Choosing a retirement or care facility is rarely a decision that is made by a single person, but more often a collaborative process that includes family members and even friends who have been down the same road.

The challenge for everyone involved is that the decision could determine where the person will spend the rest of his or her life. With that in mind, there are several things to consider. So don't skimp on the research. It is an important process and it should not be rushed. With so many options, the choice should be based on the needs of the client, but also the family.

Each person's situation is different. But there is solid evidence that if it becomes apparent that an older adult either wants or needs to move into some kind of venue, the research should be started sooner rather than later. Sad stories abound about families who have been forced to make a quick decision about taking a loved one from their home and moving him or her to a facility. It can cause resentment on both sides during a critical period in the older adult's life.

There are several types of facilities to choose from:

Assisted Living "” A senior living option for those who are in need of some assistance, yet aim to live as independently as possible.

Independent Living "” An arrangement designed exclusively for seniors. Housing varies widely, from apartments to free-standing homes. In general, the housing is friendlier to older adults, often being more compact, with easier navigation and assistance in yard maintenance for example.

Congregate Housing "” A living arrangement for healthy adults where residents live in their own apartments and can take their meals in a common dining room, with opportunities for socializing with other residents. Housekeeping and maintenance services are provided, but health maintenance services are scheduled independently by the residents.

Part of your research should include visits to several facilities and taking notes at each stop.

Questions to ponder

  • Does your personality match the environment?
  • Is the living area spacious enough?
  • What activities are offered?
  • What are the costs?
  • And finally, will you feel at home?

"This is hard to figure out from a short visit," says Janet Murphy, administrator at St. Margaret Hall in O'Bryonville.

Murphy says one characteristic stand out among all others. "When you are searching for a nursing home, what matters most is that the direct caregiver is competent and compassionate."

She offers more items to check.

Do caregivers engage with residents and their families?

Are they polite and genuinely considerate?

Is there a doctor or nurse stationed at all times or on-call?

How are routine medical emergencies handled?

Is the facility clean and sanitary, and what is the aroma like?

It's good to check the food service, especially in terms of nutrition, and a nicely landscaped facility might be pleasing to the eye, but how important is it to you?

"Curb appeal is a nice to have' but nowhere near as important as what's inside the building: the people who live there already, their staff, the community ambience, and the quality of their services, food, and amenities," says Ken Paley, vice president of marketing for Episcopal Retirement Homes.

Activities are high on the list of priorities as well. There should be an array of choices for leisure time. Does the facility offer more than just bingo?

"Residents at St. Margaret Hall enjoy access to a wide range of activities," Murphy says.

Those include Nintendo Wii bowling, yoga and body recall, lectures by speakers from area universities, art and cooking therapy, musical presentations and trips to parks.

"At a community like Deupree House or Marjorie P. Lee, residents feel they live in a combination resort hotel, college, and summer camp," says Paley. "Everything from trips to the symphony or jazz club, to interesting seminars, to bridge clubs, cocktail parties, bible studies, or a variety of volunteer activities are all on the activities calendar on a regular basis."

Last but not least is cost. Whatever facility you choose, keep in mind it will be costly. The all-inclusive rate for an assisted living studio apartment can run approximately $4,500 to $7,200 per month. The rate typically includes three meals per day, medication administration or set-up, 24-hour nurse availability, assistance with bathing and dressing, housekeeping, maintenance services, and social and recreational programs.

The final question: "Is this where I will enjoy spending the rest of my life?"