Comparing Senior Communities

What to Look for in Senior Living Communities

Senior Living Help for Mom will accompany you as you are comparing communities, but you should also have a sense of what to look for. Be sure to write down what you observe and the answers you receive from senior care staff members.

Community Services

Before you start your search, create a list of the minimum amenities/services you require so you can compare senior care communities.

  • Does the community offer a continuum of care?
  • What is the policy for 24-hour staffing?
  • How many meals are available each day?
  • Are snacks provided between meals?
  • Does the community provide medication management?
  • Does the community have a full-time activities director? What types of events and activities are offered?
  • Does the senior care community have exercise equipment and exercise programs?
  • Is there a pet policy?
  • Is there a beauty salon?
  • What is the quality of guest accommodations?
  • Do utilities include cable television?
  • What are the housekeeping services and frequency of these services?
  • Does the senior living community provide linen and towel services?
  • Do the apartments have washers and dryers?
  • If not, where are the laundry rooms? How much do they cost?
  • Does the community provide transportation services? How often are these services available?
  • Does the senior care community provide off-site trips?
  • What type(s) of personal security is available?
  • What is the emergency response system to the apartment?
  • How secure is personal property?
  • What is the fire evacuation plan?
  • Does the senior community have a storage facility?

Contracts and Fees

Read the rental agreement/contract carefully. Read it several times and ask lots of questions. Have a third-party also read the contract.

  • What is the entry fee for the senior care community? Is it required?
  • What is the monthly fee? Can it increase?
  • What are the care-level fees? How are they determined?
  • Can I contest a care-level fee increase?
  • Can I have a rent rate lock for life?
  • How often will my monthly fees increase?
  • How much is the second occupant fee?
  • How long is my lease for the community?
  • How can I terminate my agreement with the senior care facility?

Visit & Tour

This is when you’ll determine how the senior living community operates in real time. Take your time and investigate the property top to bottom.

  • Does the outside of the community look well maintained?
  • Are the plants trimmed and the grass green and mowed?
  • Are the windows and siding clean?
  • When you enter the senior care facility, does the staff greet you? Do they call you by name?
  • Does the staff take the time to talk to you prior to the tour?
  • Do they offer you a soft drink or coffee?
  • Talk to a waiter or a housekeeper. Are they pleasant and seem to enjoy working at the senior living facility?
  • Do you hear lively conversation in the dining room?
  • How does the food taste? Is the service good?
  • Are you allowed to see the kitchen where the food is prepared?
  • What does the coffee and snack bar look like?
  • Are the hallways swept?
  • Do handrails feel clean (not sticky)?
  • Are residents participating in an event in the activity room?
  • Are there events scheduled every day of the month on the activities calendar?

The Apartment or Room

Examine this new space just as you would any new home. Pay particular attention to lighting and bathrooms.


  • What type of emergency alarms and safety systems are in the apartment or room?
  • What are the procedures in the event of a fire?
  • Who responds to an emergency pull cord request?


  • Is the carpeting clean and in good shape?
  • Make sure the pile isn’t too thick for a wheelchair or walker.
  • Be aware of pet odors.


  • Make sure the walls are freshly painted, no nail holes or scuffs, with a crisp, clean trim.


  • Are windows squeaky clean without hard water stains?
  • Are they double-paned and cloud-free?
  • Make sure a senior with weak arms and arthritic hands can open windows easily.
  • Do windows have screens?
  • Do the windows form a tight seal against blowing wind and rain?

Air Cooling /Heating

  • What type of unit heats and cools the space—PTAC (Portable Terminal Air Conditioner) or ductwork?
  • Does the unit adequately cool and heat the apartment?
  • Is the unit quiet?
  • Look for mold around the vents.
  • Ask about the cleaning schedule for the air filters.


  • Does the light source provide sufficient lighting for applying makeup and shaving?
  • Does the medicine chest have enough room for prescription drugs?
  • Are there lever handles, which are easier for arthritic hands, on the faucet? If knobs, can your loved one easily operate?
  • Does the hot water heat up quickly?
  • Does the sink drain quickly?
  • Are the faucet and handles leak-free?
  • Does the vanity have enough drawers?
  • Is the caulking throughout the bathroom clean and mold-free?
  • Is the shower easy to get in and out of?
  • Does the shower have a slip-resistant surface?
  • Can your loved one reach the shower control?
  • Does the shower have grab bars?
  • Does the wall exiting the shower have a grab bar?
  • Is the toilet at a comfortable height (18 inches high is easier on the spine and legs) for your loved one?
  • Does the toilet drain efficiently?
  • Does the toilet area have a grab bar?


  • What appliances are provided? What appliances are permitted?
  • Do the cabinets and countertops have a clean, modern finish?
  • Are there lever handles, which are easier for arthritic hands, on the faucet? If knobs, can your loved one easily operate?
  • Are the faucet and handles leak-free?
  • Is everything clean and mold-free?
  • Look for signs of insects or pests under the sink.


The etiquette and demeanor of the senior care staff is a great indicator of the overall management of the community and ultimately your loved one’s quality of life.

  • Is the staff dressed appropriately?
  • Do they seem knowledgeable, friendly and helpful?
  • Pay close attention to how respectful the senior living community staff is to residents.
  • Do they offer to let you speak with the director of the community?
  • How many staff members are on duty each shift?
  • What is the ratio of Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) to residents?
  • How frequently do they check on each resident?


The dynamics between residents and staff, and residents with one other also will tell you a lot about the social health and wellbeing of those living at the senior care community.

  • Are the residents socializing with each other?
  • Do the senior care facility’s residents appear to be happy and comfortable?
  • Do residents appear to be appropriate neighbors for your loved one?
  • What is the visitation policy at the senior care community?
  • Can a visitor sleep in the resident’s apartment or room?


  • How did you feel when you toured the senior care community? Did you feel welcome? Did anything strike you positively or negatively?
  • Did the staff listen to your needs?
  • Did the marketing director offer customized solutions for your loved one?
  • What additional information do you need?
  • Could you personally live in the senior living facility?