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Making the Retirement Living Decision - Long Term Retirement Strategy


As you plan for your own long-term retirement strategy, you may be faced with helping an aging family member make decisions about their living arrangements. Or, you may be thinking of community living for yourself.

Making a decision about retirement living arrangements is highly personal, and each individual must work with their family to make the best decisions they can. If it comes time to think about facility living, it’s best to have your research done upfront.

Most modern retirement communities are far better than the stereotypes from movies or the place you saw your great grandparent live.


Retirement community living can be luxurious nowadays. At the least, you can find a community with a standard of living similar to your pre-retirement experience. Amenities and benefits may include social clubs, classes, volunteer opportunities, community events, on-site libraries, on-site entertainment venues, field trips, on-site fitness facilities, walking trails, community gardens, on-site gift shops or grocery stores and more.

Andrea Donovan, owner of Chicago-area company Andrea Donovan Senior Living Advisors, says sometimes it’s the little things that determine whether a retirement community is right – like the food.

“Before the person signs on the dotted line, the food must be sampled. If an individual is spending 10-to-30 percent of their time eating, the food should be good.  Otherwise, bad food could spoil the retirement community experience.”

Getting Started

There are some general categories you can use to frame your thinking as you consider where you, your parent or your grandparent may want to live.

Independent-living communities offer the most autonomy for residents. Many can cook, clean and drive without assistance, so residents live in apartments or condominiums. But independent-living communities offer a level of staff assistance that differentiates them from regular apartment living.

Assisted-living communities offer more care than independent-living communities, but residents maintain some autonomy. Donovan says, “The senior is still somewhat independent but needs help with some of his/her activities of daily living (ADLs), including bathing, dressing, eating, walking, etc. Many of the assisted living communities offer stand-by assistance. For example, a staff member may stand by while a senior takes a shower.”

Skilled nursing and rehabilitation communities offer the most intense level of care for residents. All meals, cleaning and laundry services are usually provided. Residents rarely, if ever, leave the facility. These communities generally have the capacity to care for individuals suffering from severe physical and/or mental deterioration, and there are probably several doctors, nurses, physical therapists and other health professionals on staff. The focus is ongoing medical care.

According to Donovan, an easy solution to the question, ‘what level of care do I require?’ is to choose a community that will age with you or your loved one.

“A community that provides the entire spectrum of care – including independent living, assisted living (which often includes a memory care component) and skilled nursing care – is referred to as a continuing care retirement community (CCRC).  The beauty of a CCRC is that a resident may enter at the independent level or assisted living level, and, if their health declines, they may remain at the community and change levels of care without moving.”

The high living standards in modern retirement communities and the availability of continuing care options are allowing retirees and their loved-ones to consider a community earlier, rather than staying at home until a medical need arises.

Bad Press

News stories have demonstrated that not all retirement communities are created equally. Understaffing and other cost-cutting measures can lead to mistakes and neglect.

Use the tool, Nursing Home Compare to compare communities, read reviews and see violations.

You may also consider requesting a 30-day trial stay at a community, if it’s possible. A trial run can give insight into large problems, including neglect and safety concerns, but it will also help the potential resident to get a feel for the people in a community – staff and other residents.

Making the Call

In the end, your decision will come down to the basics: cost, amenities offered, the level of care provided by staff, the ratio of staff to residents, safety, the ethos you prefer, the activities offered, the meal plan and the level of privacy. And, importantly, did you like the community? The Assisted Living Federation of America offers a comprehensive checklist for people reviewing their options.

Shannon Duncan
Vice President of Marketing & Operations 

photo credit: Mesa Royale 

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About Smart401k

Smart401k is a web-based investment advisory service providing unbiased recommendations to help people invest in employer-sponsored retirement plans. Smart401k provides service to nearly 11,000 clients who collectively have more than $2 billion in assets. Plan participants receive personalized, fund-specific investment recommendations and the support of professional investment advisers available to discuss all investment questions. Based in Overland Park, KS, Smart401k is online at



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