Hunting for a Retirement Home? Develop a Checklist.

By Lisa M. Petsche

Retirement residences are private pay facilities intended to enable active seniors to maintain or improve their independence and overall health.

However, they vary considerably in terms of price, size, amenities and services, which can make it difficult to choose from among them.

If you are assisting a relative with selecting a retirement residence, it’s important to go beyond location, external appearances and advertising literature, and actually take some tours. The two of you should plan to visit several places. Prepare questions in advance, then photocopy the list so you can take a fresh one on each tour and make notes.

The following are some questions you might want to include:

Resident Suites
  • Are a variety of suite sizes and styles available?
  • Is there sufficient natural light from the windows, and do they open?
  • What furnishings are provided? Can residents bring their own?
  • Does each room have an ensuite bath equipped with grab bars, a raised toilet and an emergency call bell? Is it wheelchair accessible?
  • Is there a kitchenette?
  • Is there cable, phone and Internet hook-up?
  • Is there a smoke detector and sprinkler in each room? An intercom system?
  • Can the temperature be controlled within the suite?
Medical Services
  • Are professional nursing staff on duty around the clock, to monitor residents’ health needs and dispense medications?
  • Is there a staff physician who makes regular visits and is on call the rest of the time? Can residents continue with their own doctor if they prefer?
  • Is there a medical room? Pharmacy service? Onsite capability for x-rays and lab work?
  • What about podiatry (foot care) service, physical therapy and outreach dentistry?
  • Is convalescent care – for acute illness or recovery from surgery – available? If so, to what extent and at what cost? Can enhanced service be purchased on a longer-term basis?
Other Services
  • Are three meals a day plus snacks included? Is there more than one sitting? Can special diets be accommodated? Is there a choice of entrees? Is tray service available when a resident isn’t feeling well?
  • Can visitors stay for meals?
  • What is the frequency and extent of housekeeping service? Are linens and towels provided?
  • Is there laundry service? Dry cleaning service? What about facilities for doing one’s own laundering (e.g. washing delicates, ironing)?
  • Is storage space provided for seasonal items?
  • Is there a lounge and kitchenette on each floor?
  • Are there guest suites?
  • Is there a hair salon? Onsite banking? Mail service?
  • Is transportation provided to shopping and appointments?
Recreational Activities
  • What kind of weekly programming, special events and outings are offered?
  • Is there a full-time, professionally trained activity director on staff?
  • Is a monthly newsletter or calendar of events distributed?
  • Are friends and family members welcome to participate?
  • Are there a variety of areas for recreation and socializing, such as: TV lounges, activity rooms, exercise room, workshop, craft room, horticultural center, hobby kitchen, games room, computer room, library, chapel?
  • Are there onsite worship services?
The Building
  • When was it built? Does it appear to be in good condition?
  • Is it spacious? Clean? Bright?
  • How many floors are there? What is the resident capacity?
  • Are the furnishings and décor attractive and modern?
  • Are there areas for relaxing quietly? What about for entertaining (party room or private dining room)?
  • Is the building fully air-conditioned?
  • What kind of security measures are in place?
Grounds/Location
  • Are the grounds well kept? Do they include benches? A furnished patio? Shaded areas? A residents’ garden?
  • Which, if any, of the following are within walking distance: retail shops, community or seniors’ center, park, public transit?
  • Is there ample, free parking for residents and visitors?
Financial Considerations
  • Are accommodation rates reasonable and all-inclusive? How often do rates increase, and by what percentage?
  • Are residents required to sign a lease?
  • Is there a trial-stay plan?
  • Can residents set up a petty cash account, with regular statements?
Admission Criteria
  • Are scooters and wheelchairs accepted?
  • Are any forms of oxygen therapy accommodated?
  • What is the smoking policy?
  • Is a medical assessment required?
  • What happens if a resident’s health declines significantly?
Accreditation
  • Are state licenses and industry memberships displayed, and are the dates current?
Tour Tips
  • Insist on a thorough viewing of the facility – ask to see areas such as the kitchen and laundry room if they’re not part of the standard tour.
  • Talk to some residents: How long they have been there? What do they like about the facility? Is there anything they dislike?
  • Stay long enough to get a feel for the place. Some facilities advertise a complimentary lunch or dinner – take them up on it. Immediately following a visit, sit down and make detailed notes. Keep them in a folder, together with brochures, business cards and other relevant paperwork.
  • Before making a final decision, encourage your relative to try a weekend stay at the place that appeals most to him or her.

Lisa M. Petsche is a medical social worker and a freelance writer specializing in health and elder care issues.

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