Designing Your Future: A Guide to Starting Senior Living Research Early

By: Commonwealth Senior Living / 24 May 2024

Navigating the world of senior living can feel overwhelming, whether you're a senior or a loved one. Researching senior living communities is quite a journey that requires careful planning, thoughtful consideration, and the will to start early. This guide is designed to walk you through the essential steps to help you kickstart your senior living research, making sure you tackle this big life change with a clear mind and confidence.

Why Begin Your Senior Living Research Early?

The decision to move into a senior living community is among the most important in one's life. Starting your research early allows you to take your time to explore and find the right fit. It's a proactive step we recommend, offering families the advantage of making an informed choice without the pressures of time constraints. Early planning not only provides the opportunity to establish a solid financial foundation for a smooth transition but also allows you the flexibility to explore communities at your own pace and in non-urgent circumstances.

Step 1: Assessing Your Needs and Desires

In the planning process, setting primary goals is an important first step. This is when you identify your needs and wants and determine your preferred timeline for moving to a senior living community. Before diving into your search, take some time to honestly assess your needs and preferences for this next phase of your life. Consider the following:

What Type of Community Suits You?

Are you looking for Independent Living, Assisted Living, Memory Care, or a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC)? Each type of community offers varying levels of support and care, so understanding where you fall on this spectrum is important.

  • Ideal Location: Do you want to live close to family or are you seeking a change of scenery? Think about your support network and the lifestyle you wish to maintain.
  • Community Size and Atmosphere: Consider the size of the community you are comfortable with and the overall atmosphere you envision yourself thriving. Some prefer the bustling energy of a large community, while others may find peace in a smaller, more intimate setting.
  • Preferred Activities and Lifestyle: What activities and amenities are non-negotiable for your happiness and well-being? Whether it's a well-stocked library, a specialized wellness program, or a community that offers pet-friendly accommodations, ensure your new home aligns with your lifestyle.

By clearly establishing these parameters, you can narrow down your search to communities that are in harmony with your unique requirements. This will save you time and effort in the long run, as you won't have to visit communities that don't meet your needs. 

Define your Timeline

Defining a clear move-in timeline is especially helpful during the planning phase. Knowing when you or your loved one plans to transition to senior living helps you and the communities you're considering prepare. Your expected move-in date affects availability and the possibility of securing your desired suite-style. It can also influence promotional or financial incentives offered by the community. Setting a timeline provides a clear goal and can make the transition much smoother. It's also important to communicate your timeline early in conversations with potential communities to ensure your needs and preferences can be met in your desired timeframe.

Step 2: Researching Your Options

Once you've outlined your needs, it's time to explore what's out there. Research the different types of senior living communities and what they offer.

Types of Senior Living Communities

Independent Living communities are for active seniors who seek an enriching lifestyle without the responsibilities of home maintenance. Assisted Living provides a supportive environment for those who need help with daily activities, like medication management. Memory Care is specialized care for seniors with Alzheimer's disease or other types of dementia. CCRCs offer a range of services from independent living to skilled nursing care, allowing residents to remain within the same community as their needs change.

Request Our Assisted Living Visit Checklist

Request Our Memory Care Visit Checklist

Services and Amenities

Scrutinize the services provided, such as housekeeping, dining, laundry, transportation, and onsite healthcare services. For amenities, look into social opportunities, resident activities and outings, events, and any unique ways communities keep residents engaged.

Compare Alternatives

As you explore this next chapter, it's crucial to weigh all your options. Opting to stay in the comfort of your own home offers several compelling benefits. You can remain independent and have the flexibility to tailor support and care services to suit your individual needs and preferences. When comparing alternatives to senior living, consider these factors: the level of independence and privacy you desire, the ability to customize care, cost-effectiveness, social engagement opportunities, and healthcare accessibility. 

Request Our Choosing the Right Assisted Living Checklist

Step 3: Financial Planning

One of the most complex aspects of senior living research is understanding the financial implications. To come up with a plan that works best for you, you'll need to fully understand your financial situation. Talking to a wealth advisor or financial planner can be a huge help for families trying to navigate this complex area.

Cost Considerations

The cost of senior living varies depending on the type of community, geographic location, and the specific services included. Families looking into Commonwealth Senior Living communities can estimate their senior living expenses with our True Cost Calculator, comparing them to their current costs at home.


Create a budget that considers your current income, assets, and potential future expenses. Be sure to factor in unexpected costs and potential longevity.

Financial Assistance

Research veterans' benefits, long-term care insurance, and government programs that may help offset the cost. See if the communities you are interested in have financial aid or scholarship programs available.

Starting the financial planning process early will help you avoid any surprises and ensure you are well-prepared for the financial side of senior living.


Step 4: Visit and Evaluate

Once you've narrowed your list of prospective communities, it's time to visit. This is the most important step in this journey, giving you a sense of day-to-day life, the community atmosphere, and how it makes you feel.

Scheduling Visits

Contact the communities you are interested in and schedule a tour to get a firsthand experience. Pay attention to the cleanliness of the surroundings, observe how associates interact with residents and among themselves, and carefully assess the living conditions including amenities, maintenance, and overall atmosphere of the place.

Don't be afraid to ask tough questions. Request details about associate training, medical care availability, emergency procedures, and how the community handles residents' needs as they age and potentially face further care requirements.

Sample the Food

Mealtimes are a crucial part of daily life in senior living communities. Ask to see the current dining menu and if you can sample a meal to truly get a feel for the dining experience. Also, ask about any special dietary accommodations and how they are handled.

Interact with Residents

Take the opportunity to talk to current residents and their families. This will give you valuable insight into the community from someone who is currently living there. Ask questions about how they feel about the community, their daily routine, and any concerns they may have.

Step 5: Taking Control of Your Future - Making a Commitment 

Reflect on your visits and weigh the pros and cons of each community. Consider the following:

  • Did you feel at home? Your instincts and how the community made you feel are important factors in your decision.
  • Does the community support your well-being? Assess which communities can provide the level of support and resources necessary to not only maintain your quality of life but improve it.
  • Is the community financially viable for you? Look at both the current cost and the community's history of pricing stability.  Consider if the community offers services and amenities that align with your budget. 

Step 6: Stay Flexible and Connected

Your needs might change, much like the communities you once considered during the early planning stages. They will transform over time, reflecting the evolving values of their residents.  Some changes may be subtle, such as updates to the menu or the variety of programs offered. Others may be more significant, such as shifts in the use of community spaces. Staying connected with your chosen community can help you stay informed about these changes and ensure that your evolving needs are met. 

After evaluating the senior living communities you have visited, consider what is most important to you and make a decision that meets your needs and preferences. Remember, it's important to choose a community where you feel comfortable and supported as you embark on this new chapter in your life. Don't be afraid to ask for additional information or clarification before making your final decision. 

Making the right decision about senior living involves a mix of practical considerations and instinctual feelings. By taking your time and starting early, you can ensure you have all the information you need to make a well-informed choice. It's important not to rush this process. The more time and effort you invest early on, the better your chances of finding a community that truly feels like home.

If you're ready to begin your early exploration into senior living, click the link below to contact the community nearest you. Our community experts are ready to provide personalized guidance and support in your senior living research.

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