By Guest Blogger, Austin Kilham, author

With spring upon us, parents of high school students across the country are planning visits to colleges. They’re looking for the right community and academic fit for their child. These same parents may be facing an equally important decision with their own aging parents: As they reach their advanced years, which senior living experience will be the right one for them?

Both processes can be overwhelming, but these five tips can help make the search for the best senior living community less stressful and more rewarding for you and your parents.

1. Do some online research.

When searching for an assisted living facility near your or your parents’ home, begin with some online research. Before you even visit, you can find out a lot about a facility’s location. Find out if it’s near hospitals or doctors’ offices, places to shop, and recreation. If far away from friends and family, find out if there are hotels nearby for when you come to visit. You can also check out local crime reports to find out if a neighborhood is safe.

Find out what other people are saying about a facility in online reviews. Are the reviews generally positive?

The Department of Health and Human Services for each state can be a good place to start your search. Or read reviews from other families in the directory of senior living communities at

2. Take a tour.

Once you’ve narrowed your selection down to a few choices, it’s time to take a tour. Going for a visit is the best way to get a feel for a place. Go with your instincts. Does the place feel homey to you? Are there interesting activities and pleasant common spaces where residents can interact with each other? Are residents using them? Check out the dining room. Is it a nice place to gather? Are the staff you meet along the way pleasant and responsive to you and the people living there?

3. Make a surprise visit.

A guided tour is a great way to get a feel for a facility, but remember, it’s also a way for that retirement community to promote itself — they’ll be putting their best foot forward. Dropping in when you’re unexpected is a good way to see if the tour is representative of what life at that community is like. If the atmosphere has changed dramatically, is less pleasant, or the staff won’t let you in, that may be your cue to look elsewhere.

4. Take a test drive.

Sometimes looking isn’t enough. Sit down to a meal with your parents at one of the dining rooms. Not only is it a good way to sample the food but it’s a great way to meet residents, see how they interact, and see whether they’re enjoying the dining experience.

For a better taste, many senior living facilities offer overnight stays. Having your parents stay for a few nights or over the weekend can give them a great sense of residential life.

5. Keep your parents involved.

Choosing the right senior living facility is ultimately about what’s most comfortable for your parents, so make sure to include them in every step of the decision-making process. It can make sense to do some preliminary research and even touring without them — you may have a parent who is no longer very mobile — but ultimately their input is necessary before any final decisions are made. Working through your parents’ desires and concerns will help you decide on a facility that fits them best during their golden years.

Austin Kilham is an author for, the leading online destination for caregivers seeking information and support as they care for aging parents, spouses, and other loved ones. For more insights about choosing senior living, see Assisted Living: 5 Things You Should Never See, and 5 Things You Should.