Good Advice for Seniors When Choosing a Final Residence

Multiracial senior adults at a senior living residence

by Kathy A. Megyeri

Many of us in our 80’s are exploring elder care options and a final residence, especially when facing health issues. As my husband and I pack to move into the Army Distaff Hall in Washington, DC next month, I would like to share some advice from others our age who’ve gone through the selection process and have established themselves in a new lifestyle, a new setting, and a new facility for the remainder of their years.

I was particularly fortunate that my husband put us on the waiting list for the Army Distaff Hall as our final residence back when he was only a second lieutenant in the 1960’s because we had no children, were familiar with the facility having attended many functions there and knew that we wanted to remain in the DC area because that’s where we both spent most of our lives. The Army Distaff Hall was established by Mamie Eisenhower for military widows but a decade ago, they admitted men as well and last year, the mother of Senator John McCain died there at 106 years old.

A Final Residence Unit… with a Patio

Just recently, a unit with a patio became available and we made the decision to move. Most of our friends relocate to be near their children depending on them for elder care, but generally it hasn’t been all they expected as the couples miss their old friends, their communities, their homes, and when the children get transferred, move themselves or are occupied with jobs or childcare, the results are often not what was expected. Thus, they are left to find their own elder care facilities and that can be especially difficult when health issues demand an immediate move, if one can be located. The point here is to plan ahead, look around, talk to others who have made such a decision, examine your financial situation, consider the location and amenities offered, speak to those already ensconced in such facilities and get on a waiting list while you can still walk in healthy instead of being carried into a place not of your choosing. And hopefully, you’ve considered long-term care insurance before you really need it.

Related: Exploring Your Senior Living Options

A Helpful Checklist

Carol Roberts, a Washington, DC career foreign service worker, made the selection of a final residence facility after diligently doing her homework and spent the better part of a year downsizing her home filled with antiques. As a favor to others making such a major life adjustment, she asked fellow residents in her care facility for input. She and her colleagues wrote a helpful checklist for the rest of us and readers of Lifestyles After 50 who are facing such a decision:

  1. Compare costs between in-home care and an assisted living community.
  2. Is your chosen location near public transportation? Is it convenient to essential shopping (groceries) and essential services like doctors’ offices?
  3. What is the designated hospital for emergency responders and is your facility affiliated with that hospital?
  4. What renovations are done for incoming residents? What choices/restrictions are there for appliances, flooring (wool, carpet) and window treatments?
  5. Is there a group rate for basic TV and internet services?
  6. Are you assigned garage parking space? Is there sufficient/convenient guest parking and available parking for private caregivers?
  7. What are the number of residents in independent living? How many rooms are available for assisted living residents? How many rooms are available for full-care residents?
  8. What facilities or amenities are offered for independent living residents?
  9. What meals are included and what meals are available? What are the hours? What are the dining options (dining room, cafe, snack bar)? What are the meal rates for outside guests?
  10. Are there guest rooms on site? If so, what are the daily rates per person?
  11. Are there group exercise classes? Is there a fee per hour or are they free? How frequently are they offered? Are there private exercise sessions available and what’s the fee?
  12. Are religious services available? Which religions? Is there an on-site spiritual counselor? Is there an on-site social worker?
  13. How frequently is housekeeping provided? Must one use housekeepers provided by the institution? Are there restrictions for housekeepers (e.g., what jobs not to do such as dusting fine antiques)?
  14. What maintenance services are provided? Is there an on-site maintenance staff?
  15. What security measures are in place (e.g., motion detectors in apartments)? How large is the security staff?
  16. Are there plans for community expansion? If so, which section (ie. independent living, nursing or long-term)?
  17. Are there specific right-to-die policies that differ from local laws?

Related: AARP: 11 Housing Options for Older Adults Who Need a Little – Or More – Help

  1. To what extent do residents create, plan or execute their own activities such as selecting speakers, getting outside entertainment, lectures and movies, and arranging field trips to museums, shopping and concerts? What groups frequently visit? Are there cultural exchanges, art classes, outside speakers, men’s groups, etc.? Is the library, gift shop and clothing exchange run by residents? Are visits arranged with other facilities? Are there sufficient socialization activities like reading and writing groups, wine parties, sewing and knitting clubs, regular exercise classes or swimming opportunities?
  2. Is there a pet policy/restriction?
  3. Is there an ATM onsite? Money changing stations?
  4. On average, what will my monthly fee be, what does it include, and how often has it increased in the past three years? What will my total yearly financial commitment be including my move-in fee?
  5. Is there a campus renovation plan? Is there a lap-lane pool on site or an exercise pool available? Plans for additional landscaping?
  6. What are the requirements to work here? How experienced are the staff? How long do most of them stay? How many work here and in what capacity?
  7. What facilities are on-site like a beauty and/or barber shop? What transportation modes are available if I don’t have a car?
  8. What is it about this facility that residents like best?
  9. What are the residents’ most frequent complaints?
  10. Do I have permission to speak to other residents and talk privately with them about my concerns?
  11. Is there a requirement for a long-term insurance policy?
  12. What kind of life insurance do you have to cover funeral arrangements?

A Glorious Last Chapter

Granted, there are many more concerns and questions you may have about your final residence but when I spoke with a few women at my new facility, I asked them what they liked best and they unanimously loved the birthday parties held each month and one leaned over and whispered to me that, “Just think, if you don’t want, you never have to cook another meal.” Of course, they admitted that many had health concerns but found the support systems reassuring. They loved having their grandchildren visit, they reminisced often about their earlier lives, they loved their “outings,” but best of all, they have made new friends who like them are looking forward to a glorious last chapter of lives well lived.