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How to Choose the Right Senior Living Community

A Claiborne Senior Living Guide

A family decision toolkit

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Change is part of life.

It’s an overused cliché, yet very true.

However, it doesn’t minimize the mixed emotions that come with major life changes.

Portrait of small girl with senior grandfather in the backyard garden, standing and looking at camera.

Whether it’s deciding on a college, living on your own for the first time, or buying your first house; the process is a journey wrought with highs and lows. Choosing a senior living community is no different. Although, when it comes to this time of life, it may not be with the same mixed emotions.

When is it truly time? What are the options? What do we need? Want? How do we choose? Where do we even start?

This may be due to the misperceptions many have about senior living. Unaffectionately known as ‘the home’ for many, stigmas of the past simply aren’t true today. In fact, senior living communities now more closely resemble resorts on sprawling campuses with comfortable accommodations and plenty of amenities. The environment fosters independence, perhaps even more so than at home. The many opportunities to socialize, exercise and stay mentally active will pleasantly surprise you. As for the cost, that may surprise you too because, in some cases, senior living is less expensive than staying home!

The other part is the journey itself. When is it truly time? What are the options? What do we need? Want? How do we choose? Where do we even start? And once we decide on the senior living community, how do we actually make the transition?

We can help you with it all—from looking at this time as a new beginning to making the decision to moving in. Simply put, it’s everything your family needs to know about choosing a senior living community.

coffee and computer on marble desk with pink flowers

Navigating the Journey

Did you decide to move for a more carefree lifestyle? Are you looking at options for a loved one who now needs more assistance than can be provided at home? The journey is different for everyone. Add in different caregiving roles, family dynamics, budget, location and lifestyle considerations
and you now know why senior living is no longer one size fits all.

That said, everyone’s journey should start in one place – with an honest assessment of your situation to identify what’s working and what isn’t.

Here are some areas to think about and assess: are they currently working, does the family want to manage, and should we get help?

  • Meals/Nutrition
  • Transportation
  • Socialization
  • Personal Care
  • Medication Management
  • Housekeeping/Laundry
  • Home Maintenance
  • Safety
  • Caregiver Stress

Head vs. Heart

  • How do you make decisions?

    Do you list pros and cons and go from there? Do you go with your gut? Somewhere in between? Emotions are said to drive 80% of the choices Americans make, while practicality and objectivity only represent about 20% of decision-making.

  • When to HALT decisions

    HALT is an acronym that stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. If you make decisions when you are one of these things, emotion wins 100 percent of the time!

    Source: Psychology Today

folded glasses on paper

Careful Considerations

Whether you’re the one moving or you’re the primary caregiver, when considering a life change of this magnitude it’s crucial to get input from family members. They may offer conflicting opinions, may have thoughts or ideas you haven’t considered, or may affirm your decision. Regardless, everyone should feel valued and heard to foster a spirit of collaboration in the decisions ahead.

As a starting point, each family member involved in the decision-making process should put these considerations in order of importance (1–5). Have everyone complete his or her own, but do them at the same time if possible to align everyone’s goals on what is most important in your search.

Values and Hot Buttons Importance to Me Importance to My Parent
Lifestyles / Amenities / Socialization / Choice  










Prepare for the Talk

If you suspect your loved one will be resistant to the idea of senior living, follow these tips to start the discussion.


  • Do

    write down talking points about why it is time to consider senior living to help guide discussion and to help you remember important questions.

  • Do

    consult with a professional such as their physician, a case manager, social worker, lawyer, financial advisor or even a therapist or spiritual leader. Input from a neutral party, particularly one your loved one trusts and respects, can go a long way.

  • Do

    select time(s) when you and your loved one are free of distractions, pending appointments or to-dos to allow the discussions to flow without rush.

  • Do

    make sure to keep the tone casual and positive, asking questions about your loved one’s needs and wants for the future and their concerns.


  • Don’t

    dictate a plan to your loved one. You’re trying to create an ongoing, honest discussion about their future, so they should be included in all aspects of the process.

  • Don’t

    parent your parent.
    Share your concerns, but regardless of how the tables may be turning, it’s important they feel respected and heard as your parent.

  • Don’t

    feed the fear. It’s important to guide the conversation around your concerns, but in a way that you’re working together to help your loved one live their best life, not scaring them into a move.

senior women relaxing and talking outside on a bench

Meeting Your Needs and Wants

There are non-negotiables and nice-to-haves in every major life decision—choosing a house, car, college or even a spouse. Senior living is no different! Identifying these early on can help you stay focused on your search so your needs and wants are met as best as possible.

We’ll get you started with a list of commonly requested features. Feel free to add your own, but keep in mind most senior living communities already offer the basics such as meals, transportation, housekeeping, linen service, maintenance and activities.

  • Residence

    • Personal laundry service
    • Washer/dryer in apartment
    • Full kitchen
    • Kitchenette
    • Storage
    • Other
  • Lifestyle

    • Multiple dining venues
    • Outdoor spaces/walking paths
    • Art classes
    • Access to spiritual programs
    • Intergenerational activities
    • Spa service
    • Pet friendly
    • Other
  • Care/Wellness

    • 24-hour onsite nursing (LPNS or RNS)
    • Overnight nurse on call (care aides onsite)
    • Onsite medical (doctors, physical/occupational therapy, dentist, podiatrist, etc.)
    • Memory care program
    • Special diets
    • Fitness centers
    • Yoga/tai chi
    • Other
  • Safety/Security

    • Emergency call technology
    • Front desk coverage
    • Emergency preparedness plan
    • Additional safety technology
    • Other

Senior women celebrating with champagne.

Most Common Fears for Seniors

If you’re considering senior living for your love one, it’s important that you don’t approach the move from a purely practical standpoint. This is an emotional time with common fears that include:

  • Loss of independence

  • Failing health, particularly memory

  • Running out of money

  • Having to leave their home

  • Losing loved ones

  • Having to depend on others

  • Not being able to drive

  • Being isolated and lonely

  • Falling or becoming incapacitated

Take these fears to heart as your family discusses the future together. Showing empathy and patience will provide comfort that you’re on their side, can strengthen your relationship and even help them warm up to the idea of moving.

Playing Up the Plusses

Yes, there are the fears, but what about the gains? It’s just as important to make sure your loved one knows exactly what they have to look forward to. In many ways, it can truly be a new beginning.
The environment fosters independence

Senior living communities provide just the right amount of support and assistance to help your loved one live life to its fullest.


Residents enjoy convenience and comfort with lush green landscaping, beautifully decorated interiors, spacious accommodations and amenities such as pools, fitness centers, restaurant-style dining and housekeeping and laundry services.


Most communities have a dedicated program director and monthly calendars filled with clubs, classes, events, outings and plenty of common areas to host friends and family.


Not only are our residents encouraged to personalize their living space, the chef may prepare a favorite meal, a caregiver may ensure a lotion has a favorite scent and with the range of activities, they can still enjoy favorite hobbies (and maybe some new ones).

house with american flag

Levels of Living

Understanding your options

Senior living communities offer more care and housing options today than ever before. The abundance of choices can be overwhelming if you’re not prepared. Good thing you are! By having your most important considerations and what you want and need identified already, your family will have a much easier time finding the right community.

  • Independent Living

    Ideal for active older adults who require little daily assistance, but seek a vibrant social community without the hassle of chores and home upkeep.

    You can typically expect:

    • A range of accommodations from condominiums and apartments to free-standing cottages
    • Carefree living with restaurantstyle dining, housekeeping, laundry services and transportation 
    • A variety of social opportunities, activities and clubs 
    • Amenities that include concierge services, a pool, fitness center, library and onsite beauty and barber salon

    Onsite medical care is typically not offered in independent living. If assistance with activities of daily living is needed, or there are serious health issues to manage, independent living may not be the best fit.

  • Assisted Living/ Personal Care

    Provides housing, onsite care and support with activities of daily living while helping residents maintain their independence and enjoy an engaging, purposeful life. You can typically expect:

    • Personalized care with bathing, dressing, eating and medication as well as certain types of on-site medical care to ensure the right amount of support

    • The comfort of a homelike setting without the worry of home upkeep, cooking, cleaning and yard maintenance

    • Features that include spacious accommodations, 24-hour staffing and security as well as transportation, in addition to amenities such as a pool, fitness center and on-site beauty salon

    • Daily social opportunities through a range of scheduled educational and cultural programs, activities and outings

    If specialized care is needed for dementia, incontinence, or other chronic health issues that require round-the-clock care, assisted living may not be ideal.

  • Memory Care

    Specifically designed to nurture and support those with dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. You can typically expect:

    • Staff specifically trained to assist those with dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease

    • 24-hour staffing and layouts that are easy to navigate

    • Therapy, structured brain-health activities and programs with social opportunities

    • Features that include comfortable private or semi-private rooms, housekeeping and laundry service as well as emergency call systems and health monitoring

  • Skilled Nursing

    Offers 24-hour supervised care, a licensed physician or nurse on site, as well as physical, speech and occupational therapists. You can typically expect:

    • Comfortable private or semi-private rooms with round-the-clock care and assistance with daily living

    • Health monitoring and medication management

    • Exercise programs, social opportunities and activities

    • Features such as housekeeping, laundry service, three daily meals, onsite beauty salon and transportation

    This environment is ideal for those with chronic health conditions or incontinence, who require dispensing and monitoring intravenous medications and/or who are recovering after a surgery or hospitalization.

For Today and Tomorrow

While communities that stand alone as independent living, assisted living/personal care, memory care or skilled nursing are available, some offer a full continuum of care all on one campus. Rather than having to move from place to place as health needs evolve, being able to stay with friends, in the comfort of familiar surroundings and to have continuity in care provides invaluable peace of mind for our residents and their families.

pile of money 3120

Figuring Out Finances

How can we afford to pay for this? That’s often one of the biggest concerns when families begin considering senior living. Senior living doesn’t come cheap, but the reality is, neither does aging-in-place at home. And while there’s much more that goes into this decision than price alone, it’s a big part of the equation.

The best example of what you can expect comes from the Genworth 2018 Cost of Care Survey.

Average Monthly Costs, At Home

Homemaker services Help with household tasks that cannot be managed alone


Home health aide services “Hands-on” personal care, but not medical care $4,195 Sample
Adult day health care Social and support services in a community-based, protective setting



Average Monthly Costs, In Senior Living

Assisted living Private, one-bedroom


Skilled nursing Semi-private room


Skilled nursing Private room



Unlike the types of care above, there is little published data on average monthly costs for independent living and memory care pricing as it varies greatly by geographic location, services and amenities. Typical ranges are as follows.

Independent Living

$5,000 to $7,000 per month*

Memory Care

$7,000 to $10,000 per month**


* 2015 Cost Data **Genworth 2015 Cost of Care

Senior man and his son figuring on computer

Comparing the Cost of Home Versus Senior Living

Make sure you’re comparing the total cost of living at home, not simply your mortgage and rent costs as this has a large impact on affordability. At home, you also pay for food, utilities, home maintenance, property taxes, insurance, entertainment and health care. Factor those costs into your current monthly expenses for a more apples-to-apples comparison with potential senior living costs.

Cost Comparison Worksheet

Monthly Expenses Costs at Home Senior Living Costs
Mortgage or rent  


Property tax and insurance N/A
Home maintenance and repairs included
Lawn care and yard maintenance included
Housekeeping included
Utilities (electricity, gas, registration, repairs) included
24-hour security included
Transportation (insurance, gas, registration, repairs) included
Dining included
Social and Entertainment included
Exercise and wellness included
24-hour emergency alert system included

But What’s the Value?

Even if your comparison shows a senior living community may cost more, make sure to keep the positive impact on quality of life in the equation. What is the value of a satisfying social life? What is the worth of rediscovering the cultural and recreational activities you’ve always loved? And remember, there’s no price tag on peace of mind.

Four out of five adults underestimate the costs of home health care with the average American underestimating the cost by almost 50 percent, according to the Genworth Long Term Care/ Caregiving Online Survey.

The Conundrum of In-Home Care

Care in the home can be difficult to calculate as it varies considerably due to factors such as location, type of care and length of time. For comparison, let’s look at hourly rates for types of care based on national averages.

Type of Care Hourly Rate (24-Hour Care) Monthly Estimate (30 Days)
Homemaker services $21


Home health aide services $22


CNA (medical) services $11


LPN (medical) services $20


RN (medical) services $27


Care provided by home health aides is costlier than ever. Genworth research points to these factors for continuing increases:

  • Low unemployment

  • Wage pressures

  • Regulatory changes

  • Labor shortages

  • Sicker patients

  • Employee retention challenges

Senior women happily celebrating with drinks

Building Your Budget

Now that you better understand the cost and value of senior living, let’s discuss how you can prepare financially. While every family’s circumstances are different, there are three general steps you should follow in budgeting for senior living.


Gather and organize financial documents for yourself or your loved one such as:

  • Bank and brokerage account information
  • Deeds and mortgage papers
  • Insurance policies
  • Monthly or outstanding bills
  • Pension and other retirement benefits
  • Social Security payment information
  • Stock and bond certificates


Discuss putting a financial plan in place while you’re discussing what you want in a senior living community. Talk about your wishes, needs and goals (or those of your loved one) as well as how to handle ongoing financial duties such as paying bills, managing benefit claims, making investment decisions and preparing tax returns.


Consider consulting a financial advisor and/or estate planning attorney who specializes in elder care and/or long-term care planning to discuss:

  • Insurance options
  • Pension, retirement benefits and personal property that may be potential income
  • Programs in which you are eligible
  • Potential tax deductions
  • Analyzing yours or your loved one’s investment portfolio with long-term needs in mind

Options to Offset the Cost

While there are a variety of senior living options, luckily there are also a variety of options to help you pay for it.
  • Veterans Aid & Attendance Benefit

    Wartime veterans or a surviving spouse with limited income may be eligible
    to receive a non-service- connected pension (above the basic pension) to assist in paying for assisted living, home health care, adult day care or skilled nursing.

    LTC insurance helps to pay for the cost of home care, adult day care, assisted living, memory care, skilled nursing and hospice by covering services typically not covered
    by health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid.

    Anyone with an in-force life insurance policy can transform it into a pre-funded financial account that disburses a monthly benefit
    to help pay for long-term care needs such as home care, assisted living, skilled nursing and hospice. Unlike life insurance, this account is a Medicaid-qualified asset.

senior man sitting at long table reading

Common Misperceptions

Many people incorrectly assume that Medicare, Medicaid and/or their health insurance will cover senior living. Here are the facts.

Many people incorrectly assume that Medicare, Medicaid and/or their health insurance will cover senior living.

Medicare only pays for long-term care if you require skilled services or rehabilitative care:
  • In a nursing home for a maximum of 100 days.
  • At home if you are also receiving skilled home
    health or other skilled in-home services.
Medicaid does pay for the largest share of long-term care services, but to qualify, your income must be below a certain level and you must meet minimum state eligibility requirements based on the amount of assistance you need with ADL.
Health insurance through employers or private health insurance typically cover only the same kinds of limited services as Medicare. If they do cover long-term care, it is typically only
for skilled, short-term, medically necessary care.

Senior woman with dog

Comparing Communities

Now that you have a better idea of what type of senior living community might be the best fit, it’s time to find the right place for you. To say not all communities are alike is an understatement. It’s crucial to learn all you can up front.

Dig in Online

Most families start gathering information online to research apartment styles, floorplans, services, amenities and level of care (independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing, memory care). It’s helpful to search by geographic location initially to narrow your choices, particularly if you don’t have specific communities already in mind.

A good website will often offer virtual tours and downloadable content such as brochures, sample menus, activity calendars and floor plans as well as resources such as blogs and guides. “Starting at” pricing should also be available either on the website or in the brochure.

Reach Out

Contact communities you’re interested in to have a personal conversation with a community representative. It’s a good way to ask more detailed questions, and get a sense of the community culture.

Schedule a visit

Next, identify the communities you’d like to tour. Don’t forget to bring your lists of what’s important to you along with your questions to keep you from being overwhelmed or distracted by what the management wants you to see.

Ask Around

No one knows these senior living communities better than those who’ve had firsthand experience with them. This important but often overlooked step can give you a deeper insight than you would get even on a tour. Gather testimonials from trusted advisors, friends, professionals and review websites before making a final decision.

Bonus Tip

During your visit, talk with the residents about their daily life in the community as well. If you can’t speak with them directly, observe their behavior—do they seem happy and well cared for?

Double Bonus Tip

Include other family members or decision makers in this process, just like you did in the beginning. And if you’re choosing options for a loved one, make sure to bring them to visit as well to get their input.

foliage with striped yellow background outside

Making the Transition

Once you’ve chosen the community it’s time to plan the move. Even though your family has agreed that senior living is best, there’s still likely to be a great deal of trepidation about what to expect. It’s important to include the community at this point of the process. They will be more than happy to help ease the transition for all of you!

It’s important to include the community at
this point in the process.

Here’s how:

  • Ask what resources they recommend such as realtors, moving companies and professional downsizing specialists.
  • Arrange an in-home visit from the community. A staff member will visit, get to know your loved one, learn their needs, likes and desires and answer any questions you may have.
  • Visit the community often with your loved one to have a meal, participate in activities and get to know the staff as well as your new neighbors.

woman with a latte writing down a plan

What to Expect

Once you put down a deposit, an assessment will be scheduled (unless you are moving into independent living) to ensure the community can provide you
with all the care required. The assessment also determines the additional costs for personal care. There are communities that include some care within the monthly fee and others separate rent and care. Every state regulates senior living differently, and the state determines what care can and cannot be provided.

Be sure to ask what paperwork is needed for this meeting.

Following the assessment, you will schedule a lease signing with the community’s executive director. Be sure to ask what paperwork is needed for this meeting.
Typically, you will need:
  • A physician’s clearance form
  • Insurance, Medicare and Social Security cards
  • Chest X-ray or a negative TB test
  • Legal documents such as healthcare proxy, power of attorney, etc.

Senior woman with bookshelf in the background reading a book

Downsizing Tips

  • Take it Slow

    Have your packing supplies ready and focus on one room or area of the house at a time.
  • Sort it Out

    Stay organized by dividing items into categories such as: keep, donate or gift, sell, and throw away or recycle.
  • Find a Way to Let Go

    It’s emotional to part with treasured items. Consider gifting to family or friends, donating to a worthy cause and taking photos of these items to make the process easier.
  • Bring Friends

    Downsizing is more manageable, and a bit more fun, with friends and family to help and reminisce.

What to Bring

The community may provide you a list, but just in case plan for these items:
  • Comfort items

    Bring your favorite blanket, throw or pillows along with sheets, a bedspread and a clock.
  • Personal Care

    Make sure you have a toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush and comb as well as a shaving kit for men or cosmetics for women. Include any other personal grooming items in addition to several bath towels, hand towels and wash cloths.
  • Clothing

    Bring clothes that are comfortable to wear and easy to get on and off. Also bring rubber-soled shoes to help prevent falls. Don’t forget undergarments, pajamas, socks, robe and slippers as well as a light sweater or jacket.
  • Favorites

    Don’t forget favorite snacks, books and/or music to make it feel even more like home.

Senior couple with keys

Moving Day

To help the day go smoothly make sure to:
  • Have everything ready

    All new resident paperwork should be complete and you’ve oriented yourself to the community and its policies.
  • Set up your space

    It’s one of the first things you should do; you’ll feel more at home and will be ready to
    welcome all those new neighbors and friends.
  • Connect

    Senior living communities typically have new resident ambassadors (or some type of buddy system) to help you feel welcome. They’ll pair you with a person or persons who share similar interests or backgrounds to show you the ropes.
  • Pick their brain

    Keep in mind, the residents have been where you are and may have some tips from when they first moved. And it’s a great conversation starter!
  • Enjoy your first meal

    Even if you’ve visited prior, that first meal as a resident can be stressful. Have a family member join you, sit with your resident ambassador or both to take the edge off as you meet and talk with new friends and neighbors.


Find the answers you need in our helpful guides.

Senior Living Guides

Browse The Other Guides

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Embracing Change: How to Talk to Your Family About Senior Living

A Claiborne Senior Living Guide
Deciding to move into a senior living community has implications not only for you, but also for your family. Here’s how to talk it out in a way that’s both sensible and sensitive.
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Is It Time for Senior Living?

The decision is yours–but making it is easier when your family supports you.

Smiling senior woman with glasses portrait.

For many seniors, older adulthood eventually brings with it an “aha”moment. It could be early in the morning at the kitchen table, when you’re sipping hot coffee in an empty house that was made for six instead of two. It might be when you find yourself getting winded carrying laundry up the stairs, or when your spouse slips in the shower and nearly breaks a bone. Or maybe it will come on a Saturday night, wishing you were engaged in a boisterous game of canasta with friends instead of nodding off yet again in front of the television. Whenever and wherever it appears, what you’ll probably think to yourself when it comes is, “Maybe it’s time for a change.”

Aging isn’t the end of the road.
Rather, it’s the beginning
of a new one.

And maybe it is. By the time you reach retirement age, the children you spent your adult life raising are grown. The friends with whom you made your favorite memories have moved on. The hobbies you used to enjoy are no longer fulfilling. And even the most routine household chores have become a lot harder to do.

But aging isn’t the end of the road. Rather, it’s the beginning of a new one. When it’s no longer serving you, letting go of the lifestyle you had can make room for the lifestyle you want.

Senior Couple with Yoga Mats

Whatever it entails—time with family, traveling, yoga, gardening or golf, to name just a few of the infinite possibilities—that lifestyle might become more attainable by moving to a senior living community. There, in a home that’s made for aging, surrounded by useful services, attractive amenities and scores of new friends, your next chapter can be simpler, safer and more satisfying.

Even so, the decision to embrace senior housing is as difficult as it is big. For that reason, it can be helpful to have the support of loved ones as you make it. But family members’ support doesn’t always come easy. What feels practical, prudent and preferable to you might seem sudden, impulsive and ill-considered to them. This is particularly true in the case of adult children, for whom parents’ aging can be especially impactful from a social, emotional and even financial point of view.

Still, it’s important to talk. Whether your loved ones are welcoming of the idea or wary of it, discussing your future in a senior living community can bring parents, children and siblings closer together in ways that benefit the entire family for years to come—that is, as long as you approach the conversation in ways that are caring, considerate and informed. Using this guide to plan your discussion will ensure that you do.

Mother daughter laughing together on a couch
magnolia flower

Before The Talk

Coffee, glasses, and to-do list resting on a table.

Think Before You Speak

Making a plan will help the conversation go smoothly.

If you’re thinking about moving to a senior living community, you’re probably waiting for “the right time” to broach the subject with your adult children and other family members. Unfortunately, rarely is there ever an ideal time to have a difficult chat. Instead of waiting for a conversational door to magically appear, a better approach is to build the door yourself. And that takes planning. Here are four things you should do to prepare:

Senior women looking at a smartphone together.

1. Understand Your Options.

When you tell your family that you want to move into a senior living community, what they might hear from you is, “I’m ready to go to a nursing home.” But senior living communities aren’t nursing homes. Senior housing today encompasses a diverse menu of safe, comfortable and dignified choices that allow seniors to live as independently as they want to, with as much—or as little—assistance as they need.

Before you discuss senior living with your family, it’s a good idea to make sure you understand what those choices are so that you can explain to your loved ones what your plan entails and how it will help you achieve the medical, emotional, social and/or financial goals that you have set for yourself. In particular, you’ll want to understand the difference between the following types of communities:


Comprising age-restricted neighborhoods or campuses of apartments, condominiums or even single-family homes, independent living communities are designed for self-sufficient seniors who want to be part of a community while also maintaining their independence and privacy. Amenities like dining services, housekeeping, home maintenance and organized activities can ease the burdens of senior living without threatening seniors’ autonomy.


Like independent living communities, assisted living communities offer residences and amenities that make life easier and safer for the seniors who live in them. For the older adult who needs it, they offer baked-in assistance with daily activities like medication management, bathing, dressing and transportation.


Memory care communities offer assisted living for seniors with cognitive illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Because Alzheimer’s and dementia care can present unique challenges, they feature staff, services and social activities that are tailored to residents’ special needs.


Skilled nursing facilities offer 24-hour supervised care for seniors who have severe physical or cognitive illnesses that make them dependent on others for even the most basic aspects of daily living.


Also known as continuing care retirement communities, or CCRCs, life plan communities are designed to be dynamic and flexible by offering independent living, assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing all in the same place. In so doing, they allow seniors to live out their retirement in the same community—safe, secure and stable—no matter how their needs might change as they age.

Group of senior men drinking beer in a park

2. Clarify Your Goals And Wishes.

Even if you do a good job explaining what modern senior living communities look like, your family members might have a hard time seeing past negative stereotypes and emotional assumptions. For that reason, it’s important that you be able to express not only where you want to spend your golden years, but also why you want to spend them there. Here are a few of the most common reasons that seniors give for moving into a senior living community. Before you speak to your family, think about which ones resonate most with you.


When they think about retirement, most people assume they will want to age in place. When their body stops working the way it used to, however, reality often sets in. When that happens, seniors often realize that aging in place can come with significant risks, including falls—the leading cause of injury among adults 65 and older thanks to their limited mobility—decreased eyesight and increased fragility. For older adults, even minor falls sustained doing routine household chores can have major implications, including broken bones and fractures, head injuries, permanent disability and even death.

Senior living communities often have accessible residences that are designed for seniors’ safety, as well as amenities like meal service and housekeeping that preclude seniors from having to perform potentially dangerous household chores.

Senior people in a fitness class

Health and Wellness

Even if you manage to avoid falling, you’ll still be prone to medical emergencies. What happens if you have a heart attack, for instance, or a stroke? What if you mix up your medications, or have an allergic reaction? And what about diet and fitness? Malnourishment and muscle loss can be common in seniors, many of whom stop shopping, eating and exercising when it becomes more difficult for them to drive and walk.

Certain types of senior housing, like assisted living communities, have medical personnel onsite who can assist in the event of a medical emergency. Many have meal services that ensure proper nutrition, and most offer amenities and activities to help residents stay active and fit.

Financial Security

Money is a common concern for seniors, many of whom live on a fixed income. If you were to experience a financial emergency, would you be OK? A medical event, for example, could be just as hurtful to your wealth as it is to your health. A home disaster, such as a broken furnace or flooded basement, could be equally disruptive. And then there are financial fraudsters, for whom seniors are often easy prey. Even something as routine as paying bills can become problematic for older adults, whose failing eyesight and limited technological expertise could lead to missed or mispaid bills, which in turn can lead to cancellation or interruption of critical services.

Senior living communities offer stable and predictable expenses, which makes financial planning and management simple. Plus, many communities offer tiered services that can flex to fit any budget.

Happy senior friends toasting with white wine on the beach


As they age, seniors often see less of friends and peers. Some of them retire to distant places. Some become ill or disabled. Some become isolated due to lack of mobility. Still others pass away. Meanwhile, grown children who used to consume so much of their time become busy with careers and families of their own. The cumulative effect for many older adults is a smaller social circle that can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Senior living communities are designed with socialization in mind, offering ample opportunity to participate in organized activities as well as impromptu social engagements.


When friends and family are absent, it’s not just seniors’ social lives that suffer. It’s also their support system. Suddenly, they have no one to check in on them to make sure they’re OK. That can have consequences not only for their mental health, but also for their physical well-being. For example, imagine a natural disaster; in the event of a major tornado, blizzard, earthquake or hurricane, who would make sure you had food, water and heat, or helped you evacuate if it was no longer safe to shelter in place?

Senior living communities have built-in support in the form of neighbors and friends, as well as professional staff. Most communities have essential goods, emergency systems and well-considered preparedness plans they can quickly execute should a major event occur.

Senior couple playing Jenga.

Mental Acuity

Aging doesn’t just impact the body. It also impacts the mind. In particular, memory loss from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia can create its own kinds of safety concerns. Seniors with cognitive illness, for example, may be prone to wandering and might endanger themselves with simple acts of absentmindedness, like leaving a hot stove unattended.

Many senior living communities offer memory care services that are designed especially for seniors with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

While you’re contemplating how you can benefit from living in a senior living community, consider how your family can benefit as well. If you decide to age in place, at some point you’ll likely need increased support and supervision from your adult children or other relatives, each of whom has their own family, job and other responsibilities to tend to. Will your loved ones have the time to be a full- or even part-time caregiver? To help on a routine basis with groceries and household chores? What about the social and emotional bandwidth that caregiving requires? A senior living community can help you maintain the treasured roles and relationships you have—parent and child, for instance, instead of caregiver and dependent.

Woman typing on a computer at a desk.

3. Prepare An Outline.

When it comes to something as sensitive as aging, it may feel most natural to speak from the heart. And you should, because sincerity is important. It’s also important, however, to be prepared, organized and cogent. If you leave your remarks to chance, you might forget to say something important, and could end up meandering in ways that make your decision appear hasty and ill-conceived.

To come off as both authentic and informed, prepare a loose agenda or outline prior to speaking with your family members—something that you can consult as you talk, but which you won’t read verbatim. Because talks about senior housing can be extremely emotional and stressful, writing down the things you want to say and the points you want to make can ensure that conversations are focused, rational and productive, but also genuine and heartfelt.

4. Anticipate Questions

Remember that conversation is by nature a two-way street. While it’s important to prepare what you want to say, it’s just as critical that you be ready to hear your family members’ response. They’ll have feelings to share, but also questions to ask. Lots and lots of questions. If you already have a senior living community in mind, for example, they might want to know the size and setup of the residences, what the monthly rent will be, whether meals are provided, what other services are and aren’t included, and whether Medicare or Medicaid will help with the costs. As much as you can, try to anticipate what questions they will have, and to prepare answers to demonstrate that you’ve done your homework. Having brochures and other literature available to share also can be helpful.

Senior man and his daughter researching on a laptop.
magnolia flower

The Talk

Women drinking hot beverages in white mugs.

A Fruitful Family Meeting

Empathy and earnestness are the keys to constructive conversation.

Ultimately, all your planning and preparation are groundwork for a single moment: convening a family meeting to finally announce your senior-living wishes. Like other family meetings you may have had over the years, the ensuing conversation might be unsettling and uncomfortable. But it’s also really important. Keeping in mind the following advice will ensure that everyone feels heard so you can build your future with the support of a family that’s united instead of divided.

Senior women with family at the dinner table outdoors

1. Make A Date.

When, where and how you have the talk can be just as important as what you say. The first thing you should do is to arrange having the conversation at a time and place that’s convenient for your loved ones. Instead of blindsiding them over dinner in a public restaurant, for example, tell them ahead of time that you’d like to have a serious conversation, then let them decide where they’d like to have it. That gives them time to prepare themselves, and makes them feel like they have agency in the discussion they’re about to have with you.

2. Break The Ice.

Starting the discussion often is the most difficult part of it. To get things off on the right foot, consider different ways to break the ice. For instance, you could:

Emphasize Your Desires

Your family doesn’t want to deprive you of things that will bring you joy, so that can be a good place to start. Maybe you’ve always dreamed about traveling, for example. Maybe you love to garden, but don’t have the space to do it at home. Or maybe you’re really excited by the prospect of making new friends. Whatever it is, focusing on what you will gain by moving to a senior living community can be an effective way to build support and enthusiasm for the idea.

Acknowledge Obstacles

Have you had health scares or memory problems? Are you having a hard time doing housework or grocery shopping? Are you lonely or isolated? Instead of pretending that everything is fine, consider admitting to your family that you are facing new challenges as you age. When they’re confronted with the reality of your situation, family members may be more receptive to the idea of a senior living community as a practical solution to real problems.

Share Success Stories

As previously mentioned, family members may have false impressions and negative stereotypes about what a senior living community is. A good way to dispel myths and rally support is to share positive anecdotes from friends and relatives who have already made the transition to senior living—particularly those your family members know, like a cousin your adult children remember from family reunions, or a close family friend who they always looked up to.

Focus On The Family

Although it’s your future, there undoubtedly are implications for your family members, too. Focusing on how senior living will improve their lives as much as it will improve yours can be persuasive. If your adult daughter just started her medical residency, for example, she might appreciate knowing that she can focus on her budding career without having to worry about whether you’re taken care of. If your adult son has young kids, he might be excited to know that the senior living community you’re looking at has a community swimming pool where grandkids are welcome on family days. Or perhaps your children live in a cold climate and would jump at the opportunity to have a warm place to visit in the winter.

Senior man in a hot tub.

3. Underscore Your Independence.

If your family is concerned about your decision, it could be because they imagine senior living communities as places where seniors live sedentary lifestyles inside cloistered facilities. The refreshing reality—that many senior living communities not only encourage active, independent living, but actually make it safer and more feasible—can be eye-opening for adult children and others who are skeptical.

4. Make It Clear: This Isn’t Personal.

Adult children in particular might take it personally when you tell them that you want to live in senior housing. They might have imagined, for example, that you would eventually move in with them when you needed extra support. Or maybe you already do live with them, in which case they might feel hurt that you have decided you’d be happier elsewhere. In the case of assisted living communities, adult children might also have a hard time entrusting your well-being to others, insisting that no one will be able to give you the same level of care and love that they can give. If you sense that your loved ones feel wounded by your wishes, the best thing you can do is reiterate your motivations and reassure them that your choice has nothing to do with them. They didn’t do anything wrong or push you away; rather, you’re simply ready to pursue new goals in a new environment.

Grandparents hugging their granddaughter

5. Embrace Empathy.

Even if your family doesn’t take your decision personally, they might have other objections. For example, perhaps your adult children were counting on you for childcare that you’ll no longer be able to provide. Maybe they’re worried that your decision will have financial implications for them—that they will have to help you cover the costs of senior living, for example, or that you will spend their inheritance on rent. Or perhaps your aging simply makes them feel insecure about their own advancing years.Whatever they are, their concerns are real, even if you don’t believe them to be valid. For that reason, the most important thing you can bring to your conversation with family is empathy. Change is hard to process, and aging is emotional. Before you become defensive or combative, try to put yourself in your family’s shoes. Remain calm, honest and rational, even if they cannot. If you can be continually aware of their concerns and unflinchingly respectful of their feelings, cooler heads eventually will prevail.

6. Practice Active Listening.

Remember, this is supposed to be a conversation. That means not just talking, but also listening. Often, family members who have objections or concerns simply want to be heard as they process the new choices and challenges that you’re facing. You can do your part to help them through it by being silent and attentive, by not interrupting, by withholding judgment, by asking insightful questions and by repeating their points back to them so they know you understood them.

White foliage and greenery
magnolia flower

After The Talk

Senior women celebrating with champagne.

Next Steps

You’ve started the conversation; now, you’ve got to keep it going.

Keep in mind that the senior-living conversation is rarely a single conversation. More often, it’s a series of progressive conversations that take place over time. If you don’t get the accord you were seeking right away, that’s OK. If you continue to make and repeat your points, your family eventually will hear you out. 

As the conversation continues, there are things you can do to move the needle in a positive direction. For example:

Meet with a financial advisor

Money can be one of the biggest concerns for family members who are skeptical of senior housing. Although they want to support you emotionally, they worry whether they will be able to support you financially. Meeting with a financial advisor can help you and your loved ones understand what resources you need, what resources you have and what might be required to fill the gap between them if there is one. Importantly, a financial advisor also can help you compare the costs of living in a senior living community to the costs of aging in place. When you consider the money you might spend over time on home maintenance, in-home healthcare and other expenses, the latter isn’t always as affordable as it seems.

Take A Tour

Talking about a senior living community is one thing. Actually seeing a community is something else entirely. If you’re still trying to decide on a community, invite your family members to join you on tours. And if you’ve already chosen a community, schedule a time to visit it with them. Although they may still have reservations, family members often end up excited for you when they see firsthand what your life is going to look like and the ways in which it might improve.

Delegate Duties and Decisions

Ultimately, where you want to live is your choice. Involving family members in the process, however, can make them feel important and engaged. That, in turn, can build buy-in. For instance, you could task adult children with helping you find potential communities to tour and explore. Or if you’ve already chosen a community, you could ask loved ones to help you do research about the area around it, or help execute your move by hiring movers, organizing a garage sale or planning a housewarming party.

Wherever you choose to spend the next phase of your life, the change is bound to be both scary and exciting. You don’t have to do it alone. Your family and friends can be thereto help you, to provide support and cheer you on. First, though, you have to invite them in. There might be conflict along the way, but in the end you’ll be glad that you did.


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It’s Your Time: How Senior Living Can Make Your Golden Years Golden

A Claiborne Senior Living Guide
You’ve waited your whole life for this moment. Learn how the benefits of a senior living community can help you seize the day.
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Senior Living —

Emphasis on the “Living”

Everest. K2. Kilimanjaro. Denali. Olympus. These are just a few of the world’s most famous peaks. For even the most experienced climbers, the journey to the top of them is a dangerous slog that pushes the limits of the mind and body. At the end of each ascent, however, awaits the most beautiful apex. The air is thin and the body tired. But in the presence of so much majesty—and so much accomplishment—the soul is full.

You may not fancy yourself a mountaineer. But if you’ve reached retirement age, you’ve done your fair share of climbing. Just think of the good kids you raised, the hard jobs you worked or the happy home you made. The friendships you forged, and the loved ones you lost. The trips you took, and the lessons you learned. The sights you’ve seen, the places you’ve lived and all the great stories you’ve collected along the way. Every person, memory and experience represents a new foothold on your way to a summit that used to feel so distant but now feels inexplicably near.

Now that you’re scaling the face of one last rock, reaching triumphantly for the top, you’ve probably noticed two thoughts occupying your head. The first is a statement: “Congratulations; you made it.” The second, a question: “Now what?”

Every person, memory and experience represents a new foothold on your way to a summit that used to feel so distant but now feels inexplicably near.

There’s no simple answer to the latter. There are only choices. Lots of them, in fact. Most require more climbing amid an endless outcrop of crags. Only one affords you the luxury of resting every day in the foreground of a spectacular view: a senior living community.

Senior living communities aren’t what you think they are. They are not nursing homes, for example. A nursing home is an end. A senior living community, on the other hand, is a means. In the right senior living community, you can receive as much assistance as you want or as little. The assistance can be medical, domestic or even just social. What’s important is that it’s there when you need it—which ensures an ample supply of something else you expect in retirement: independence. It’s senior living with an emphasis on the “living.” Because when you outsource life’s challenges, you create more time, space and energy for life’s pleasures. And isn’t that why you put so much energy into climbing in the first place?

Whether you’re curious, skeptical or sold, keep reading to discover the many surprising benefits of a senior living community

magnolia flower

When you outsource life’s challenges, you create more time, space and energy for life’s pleasures.

What’s Important To You?

When they contemplate life in a retirement community, most people imagine a place. But senior living is so much more than housing. Really, it’s a lifestyle. Before you decide where you want to spend your senior years, you should therefore decide how you want to spend them. Step one is setting your priorities.
What You Want: Freedom, Fun, Fulfillment

Although no two seniors are exactly alike, older adults who are envisioning and planning their golden years consistently say it’s important to them that they have:

Freedom and Autonomy

Self-confidence born of self-reliance. The sovereignty to make your own choices, and to do things for yourself. The ability—and mobility—to go where you want, when you want. Privacy and the pursuit of happiness. Whatever it means to you, independence often tops the list of seniors’ priorities as they age.

Passions and Purpose

Retirement looks different for everyone. Some seniors want to continue working, or to start their own business. Some want to enrich their lives with volunteer work. Still others want to travel, or to spend their days indulging lifelong interests and brandnew hobbies—cooking, painting, dancing, knitting, yoga, gardening. What almost everyone has in common, however, is the desire to feel connected to and engaged by activities that fulfill them.

Before you decide where you want to spend your senior years, you should decide how you want to spend them. Step one is setting your priorities.

Meaningful Relationships

Having people can be just as important as having passions. Oftentimes, more so. Whether you want to be close to cherished family members and friends, surrounded by neighbors and community, or plugged into activities that spawn new relationships with likeminded souls, it’s important to think about your ability to maintain an active and enjoyable social life that fills your days with companionship and fun.

If these resonate with your own goals, it’s worth considering how different retirement scenarios might affect them. Aging in place might give you more autonomy, for example, but at the expense of your social life. Or perhaps you have rich friendships with your current neighbors, but the state of your home threatens your independence. Whatever your situation, you must set your priorities and calibrate your future plans accordingly. When you do, you might discover the opposite of what you expected— that a senior living community will enhance your life, not limit it.

A Fearless Future

Remember when you were young? You probably assumed that your hair would never gray, that your knees would never ache, that your vision would never blur and that your energy would never wane. Now you know better. It makes you wonder: What are you currently taking for granted? What needs might you have tomorrow about which you are in denial today?

Aging can be extremely rewarding and satisfying. But it also can be extremely scary. As you plan your next chapter, it’s therefore important to acknowledge your greatest fears and lay plans that will help you manage and mitigate their impact on your retirement years. Common worries include:

Financial Security

Even seniors who have been diligent about saving and prudent about spending worry that they might run out of money, or that they may not have enough of it to have the kind of retirement they want to have.

Declining Health

With age, even the healthiest bodies become more susceptible to illness and injury, including everything from accidents and falls to chronic illness. That’s normal—and so is worrying about your health and health care, the status of which can change quickly and dramatically over the course of your retirement years.

Aging can be extremely rewarding and satisfying. But it also can be extremely scary.

Failing Memory

Because the prospect of cognitive decline can be as worrisome as the prospect of physical decline, memory care—including dementia care and Alzheimer’s care—is top of mind for many seniors.

Loss of Independence

You spent your youth learning how to be independent. In that way, adulthood was a destination; once you arrived, you never imagined you’d have to go back. It’s no wonder, then, that the idea of losing one’s autonomy can be just as upsetting as the idea of losing one’s faculties.

Becoming A Burden

From your spouse and children to your aging parents and grandparents, you’ve devoted your life to caring for others. Now, you’re facing the prospect that others might have to care for you. But what if there’s no one to do it? Or worse yet, what if there is? You know from being a caretaker yourself how much time and energy it takes to care for someone who can’t care for themselves. It’s all-consuming. So while having no one to care for you is a scary proposition, the idea of asking loved ones to be responsible for you can be its own source of dread.

Social Isolation

With aging often comes loss, including the loss of spouses, family members and friends. Sometimes, loved ones are lost to death. Other times, they’re lost to circumstances—for example, you might not be as mobile as you used to be, or as energetic, which causes you to see people less often. Either way, isolation and loneliness for seniors are real possibilities and legitimate concerns. Although you should hope for the best, you should plan for the worst. A senior living community is flexible enough to accommodate both scenarios, not to mention countless possibilities in between.

What Are Your Options?

Once you understand what you want life as an older adult to look like, you can begin searching for senior housing solutions that make your goals possible—not just today, but for years and decades to come.

  • Aging In Place

    For many people who are looking at senior living communities, the first choice is actually the absence of community. It’s easy to understand why. Aging in place—growing old either in your own home or in that of a family member—is familiar and comfortable, and on first glance might appear to be more affordable and dignified than other alternatives. On closer inspection, however, aging in place isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.

    Consider home maintenance and health care, for instance. Over time, both become more urgent, but also more difficult for seniors to manage independently. As a result, seniors who age in place often need more help from family, friends, neighbors and service providers, be it a handyman to make critical home repairs and modifications (e.g., installing wheelchair ramps and bathroom grab bars) or an in-home nurse to assist with medical needs. The costs and inconvenience add up—and so do the safety risks, which threaten to disrupt even the best-laid plans.

    Even if your home is perfect, it’s easy to become over-reliant on family and friends. If not for help with home maintenance, then with transportation, housework, errands or entertainment. When you age in place, your network tends to be small, which can place an undue burden on the people you know and love—whether you realize it or not.

  • Independent Living

    Independent living communities might include age-restricted apartments, condominiums or single-family homes. Sometimes they look like a college campus, and other times like a residential neighborhood. In some cases, they even resemble small cities. In all cases, however, they’re designed for self-sufficient seniors who crave community with their peers, but also want to maintain an independent and autonomous lifestyle.

    In some cases, amenities like dining services, housekeeping, home maintenance and organized activities ease the burdens of senior living without being intrusive. Health care services, however, are minimal or non-existent, which makes independent living impractical for seniors who have or anticipate having significant medical needs.

  • Assisted Living

    Assisted living communities resemble independent living communities in important ways. They offer many of the same amenities, for example, which affords seniors ample amounts of community, convenience and independence. The main difference is the availability of onsite care for older adults who still want to be as autonomous as they can be — but nevertheless require a little extra help with daily activities like medication management, bathing, dressing and transportation.

  • Memory Care Communities

    Memory care communities are assisted living communities designed to accommodate seniors with special needs resulting from cognitive illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Alzheimer’s and dementia care figure prominently, and communities typically have special security features—for example, alarmed exits in case residents wander or even monitoring technology that helps identify health declines or fall risk early—that are designed to keep residents safe. Even organized activities are designed with memory care in mind, with options like music and art therapy looming large.
  • Skilled Nursing Facilities

    Skilled nursing facilities provide 24-hour supervised care for older adults who have severe physical or cognitive illnesses that make it difficult—and often impossible—for them to remain self-sufficient. Although medical care is of primary concern, amenities and activities remain important in order to give residents the comfortable, active, sociable life they want in their later years, regardless of their physical and mental abilities.
  • Life Plan Communities

    Life plan communities—also known as continuing care retirement communities, or CCRCs—are designed to accommodate seniors as their needs change over time. They typically offer independent living, assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing all within the same community so that older adults can live out their retirement in one place and with one plan, knowing that they will remain comfortable and cared for no matter what the future brings.

Better Living Through
a Better Lifestyle

In case the benefits of senior living communities still are not clear, consider the many services and amenities that might be available to you:

Meal Services

Although residences may have kitchenettes or even
full kitchens, many communities also offer chef-prepared meals in onsite restaurants or dining rooms. This not only frees you from the obligation of shopping and cooking, but also ensures that you have the nutrition you need to maintain your health and wellness as you age.


As you get older, routine tasks like cleaning and laundry can become not only cumbersome and uncomfortable, but also dangerous. Falling on a wet floor, for example, or lugging a heavy laundry basket could lead to serious injury. A community that offers housekeeping services can therefore be a lifesaver—both figuratively and literally.

Home Maintenance

You should spend your retirement holding winning bridge hands and yoga poses, not hammers and hedge trimmers. Whether you’re used to DIY or hired help, communities that offer home maintenance services free you from the hassle, expense and safety risks of home repairs and yardwork so you can spend your time, money and energy on hobbies instead of chores.

Although residences may have kitchenettes or even full kitchens, many communities also offer chef-prepared meals in onsite restaurants or dining rooms.

Exercise and Fitness Programs

Because fitness keeps your body strong and your mind sharp, exercise is as important for seniors as it is for anyone else. Thanks to gyms, group fitness classes, spas and other amenities, many senior living communities make health and wellness easy and fun.

Social Events and Activities

Whatever you love —gardening, crafting, museums, shopping, theater, art, music, volunteerism—senior living communities often have social directors who dedicate themselves to creating organized opportunities for you to enjoy your favorite hobbies and interests, and to discover new ones. Plus, their very nature means communities lend themselves to impromptu social engagements like outdoor walks, card games and coffee dates. The genuine friendships that can be hard to build elsewhere are therefore easy to cultivate in senior living communities, which ensures a life that’s as rich with relationships as it is with experiences.


Driving becomes more difficult and dangerous with age, which often limits seniors’ mobility. Because many of them offer scheduled and on-demand transportation to activities, entertainment and appointments, senior living communities make it possible for you to stay connected to the larger community—even after you decide to retire your car keys.

Medical Services

From routine needs like medication management and blood pressure monitoring to emergency services in the event of a serious accident or illness, many senior living communities offer onsite medical care that gives residents both protection and peace of mind. Many even offer memory care and 24-hour skilled nursing for seniors who need them.

Security and Supervision

Older adults may feel vulnerable to crime and other misdeeds. In communities that offer them, security services can therefore be a significant comfort. And for seniors with special needs, like those receiving Alzheimer’s care or dementia care, so can the protective supervision of staff who are attuned to their unique needs and risks.

Manageable Expenses

Although price points and cost structures vary from community to community and from region to region, many senior living communities offer flexible pricing that simplifies and solidifies seniors’ finances so they can keep their retirement plan on track. Many communities, for example, charge a base rate that’s determined by the size and type of one’s residence, which includes access to services like dining and social activities. Health care costs are billed separately, with tiered options based on different levels of care. The result is an experience that’s tailored not only to your goals and lifestyle, but also to your budget.

Now What?

Make no mistake: You have a big choice in front of you. Along with your wishes for retirement and your fears about it, there are practical considerations like cost—which isn’t as straightforward as it seems. If you’re thinking about aging in place, for example, you might own your home outright, in which case you have no mortgage payment. But what happens when your roof needs to be replaced, or your basement floods? With a senior living community, on the other hand, there are rent payments to make, but they are consistent, predictable and oftentimes inclusive of meals, maintenance and other variable expenses.

Because it’s apples and oranges, making the best possible decision for your future requires more than comparing price tags—i.e., what you pay. Also, it requires comparing value—i.e., what you get. When you think about it that way, some of the blurriest aspects of retirement planning finally come into focus.

Again, mountain climbing comes to mind. In particular, a quote by legendary mountaineer John Muir, whose famous advice to humanity was to “climb the mountains and get their good tidings.” You’ve spent your life climbing; now it’s time for the tidings. If you didn’t realize it before, you know it now: Senior living communities have lots of them.

You’ve spent your life climbing; now it’s time for the tidings.


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Retirement ROI: Understanding the Costs and Benefits of Senior Living

A Claiborne Senior Living Guide
A senior living community might be more affordable than you think. Here’s what you can expect to pay for, and what you’ll get for your money.
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Building Your Future Starts With Budgeting for It

Before you decided whether to live in a senior living community, you must determine whether you can afford to.

Close up of hydrangea flowers

If you’re like most Americans, you’ve spent years—decades, even—saving money for retirement. When it gets down to brass tacks, however, you haven’t really thought about how you’re going to spend that money. You may have vague notions that you need housing and health care, or that you want to be active and travel, but you’d be hard-pressed to say whether your resources will actually support your goals, or for how long.

That’s OK. Everyone has to start somewhere. And if you or a loved one is thinking about moving to a senior living community, understanding what the costs are and how they’re structured is as good a place to start as any.

Before you start crunching numbers, there are a few things you should understand.

  • Costs need context. When you begin assessing the costs of senior housing, it’s normal to feel something akin to sticker shock. But big numbers are rarely as large as they initially seem. When you consider what expenses they encompass and over what period of time, and compare that to the equivalent cost of living outside of senior housing, you’ll often determine that the price tag is more affordable than it appeared on first glance.
  • Senior living is not one-size-fits-all. If you browse the web, talk to friends and family members who have firsthand experience, or commence discussions with specific communities, you might blush at the numbers. But it’s important to keep in mind that those are not your numbers. The truth is, senior living communities boast a wide variety of options at a wide variety of price points in order to appeal to as many potential residents as possible. Before you commit to living in a senior living community—or rule the prospect out—it’s important to examine your unique needs and resources. Then and only then can you paint a complete financial picture.
  • Communities can help you navigate your options. Senior living communities have specialized staff and software that can help you assess the affordability of senior housing based on your age, assets and monthly income from Social Security, pensions, investments and other resources. If there is a divide between your resources and your goals, they might be able to draw on their daily experience working with residents of diverse means to suggest avenues and ideas that can help you bridge any gaps.

It’s right to be thinking about the cost of senior living communities. Before you rush to judgment, however, use this guide to get a general sense of what expenses you might encounter and what services you’ll get in return. Once you’ve acquired some basic literacy about the financial aspects of senior housing, you can begin the process of determining what your situation may require and what the impact might be on your family, finances and lifestyle.

Two women facing each other in conversation
magnolia flower

Understanding what the costs are and how they’re structured is as good a place to start as any.

House with large front porch

1. Housing Costs

Older adults who live in senior housing typically must concern themselves with three principal costs, the first of which is housing.

For most of your adult life, you’ve probably had a rent or mortgage payment. Although it might be called something different, you’ll have a similar housing payment when you live in a senior living community. How much that payment is and how it’s structured will vary from community to community based on factors such as community size, location and type— for example, an independent living community where residents are entirely self-sufficient, an assisted living community where residents may receive assistance with activities of daily living, a memory care community that furnishes specialized care for people with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, or a skilled nursing facility that offers 24/7 medical care.


In some senior living communities, like independent living communities, residents might sign traditional leases that are similar in terms and cost to those of a conventional apartment. Leases might be month-to-month or annual, and might include a security deposit and/or move-in fee that’s typically equal to one month’s rent. Sometimes, amenities and services are ad hoc. Other times, residents enter into a residence and service agreement that encompasses both rent and various onsite services for a single monthly sum. This is especially common in assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing communities. Although rental housing tends to be more affordable up front, it tends to be less predictable and can be more expensive over time since services are extra.


In an ownership- or equity-style senior living community, residents purchase their unit, pay real estate taxes on it and are responsible for its upkeep, just like a traditional home. They may pay additional homeowners association dues in exchange for certain amenities, and may have access to additional services, like assisted living, for an additional daily or monthly fee. Equity arrangements may be attractive for estate planning purposes, but provide no relief from the burdens of homeownership.

Equity arrangements may be attractive for
estate planning purposes, but provide no relief from the burdens of homeownership.

Happy senior mother with adult daughter sitting on couch and holding cups with coffee or tea at home. Togetherness concept


Also known as continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs), life plan communities offer myriad levels of care on the same campus in order to accommodate seniors as they age. In exchange for long-term stability and flexibility, they typically charge a significant “entrance fee”—basically, a down payment that must be paid prior to moving in, which often is funded with proceeds from a home sale. Entrance fees can be non-repayable or repayable. The former are lower but non-refundable if a resident moves out or passes away. The latter, on the other hand, are higher but offer generous repayment in the event of a move or death, which can be attractive for estate planning purposes. Although the initial price tag may appear large, the long-term value often exceeds the short-term investment.

2. Monthly Service Fees

Often, communities offer other amenities and services that are paid out of pocket as needed.

Whether you pay them in the form of monthly rent or upfront entrance fees, housing costs typically cover only the roof over your head. Some senior living communities fold an array of services and amenities into that cost; others charge a separate monthly service fee. Make sure you know what’s included and what isn’t in any discussion you’re having with a community! Like the fees themselves, the services they include will vary from community to community. However, they might include things like:

  • Meals and dining
  • Utilities
  • Home maintenance and repairs
  • Housekeeping
  • Laundry services
  • Local transportation
  • Fitness facilities
  • Resort-style amenities like swimming pools and putting greens
  • Organized social activities and entertainment
  • Nursing services in case of mild illness or injury

Often, communities offer other amenities and services that are paid out of pocket as needed—for example, dry cleaning, an onsite beauty salon, extra housekeeping services or extra meals for visitors.

Keep in mind that because of inflation and other economic variables like the cost of gas and food, monthly service fees may increase over time—typically by less than 5 percent per year. Fortunately, services often can flex with one’s budget. In many cases, for example, services can be customized to residents’ needs. A resident who prefers to cook their own meals in their residence, for example, might pay a lower service fee than a resident who desires a meal plan in the dining hall.

Make sure you know what’s included and
what isn’t in any discussion you’re having with a community.

Parkinson disease patient, Alzheimer elderly senior, Arthritis person hand in support of nursing family caregiver care for disability awareness day, National care givers month, ageing society concept

3. Health Care Costs

As they age, older adults often need increased medical assistance and services.

As they age, older adults often need increased medical assistance and services. Although it can be difficult if not impossible to predict one’s future needs, more support naturally translates into greater expense.

Some senior living communities offer residents a means to mitigate those financial risks by offering onsite health care services whose costs are built into the community’s monthly service fees, thereby allowing residents to lock in low prices for future care. This is the case, for example, in life plan communities, which typically offer multiple contract options for residents who may need health care support now or in the future. Some residents may elect to pay a higher monthly fee that promises to cover all their needs over time, regardless of what level of care they need. Other residents may elect to pay graduated monthly fees that start small but grow as their needs increase. Still others may desire a monthly fee that remains consistently low, in which case they’ll pay ad hoc for higher levels of care should they ever need them.

Some senior living communities—especially those owned by nonprofit organizations—may offer benevolence programs and subsidies for qualifying residents, who may be able to continue receiving care if health care costs deplete their assets. And most communities offer social, fitness and wellness programs that can keep residents’ future health care costs in check by keeping their bodies strong, their minds sharp and their spirits high.

Although it can be difficult if not impossible to predict one’s future needs, more support naturally translates into greater expense.

Group of senior women friends with coffee sitting outdoors on terrace, resting.

Aging in Place Isn’t Free

As you contemplate the costs of a senior living community, it’s natural to wonder, “Wouldn’t it be cheaper to continue living in my home?” The answer might surprise you.

Here’s why: When you’re crunching the numbers for senior housing, you must consider not only what expenses you will have, but also what expenses you won’t have. Depending on what type of senior living community you select and what services it offers, you might be able to eliminate the following expenses from your monthly budget:

  • Mortgage payments
  • Homeowner’s insurance
  • Property taxes
  • Landscaping
  • Cleaning services
  • Car payments, auto insurance, maintenance and fuel costs
  • Utilities
  • Groceries
  • Entertainment

That’s just the beginning. You also will eliminate spending on home maintenance and repairs—including expensive replacements of your roof, hot water heater, appliances and HVAC equipment, all of which have expiration dates. There are home modifications, too: If you age in place, you’ll eventually have to spend money making your home safe for an older adult to live in. If you move to a senior living community, however, safety upgrades like ramps and bathroom grab bars already will be installed at no expense to you. And don’t forget about health care. If you age in place, you may eventually need in-home assistance and medical services, which don’t come cheap. Seniors who do the math in order to compare what they’ll spend with what they’ll save often discover that a senior living community is just as affordable—and sometimes even more so—than aging in place.

When you’re crunching the numbers for senior housing, you must consider not only what expenses you will have, but also what expenses you won’t have.

Group of senior women friends with coffee sitting outdoors on terrace, resting.

So, Should You Move into a Senior Living Community?

If you want to know the answer, follow the money.

Whether to move into a senior living community is a decision that seniors and their loved ones often make with the heart. But a decision of such import can’t be made on gut feelings alone. You also have to listen to the numbers.

That requires facts. To get them, make a list of your current resources and expenses, then speak with the sales counselors at prospective communities in order to get a complete and accurate picture of the scenarios available to you, what they’ll cost and what options exist for financing them. Finally, meet with your financial advisor in order to compare current resources and expenses with prospective needs and costs. From that, you should gain a good understanding of whether you can move into a senior living community, at which point you can finally consult your heart for an answer to the question you began with: Should you?


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Because You’re Worth It: Your Guide to Financing Senior Living

A Claiborne Senior Living Guide
You don’t have to be rich to find enrichment at a senior living community. You just have to be prepared.
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Your Best Investment Is Yourself

A senior living community is an expense.
But it’s also an investment.

Financially speaking, adulthood is all about saving for the future. Wherever you put your money—stocks and bonds, a high-interest savings account, a tax-advantaged retirement vehicle, real estate or an ill-advised shoebox under your bed—you probably put it there for a singular purpose: so that you’d have it someday when you needed it.

What you might not realize, however, is that “someday” is today. If you or a loved one is approaching retirement age, or have reached it already, this is the moment you’ve been waiting for. It’s time to decide what you want your golden years to look like, and to set in motion the well-laid plans that will help you make your dreams and goals a reality. Not tomorrow. Not eventually. Not sooner or later. But now. Because if not now, when?

That’s not to say that cashing in your chips is easy. It isn’t. If you’re like most seniors, you probably feel like you don’t have enough. Saving your money makes you feel secure. Spending it makes you feel anxious. If your retirement goals involve moving to a senior living community, however, you should know that what initially looks like spending your money is actually re-investing it. Like a bank that’s loaning capital to a small business, you’re funding your future in exchange for a promising return. Only your return isn’t principal and interest; it’s health and happiness.

Not tomorrow.
Not eventually.
Not sooner or later. But Now.
Because if not now, when?

There can be financial returns, too. Although the costs often are incremental and therefore less obvious, aging in place can be deceptively expensive whereas senior living communities can be surprisingly affordable.

Especially today. Thanks to a “retirement renaissance,” senior housing has proliferated. Forget the nursing home of decades past. Today, there’s an unprecedented array of choices for seniors who want to live their best lives, regardless of their age, health status, retirement income or budget.

To find a senior living community that meets your needs without exceeding your means, you’ll need to understand the costs involved, then investigate what assets and options you have available. Here’s the good news: There are more assets and options available than you probably realize. Once you have a sense for them, what once felt extremely daunting might suddenly feel entirely doable.

magnolia flower

Aging in place can be deceptively expensive whereas senior living communities can be surprisingly affordable.

First, Make a Budget

Step one is determining what you have and what you need

No matter what kind of senior living community you want to live in—a retirement community with independent living, an assisted living community or a memory care community that offers Alzheimer’s and dementia care—the first thing you need to do is determine what it will cost you to live there.

The sales counselors at prospective communities can help you estimate your costs. Depending on the community, for example, you’ll have to pay either monthly rent or a larger entry fee that’s akin to the down payment on a house. You’ll also have to consider ongoing expenses like meals, utilities, home maintenance, housekeeping, transportation and entertainment, which communities may or may not offer in exchange for a monthly service fee. And don’t forget health care, including medical needs you have now and those you might have in the future.

Once you have a grip on how much money you’ll need to live in a senior living community, it’s a good idea to take inventory of what resources you have to help you cover the costs. This includes not only savings and income—Social Security and pensions, for example—but also assets like your home, vehicle, investments and even valuables like art, antiques, jewelry and collectibles. Some of your assets might be liquid while others might take more time and effort to convert into cash. Talking to a financial advisor can help you understand what money you have and how to best access it for purposes of funding senior housing.

Your timeline should figure prominently. Do you want to move immediately or a few years down the line? Understanding when you will need money is just as important to your calculations as understanding how much you’ll need.

It’s a good idea to take inventory of what resources you have to help you cover the costs.

Making Aging Affordable

There are more ways than you think to fill the gap.

If your budget reveals a shortfall between what you have and what you need, don’t fret. There are myriad ways to finance your move to a senior living community. Here are a few of the most common that you might consider.


If you own your home, it’s probably your biggest asset. That means it might also be your easiest ticket to a senior living community.

If you have enough equity, you might consider selling your home outright, in which case you’ll basically be exchanging one home for another. In fact, proceeds from a home sale may cover all or most of the entry fee at a senior living community that charges one. And the money you’ll save on real estate taxes and future home repairs can be directed instead toward monthly service fees and various other daily living expenses.

Of course, home sales can take a while. If time is of the essence, a bridge loan might be helpful by giving you short-term capital with which to finance your move to a senior living while you wait for your home to sell; when it does, you can use the proceeds to repay the loan.

Of course, all of this assumes that you can sell your home quickly and for a fair price. If you can’t, there are other options. You might look into a reverse mortgage, for example, wherein you sell your home a little bit at a time back to the bank, which cuts you a monthly check in exchange for your returned equity. Or, if your home is in good shape and your local rental market is strong, you might consider renting your home until you’re ready to sell it. Although being a landlord can be quite onerous, a good property manager typically can do everything for you.

Proceeds from a home sale may cover all or most of the entry fee at a senior living community that charges one.


If you have a life insurance policy that you no longer need, you may be able to sell it to a life settlement company in return for a lump sum that you can apply toward your entry fee at a senior living community or other senior housing costs. Although the company won’t purchase it for the policy’s full value, you typically can get more money than you otherwise would if you were to simply surrender the policy or allow it to lapse. Before you go this route, however, you should be certain that you want to give up your life insurance—you may not be able to qualify for a new policy if you decide later that you want one—and should be prepared to shop your policy around to different companies to ensure you’re getting a fair price.

Before you sell your life insurance, there are other options to consider. You should check with your insurer, for example, to find out whether you can borrow against your policy. If you’re ill, you might also be eligible for accelerated death benefits that cover the costs of a longterm, catastrophic or terminal illness while you’re still alive.

If you have long-term care insurance, that might also come into play. Depending on both the policy and your health status, you may be able to access benefits to help you pay for the cost of an assisted living, memory care or skilled nursing community.

Veterans Benefits

If you or your spouse is a veteran who served in active duty during wartime, you may be able to receive a federal benefit known as the Veterans Aid & Attendance benefit. Provided above and beyond a veteran’s regular pension, it can be used to cover your care in an assisted living, memory care or skilled nursing community.

You may be eligible for this benefit if you receive a VA pension and meet at least one of these requirements:

  • You need another person to help you perform daily activities like bathing, feeding and dressing, or
  • You have to stay in bed or spend a large portion of the day in bed due to illness, or
  • You’re a patient in a nursing home due to the loss of mental or physical abilities related to a disability, or
  • Your eyesight is limited, even with glasses or contact lenses

If you are a veteran or the surviving spouse of a vet, it’s well worth your time to explore this option as a potential supplement to your other benefits and resources.

If you or your spouse is a veteran who served in active duty during wartime, you may be able to receive the Veterans Aid & Attendance benefit.

Frequently Asked Questions

In your search to find senior housing –
and pay for it – knowledge is power.

By now you can see that there are numerous financial paths one can follow to put life in a senior living community within reach. But you and your bank account probably still have some questions. That’s normal. Although you should discuss any lingering concerns with your financial advisor and with the sales counselors at communities you’re considering, here are a few of seniors’ most common queries.

Will Medicare pay for a senior living community?

Unfortunately, Medicare does not cover most costs associated with living in a senior living community. One exception is skilled nursing: Medicare will pay 100 percent of the cost of care up to 20 days at a skilled nursing facility and approximately 80 percent of the cost up to 80 more days. However, that care must be for recovery following an inpatient hospital stay.

Medicare doesn’t cover room and board or custodial (personal) care costs in assisted living communities, although some Medicare Advantage plans may pay for personal care assistance in assisted living or memory care (but not room and board).

Medicare also will pay for “medically necessary” care outside of a hospital, which means some medical services that may be offered at an assisted living or memory care community—physical or occupational therapy, for example, or diagnostic testing. That won’t eliminate all your senior housing expenses, but it might make a dent in them if you need a certain level of care.

Some senior living communities also offer benevolence programs and subsidies for qulaifying residents.

What about Medicaid?

Although Medicare won’t pay for a senior living community, Medicaid might. Like Medicare, Medicaid in some states will pay for medically necessary care outside of a hospital setting, including some medical services that might be available at an assisted living or memory care community. In the case of memory care, Medicaid might also cover the larger costs of living in a community—provided that community has a Medicaid contract. Of course, you must be eligible for Medicaid in the first place, which means you must have a very low income and few assets.

I have the money now. But what if I run out of money later?

Policies vary from community to community and from circumstance to circumstance. Some communities are structured like apartment rentals, in which case nonpayment of rent will be a breach of your lease that leads to eviction. Other communities—including many life care communities—offer contracts that guarantee lifetime residence; as long as you pay your entry fee, you’ll have a home there for life. Some senior living communities also offer benevolence programs and subsidies for qualifying residents, who may be able to continue receiving care if health care costs deplete their assets. Because communities vary, it’s important to ask what a community’s policies are before you sign a contract or lease.

If you move to a community that charges an entrance fee, that fee may be refundable.

How will senior housing affect my taxes?

You can’t talk money without talking taxes. Fortunately, moving to a senior living community might actually help your tax bill. That’s because residents of some communities may qualify for a substantial tax deduction. Specifically, residents of life care communities or other “entry fee retirement communities,” who may be able to deduct a portion of their entry fee as well as a portion of their monthly service fees—provided those fees qualify as a prepaid health care expense. Whether they do will depend on what type of contract you sign with a community. If you sign a life care contract, for example—which provides for your changing health care needs as you age—you almost certainly qualify for a tax break. If you sign a modified life care contract that provides for some but not all medical needs, you might still qualify for some deductions. And if you sign a fee-for-service contract, your deductions will be minimal.

Will I still be able to leave an inheritance for my loved ones?

If you move to a community that charges an entrance fee, that fee may be refundable up to a certain amount in the event of your death. A refundable entrance fee is typically higher than a non-refundable one, but may provide reassurance for residents who wish to leave something behind for their loved ones.

Life on Your Terms: Priceless

Your wellbeing is an investment worth making.

At first glance, the cost of senior housing can feel overwhelming. Like every investment you’ve ever made, however—your first home when it was time to start a family, the new car you couldn’t wait to drive, the dream vacation you’ll always remember—the price tag on a senior living community tells only part of the story. Just as important as the cost is the benefit. Because you’re not just spending money. You’re getting something in return. And what you’re getting isn’t merely a place to live. It’s health and happiness. It’s independence and autonomy. It’s safety and security. It’s community and comfort. More than anything, though, it’s a future. And isn’t that what you’ve been saving for all along?

When you take a thorough look at the resources you have and the life you’ll be able to live, you might realize that a senior living community is more attractive, attainable and affordable than you imagined.

You’re not just spending money. You’re getting something in return.


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