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I.C.Y.M.I: Five things to look for in a retirement residence tour

Whatever your age and stage in life, it can feel overwhelming to try to find the right new home.
Ask to join for a meal when touring a retirement residence. It provides valuable information in choosing the home that's right for you. Photo Metro Creative Connection

Whether you’ve already been in retirement living or think it’s time for living with supportive services available, it can feel overwhelming to try to find the right new home for you.

People choose a retirement living residence because they want more social connections, are tired or cooking, need support services or just don’t want to live alone anymore. In that regard, retirement living residences can be a great way to maintain independence for longer.

When you tour a residence, not only are you figuring out if you want one bedroom, two bedroom or need a den space, you're also seeking an atmosphere where you feel at home. Here are some tips to feel confident on a tour and help find the residence that is right for you.

Watch resident and staff interactions

In most residences, you’ll get a friendly greeting from staff as you walk through the building--they know you are on a tour! Watch how staff interact with residents: Are they friendly, helpful, supportive, understanding? Do residents seem eager to share a story or a concern with staff? Watching interactions can help get a feel for the staff and resident culture in a building.

Check out the activity calendar

A key feature of any retirement residence is the social activities. It’s important you find activities on the calendar that you would enjoy. Ask for a calendar you can take home, and then highlight potential activities you might attend. You might quickly see from one residence to another, where you’ll have a more active lifestyle.

Join in on a favourite activity

Once you identify activities you might enjoy, ask your tour consultant about attending one of those activities. This way, you can meet some of the residents, see if they feel like people you would enjoy as friends, and check out the calibre of the activity. You’ll quickly know if you can envision yourself in that residence in the future.

Talk to the residents

Whether on tour or when you join an activity, find some residents to talk to. Ask them what they like about their home, and what they dislike (remembering everyone moved in with different priorities for their situation). Asking what they think of the food, the staff and the activities can give insight you might not have considered. Tour consultants can sometimes connect you with a resident who is happy to talk about their experience and transition into the residence. So, ask!

Have a meal

When touring a retirement residence, be sure to ask to come for a meal. You might plan for a lunch tour or come for a supper meal. This is a great opportunity to see the diversity of residents and sample the day-to-day food at the residence. You’ll get to see staff in action and have great people watching vantage points. You can learn a lot about the feel of building by requesting to come for a meal. Not to worry; staff are accustomed to this request.

I’ve seen many people tour retirement living residences with long checklists. They can end up spending more time looking where to add a checkmark, or writing notes and miss observing the flow of staff and residents. Be present, and ask staff to write out details in your package at the end of the tour to ensure you don’t forget prices, amenities, room numbers and such. Fill in your checklist before or after your tour based on website information, so you can be focused on just observing during your tour.

Keeping these things in mind when you next tour a retirement residence for yourself or a loved one will go a long way to helping you find the one that feels like home.

 Jolyn Hall is a 55+ Housing Navigator who teaches seniors to age well at home & manage housing transitions through

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