All senior housing communities provide different care, and some communities may prefer a certain way of socializing - one that might not work for your loved one.
With that in mind, it's important to find the perfect social fit - a community blending the right level of socializing, activities, and staffing.
Shy or Social?
If your loved one prefers the company of just a few people, consider a smaller environment. Small senior communities have anywhere from four to 10 residents. They promote a 'close-knit' style of living, so residents will be familiar with one another and a small staff. If your loved one likes to socialize with lots of folks, larger communities of over 100 residents will be a better fit.
"When my mom moved into a new community, the stories she told me reminded me a lot of transferring into a high school or college mid-year - trying to fit in with already established dinner groups, find a group of friends you clicked with, and trying to find clubs and activities," said Katie Wethman, a Realtor with The Wethman Group at Keller Williams Realty in McLean, Va. "And just like school, some people have an easy time and some people have a hard time, but the key is getting involved."
Finding the Right Activities and Amenities
One of the main ways residents become involved in a community is through activities. Typically a community will offer dancing, field trips, workshops, and fitness classes. But just because a community offers an activity doesn't necessarily mean there will be involvement. For example, if your loved one likes poetry and there's a poetry workshop, visit it. Take note of how many people show up, if they're engaged in the workshop, and if the teacher is interacting with the residents.
"I think visiting several times and at different times of the day is key," says Wethman. "A community might have a very full calendar, but if only one person is showing up for a class, then it's not going to do much to keep your family member engaged."
Wethman recommends having lunch with a couple of current residents and asking questions of the care providers to find out if the community is the right fit.
For seniors who'd like a roommate, most communities offer shared rooms. The community should make an effort to place your loved one with someone compatible, so avoid places putting no thought into finding the right roommate. If your loved one ends up disliking their roommate, the community should also offer an option to switch.
Private rooms will likely cost more, but for someone who has lived alone for many years, privacy may be preferable.
The Right Staff
Staff members' personalities and interactions with residents will vary between facilities. You'll want to find out how the staff will help introduce your loved one into the new environment.
"Ask the staff what sort of programs they have to help new residents fit in quickly--is there some sort of buddy program or floor captain that makes sure new folks are included?" advises Wethman. "Are dinner companions assigned? Mealtime can be especially lonely."
Visit several facilities, tour the grounds and meet with the director and several staff members to get a feel for the management style. Make sure what the staff says jibes with what the residents say about the facility.
"Even if a community looks great on paper, it's the other residents that really make or break your loved one's experience," says Wethman.