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So you’ve made the decision to move into a senior living community – congratulations! You’re taking the first step towards a wonderful new chapter of life. But before you can start living that new chapter, you need to make another important decision: choosing the right senior living community for you.

“There are so many options for senior living these days that the selection can seem overwhelming, especially when you first start looking,” says Marcos Gonzalez, Director of Sales for East Ridge at Cutler Bay, Miami-Dade County’s only true Life Plan Community. “But on the plus side, it means that you can choose a community that works perfectly for your needs, goals and passions. The trick is to know what sort of lifestyle will make you happiest and to research that along with the basics like care levels and pricing.”

Marcos says that it’s easy to find a community that meets your basic health and living needs, but determining whether a lifestyle is right for you requires a little more work. “Think of it like buying a new home,” he explains. “Your basic needs are table stakes – for example, in a house, you needed at least three bedrooms and two bathrooms. You wouldn’t look at any homes that didn’t meet your specific needs. The wants, however, are the extras that can transform a home – or a community – from good to great to the perfect choice.”

Touring a senior living community is one of the best ways to determine whether the lifestyle is right for you … or not. Once you’ve narrowed down your list and scheduled tours, here are eight essential questions to ask when visiting senior living communities.

What’s the current availability?

This may not seem like an essential question at first, but it can make or break your decision to move into one community over another. Many senior living communities have different living options for you to choose from. If you have a specific floor plan that you want, and it’s available, you may want to move swiftly in order to secure your spot. But it’s possible that the community may be at full capacity and you’ll have to go on a waiting list. In that case, you’ll want to find out how long you may have to wait – and decide if you’re willing to wait that long in order to start your new life.

What’s included in the monthly fee?

Senior living communities work like apartment rentals – residents pay a monthly fee, which then assures them of various services and amenities. While many communities take an all-inclusive approach, the services and benefits they provide can vary. There may also be additional charges for services that you deem necessary for your comfort. Be sure as you’re touring to ask what the community includes in their monthly fee. Do prices go up if you require additional care in the future? Does the fee provide all-inclusive service or is it more of a pay-as-you-go situation? Understanding the true cost of living will help you better compare communities when it’s time to make a decision. For example, at a Life Plan Community, your costs don’t go up if you require higher levels of care – saving you worry and money in the long run.

What types of events and activities take place?

Besides being a place to live, a senior living community is a place for seniors to make friends, stay active and pursue their passions. To that end, you want to make sure that whatever community you choose has activities, events and opportunities that interest you. A good senior living community will have a full calendar of events with different clubs, gatherings, activities and classes. Ask the community if you can see a monthly calendar of events, which should give you a good idea of what sort of things you could expect if you lived there.

What sort of transportation is available?

You may want to continue to drive your car, but doing so isn’t always safe or comfortable as you get older. Many senior living communities offer transportation options for residents. Ask about transportation options, as well as parking options for your own personal vehicle. For many people, owning a vehicle is a sign of freedom, and in your early senior years, you may want to have the freedom to do as you please and travel as you wish.

What levels of care are provided?

Obviously, you want to move to a community that has the levels of care you’re looking for beyond independent living. Some communities offer independent living and assisted living, but not memory support. Others, particularly Life Plan Communities, have the full spectrum of options, including skilled nursing (short- and long-term) and rehabilitation services. Beyond the levels of care, you’ll want to find out what is available on site and what might require you to move or relocate somewhere else. Does the community have an on-site wellness center? Is medication management provided if needed? Can residents get medical care simply and easily if they need more complex assistance? It’s not uncommon for communities to have visiting doctors and specialists who come by regularly so that residents can get all the checkups and services they need without having to leave home.

What’s the food like?

Mealtimes are very important, not just because we all need to eat – but because the majority of us want our meals to be social, lively and enjoyable events. Different communities structure meals in different ways, which may be anytime dining, three set meals a day or a combination thereof. While you may not wish to eat at the community for every meal, it’s always good to have that option, and you’ll want to be sure that what’s prepared is up to snuff. What sort of dining options are there – formal, casual, takeaway, etc.? How often does the menu change? Will the chef accept special requests and adjust meals for dietary preferences? It’s a good idea to have lunch or dinner at the community you’re touring, just so you can get an idea of what the food tastes like for yourself.

What sort of care planning is provided?

Care planning involves more than just having certain levels of care available. It also involves a personalized plan that’s created in tandem with medical professionals, family members, staff members, caregivers and yourself. Again, you may not need this right now, but what about down the road? It’s a good idea to find out what partnerships the community has with area health care providers, as well as their procedures for medical emergencies. A Life Plan Community like East Ridge at Cutler Bay has partnerships with the best medical providers in the area and provide spectacular care for residents, no matter what they require.

What are the contract details?

Finally, be sure to look at what a senior living community’s contract entails. Some communities are rental communities, which means you can pay month-by-month and can move at any time if you wish. Life Plan Communities work differently – you pay an entrance fee upon admission to the community, which guarantees care for life at predictable costs, no matter what level of care you’re in. In other words, Life Plan Communities provide you a home for life, no matter what. Before you make a final decision and sign any sort of contract, be sure that you understand completely what you’re agreeing to and that you don’t see any red flags. Hopefully, your new community will be a happy home for many years, so you want to make sure the relationship gets started off on the right foot.

About East Ridge at Cutler Bay

East Ridge at Cutler Bay is Miami-Dade County’s only true Life Plan Community. The nonprofit community draws from the neighborhood charm of suburban Cutler Bay and the vibrancy of Miami in a lush tropical setting of 76 acres, located at 19301 SW 87th Avenue. The community offers a continuum of care, including independent living, assisted living and memory support residences in a neighborhood setting; respite care, skilled nursing and rehabilitation are available within Three Palms Health Center.

For more information or to schedule a tour, please call 305-290-2346.