Small, medium, or large—which Senior Living community is the right fit for your parent? There is no single “correct” answer to that question. While a big sprawling community with upwards of a thousand residents might feel like home to one person, a more intimate setting that houses less than two dozen residents might be best for another. Some would be perfectly content in a 100- to 200-unit community.
“It really depends upon the individual and what the individual’s preferences are,” says Jamison Gosselin, SVP of Marketing, Communications, and Resident Enrichment at Holiday Retirement, a senior living provider headquartered in Lake Oswego, Oregon, with more than 300 communities nationwide.
Personal preferences are often determined by past living experiences. “People who have lived in a more urban environment throughout their lives might like a large community with access to more people and the opportunity to make more friends,” Gosselin says. “If they’ve lived in more rural or suburban areas, and they feel more comfortable in a smaller, more intimate environment, then that’s what’s going to benefit them the most.”
The advantage of Senior Living communities, according to Gosselin, is that residents have the option of socializing as much or as little as they desire. “Regardless of the size of the community, you can always go back to your own private apartment to ‘get away from it all,’” he says.
A Diversity of Options
The Senior Living industry has a diverse range of options—from adult-care homes with perhaps just four bedrooms to large continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) with a full continuum of care encompassing Independent Living, Assisted Living, Memory Care, and Skilled Nursing. The largest CCRC campuses typically have more than 1,000 or 2,000 apartments, plus a full range of amenities and services.
Between these two ends of the spectrum, Gosselin observes, there are additional smaller to mid-sized options. For instance, some properties have approximately 25 to 50 units, which is still relatively small. “They might not have as much staff on hand because they’re not serving as many people, but they still typically offer a variety of services, such as home-cooked meals, some level of activities, and probably some basic transportation,” he says.
There also are moderately-sized Senior Living communities, which is the niche that Holiday serves. Gosselin describes the standard Holiday community as having approximately 120-125 apartments (one- or two-bedroom), with the majority of the property devoted to community living spaces like lounges, a dining room, exercise rooms, and so forth. Most of these communities offer Independent Living, though a smaller portion of the company’s properties offer Assisted Living and/or Memory Care. In some cases, the communities are larger than the standard Holiday model, with approximately 200 to 400 apartments.
For some seniors, a smaller community is better than a large one to serve their specific care needs. This is true particularly for Memory Care residents. “Typically a smaller community is best because people with memory loss need a more intimate environment to feel more comfortable,” Gosselin says.
Cost is another factor that families typically consider when making a decision about what size and type of community is best for their parent(s). For example, many of the large CCRCs have swimming pools, golf courses, and several dining rooms from which to choose. “You can have all those things, but you’re going to have to pay for it,” Gosselin says. A mid-sized community will not have as many amenities, but the price will be mid-tiered accordingly.
Gosselin recommends adult children have a conversation with their parents about their senior living preferences—and do so sooner rather than later. “They need to have the conversation early on to understand and explore: (1) what their parent would prefer, and (2) what are the options available to them,” he explains. “A lot of families wait until an emergency happens, and they haven’t had the opportunity to uncover what the senior wants in term of a living environment. The senior may not want to live in a larger environment or a smaller environment, but they’re forced into a situation because the family has to move so quickly.”
By starting their search earlier, families will have enough time to explore various possibilities by taking a tour or even arranging for an overnight visit. “A lot of properties today offer weekend or short-term stays, so try them out,” Gosselin says. “Try the larger properties and the smaller properties. Which one does your mother or your father feel more comfortable within?”
Whether the community is large or small, a move into Senior Living provides the opportunity for residents to engage in social interaction. “The need for socialization is critical, which is why a lot of seniors end up moving into a community environment—because they’re isolated at home,” Gosselin observes. “The adult child may look at the situation and say, ‘I’m concerned about Mom’s safety, but I’m also concerned about the fact that she isn’t seeing her friends anymore, she isn’t getting out anymore, she isn’t interacting with people anymore.’”
In a Senior Living community—small, medium, or large—the opportunities for interaction put these concerns to rest. “Whether you’re going to be living in a community with 20 other people, 40 other people, or hundreds of people, you’ll be making friends and choosing the activities that interest you the most, and that’s where I think the biggest benefits lie,” Gosselin concludes.
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