What Matters Most in Senior Living?

What Matters Most in Senior Living?There are many factors that help families determine whether their aging parent will be happy in a senior living community—the atmosphere, the dining experience, the activities, and the location. But there is one factor that exceeds all others in how your loved one will respond to the senior living experience—and that is the presence of a friendly, helpful, knowledgeable, and caring staff.

To determine what matters most in choosing the right senior living community, we analyzed more than 100 reviews at SeniorAdvisor.com, which gives families the opportunity to write reviews of senior living accommodations (assisted living, memory care, nursing homes, independent living, in-home care, senior apartments, and senior group homes) and rank them on a one- to five-star scale. Those that receive the highest rankings (four or five stars) earn praise from reviewers on multiple attributes. However, the most commonly cited attribute for a positive review is the quality of the staff, mentioned as much in reviews as the next two attributes (the physical surroundings and the food) combined.

In some cases, the reviews came from families touring senior living communities rather than living there. Their perceptions from the tour were enough to determine whether their loved one would make a decision to live there or elsewhere.

In descending order, here are the attributes that are most important to seniors and their families when assessing a senior living community, based on our assessment of reviews at SeniorAdvisor.com:

Quality of Staff

Good reviews were associated with staff who were friendly, caring, compassionate, patient, helpful, professional, respectful, and “like family.” Families gave positive reviews to staff who communicate well and interact effectively with residents. For instance, a typical five-star review would enthuse: “The staff really shows they care about all the residents” or “The staff knew (my mother-in-law’s) name as well as mine and my husband’s.”

Conversely, a staff that is perceived as uncaring, rude, non-communicative, or not doing a good job of interacting with residents was enough to knock a review down to one or two stars. In cases of touring a community, a less-than-attentive staff was detrimental to family members’ opinions, as this comment suggests: “The lady who gave us the tour was not very friendly…She didn’t seem interested in our needs at all.”

Physical Surroundings

Communities that provided a nice atmosphere for their residents also received good reviews. Those communities with the highest ratings earned good marks for their décor, building design, and home-like atmosphere. Cleanliness and good maintenance were also big factors in families’ impression of a community. In some cases, the size of the community was important, with some families observing that the community was “too big” and that their parent might “get lost in the shuffle.” Some smaller communities gained high marks for being the “right size” and exuding a home-like atmosphere, though sometimes these communities received lower marks for not having enough for their parents to do.

Dining Experience

The way to the heart of a senior living resident is often through their stomachs, with many reviewers  praising the dining experience as a reason for a positive review. When the food was deemed as just “okay” or less than desirable, the reviews were a less effusive. Positive reviews touted the food as nutritious and tasty, and also lauded the atmosphere of the dining room as providing a “delightful experience.”


Activities were cited less frequently than the other factors described above. However, reviews were less enthusiastic if there were not many things to do in a community. Reviewers who commented about the activities liked the impact that keeping busy had on their loved ones. They observed that having such activities as bingo, card-playing, and trivia games allowed their loved one to interact and socialize with other residents. This seemed to have an impact on the mood of those living in the communities. As one reviewer noted, “She is happy and doing something every time I come to see her.”

Price and Location

Price and location were typically were cited in reviews as reasons for not moving into a community. Those two factors could be a deal-breaker even if the reviewer loved everything else about the community they toured. In some cases, reviewers cited a “reasonable price” as a reason for moving in. Presumably, those who were considering a specific community for their loved one were already satisfied with the location prior to putting it on their list to visit.

SeniorAdvisor.com has more than 100,000 senior living reviews for communities nationwide, with more than 95 percent of the reviews verified by SeniorAdvisor.com staff as authentic firsthand accounts. In most cases, it is not one factor alone but multiple factors that lead to the best ratings.

Interested in reading reviews for senior living communities in your area? Visit SeniorAdvisor.com and enter your city or zip code to start accessing information and reviews that will help you make your decision about which senior living community is the best for your loved one.

CHIME IN: What factors are important to you and your loved one in a senior living community?

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