Guide to Retirement Living and Senior Living

Retirement and senior living communities are vibrant, active places that provide a fulfilling lifestyle in a welcoming, attentive atmosphere tailored to their residents’ needs

As parents, loved ones and partners begin to age, it becomes increasingly important to have a plan in place to provide for their medical, social and cultural needs. The time to investigate your options is now.

We spoke with a number of senior living executives from around the state to learn more about how to approach the topic, what to look for, what to expect and how best to prepare.
Our experts:


When should I begin researching retirement communities, and what are your best tips for when I begin the process? 

Paul Charlton, Taylor Community: “Nobody has ever said they started the process too early, but far too many came to realize they waited too long. Enter the community when you are younger and in good health so you can really take advantage of all the community has to offer. Be thorough in gathering detailed information but don’t base your decision on facts alone. Getting a feel for the community by visiting and talking to residents and staff is most important in finding the community that’s just right for you. “

Karen Rathbun, Hillside Village, Keene: “Hillside Village is an exciting option for seniors aged 62 and better, though we often meet with individuals even younger who want to be informed about what options are available to them as they look to the future. Moving is never an easy process, but it only gets more difficult with time. Those who are able and in good health can handle the transition better and usually embrace this new chapter in life.”

What are most people surprised to learn when they first relocate to a retirement community?

Joanne Rizzo, Bedford Falls: “In our case, they are surprised at how much there is to do and how friendly everyone is. Many of our residents become far more active and social than they were living on their own. By removing the burden of cooking, cleaning and other daily chores, and providing opportunities to help individuals grow and thrive, our residents are able to pursue what they are passionate about and continue learning and growing in their next chapter of life.”

Maria Byrne, The Baldwin: “How much time and energy is freed up when you’re no longer responsible for home and yard maintenance — time that can now be spent on projects/volunteering/passions that you enjoy. As well as the importance of knowing that you’ve made a decision that gives you and your children peace of mind and security for the future.”

What is your No. 1 tip about the moving process?

Lynda Brislin, Windham Terrace: “Seniors are sometimes under the impression that all communities are the same and that they offer the same levels of care, the same standards or the same accommodations. This is most definitely untrue. They’re sometimes afraid that they will lose their freedom or independence and that remaining in their home is the best place to live as you age. In actuality, it is the environment that provides safety, more freedom and convenience, along with more care and certainly less stress or worry than perhaps staying alone in your home can provide. Another misconception is that you will lose connections with family or friends. The reality is that families and friends visit more frequently, and those visits are more enjoyable as they’re not providing care that was needed before moving into a community.”


What cultural opportunities exist in your retirement community?

Cathleen Toomey, The RiverWoods Group: “Within our communities, the opportunities are endless. At RiverWoods Exeter, we have more than 60 committees run by residents that cover topics from political action and continuing education and lectures to our multiple resident musical and art groups. At Birch Hill, we offer painting courses, a wide variety of fitness classes, volunteer outreach into the community, trips to the nearby Palace Theatre, and nature walks through the 600-acre nature conservancy across the road from campus. All our communities offer raised garden beds, woodshops, art rooms and dynamic fitness programs.”

Paul Charlton, Taylor Community: “It would be easier to list the opportunities that don’t exist! Many continue enjoying things they enjoyed before moving from their private home. Others might pick something up they haven’t done in years, such as playing pool or bridge, gardening or going to the movies. Others try things for the first time and make them a regular part of their lives. I can’t tell you what a kick I and my siblings got from an email sent from my mother, who is a Taylor resident. She participated in a drumming circle, had a great time and it’s now part of her weekly routine.”

Joanne Rizzo, Bedford Falls: “Every day, we offer a full activities calendar consisting of on- and off-site events ranging from cultural activities to those focused on history, the arts and more. Our programming associates get to know each and every resident and what they are passionate about and our programs are designed with those interests in mind. For example, we recently went to see “A Chorus Line” at The Palace Theatre and toured special exhibits at the Currier Museum of Art. We also offer a number of clubs and regular activities that many in our community partake of, including our group of honorary Grammies who enjoy monthly trips to a Manchester preschool to play, color and read to the kids. Whether it’s for the Kentucky Derby, National “Star Wars” Day or a major holiday, our residents and associates love to laugh, eat, drink and have a good time — we never miss out on a chance to celebrate. There really is something for everyone.”

What concerns do new residents have?

Joanne Rizzo, Bedford Falls: “We find there is still somewhat of a stigma associated with retirement living. Many people think moving into a retirement or assisted living community means that life slows down or stops. They are also concerned about giving up their independence, making new friends, the stress of downsizing or change in general. Change is never easy, but is generally temporary until they create friendships, build trust and determine their place in the community. Having familiar friends and family around throughout the process can also help to ease the transition. Our team is skilled in making the transition as easy as possible for both the resident and their loved ones by determining what makes them tick and developing the relationships needed to build trust. We also act as friendship connectors, connecting our residents and associates over shared interests.”

John Parolin, Silverstone Living: “Understandably, folks who are contemplating a move to a community have worries. How am I ever going to get through the process of downsizing? Many of our current residents work with companies that specialize in making the downsizing experience less daunting. Commonly, we hear that it really wasn’t so bad and, in fact, the process was cathartic.

The second most frequent question we hear is how life will change. In fact, from the vast majority of new residents, we hear that life has indeed changed — and for the better. We don’t often hear that people miss the yardwork or home maintenance that we now take care of. A common realization is that new residents waited too long to make the decision to move in and begin to enjoy their wonderful new home and new friends.”

Maria Byrne, The Baldwin: “Residents liken it to choosing a college and moving onto campus — will I meet nice people, what activities or clubs should I join, will I still have the freedom to do the things I enjoy? One of the advantages of being a first-generation resident of a new community is that you’re all in it together. It’s a great way to meet new lifelong friends.”

What different types of living options will I be able to choose from? 

Joanne Rizzo, Bedford Falls: “There are five main types of senior living — independent living, assisted living, memory care, skilled nursing and continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs), which generally have all four levels of care on one campus offered under a buy-in type model that requires the resident and/or family to pay an entry fee in addition to a monthly fee. In exchange, they receive access to a wide array of services and care as they age. Some communities, like ours, might not be a full-fledged CCRC, but will offer several different levels of care on one campus under a strictly private pay monthly rental model. Independent living communities are generally for those over 55 and offer no supportive services. Assisted living and memory care communities are focused on helping its residents with activities of daily living so they can maximize their independence. In New Hampshire, those that are licensed as a Supportive Residential Care Home are also able to provide a wide range of supportive care services on-site 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, either by the staff of the community or in partnership with an outside agency. Skilled nursing facilities offer the highest level of care and are generally paid for by Medicare or Medicaid. Before starting your research, it’s prudent to consider someone’s age, their finances and the type of care they need.”

Shannon Lynch, Summit by Morrison: “By providing independent living cottages and apartments, assisted living apartments and a memory care community as well as a skilled nursing care facility, we offer a full continuum of care. Residents can even bring in a home health agency or hospice if they wish to stay in independent living as long as possible. And, as part of the Morrison Communities, The Morrison Skilled Nursing Facility offers both skilled and long-term care options, as well as inpatient and outpatient physical rehabilitation.”

How would you describe the lifestyle at your community?

Judy Franseen, Hillside Village Keene: “Vibrant, engaging, fun are the first three words that come to my mind. However, someone else may have a completely different top three, like relaxing, carefree and secure. It really is all about life on the resident’s terms. They can customize their experience depending on what is most important to them, becoming as engaged and involved or as laid-back and relaxed as they wish to be. From classes, concerts, group outings and volunteer opportunities to enjoying the pool, the library, the greenhouse, hiking and biking and more, there are offerings for a wide range of interests.”

What new amenities have been added to your community recently?

Cathleen Toomey, The RiverWoods Group: “At Birch Hill, we have renovated our entire campus in the last three years, and added a large multipurpose space for lectures and events, as well as a large, bright fitness center, which is staffed by a brand new fitness program director. We are in the process of adding a new nature trail, more raised garden beds, and bike and kayak storage. Within RiverWoods Exeter, we have started a bike share program for residents and staff, so they can bike from campus to campus. We recently won an award at RiverWoods Exeter for our all organic landscaping program. RiverWoods Durham opens in December of 2019, so it will all be new.”

John Parolin, Silverstone Living: “Hunt Community recently completed renovations and additions to our community spaces. The work included the addition of a new and open welcome area, a coffee bar for guests and residents, our Great Room space, a state-of-the-art 54-seat theater, updated fitness center where classes are held daily, a resident library, craft center and a billiard room. Outdoor amenities now include a year-round fire pit, rooftop dining and beautiful water features in our courtyard. Scheduled for completion before the end of the year is an outdoor putting green and new resident garden areas. Hunt Community’s downtown Nashua location offers residents close proximity to the many cultural, retail and dining offerings Nashua’s downtown has to offer.

At The Huntington at Nashua, we are excited to complete the renovation and improvements to our bistro casual dining area. The design of this project is a result of collaboration among residents, architects and staff. Landscape improvements are in process as well. Residents continue to enjoy our indoor pool and the many fitness options offered. Our theater, woodworking shop, and billiards room are very popular. Our beautifully appointed library is a special place to reflect, read, study and learn. The Huntington is positioned beautifully on a 55-acre rolling setting in south Nashua convenient to the Everett Turnpike/Route 3. Additionally, our location is minutes to the Pheasant Lane Mall, other shopping and many fine restaurants.”

Joanne Rizzo, Bedford Falls: “Bedford Falls is a very active community focused on keeping our residents and their family members connected to the people, places and things that matter most in their lives, and we play a vital role in the Bedford area. We are very much an integral part of the greater Bedford and Manchester communities. Being of service to community groups and individuals is something our associates, residents and their family members are very passionate about. Whether it’s raising funds for the American Heart Association or making and donating goods to New Horizons, our residents delight in having purpose and serving others. From the moment people walk in the door, they are constantly surprised by how vibrant and hotel-like our community is with upscale furnishings, gourmet dining and the other fine amenities they are accustomed to.”

Maria Byrne, The Baldwin: “The entire vision of The Baldwin makes it unique — its location in the heart of Londonderry and proximity to a new live-work-play community will provide more opportunities for an active lifestyle than most continuing care communities. Plus, as a community that is expanding the mission of Edgewood Retirement Community in North Andover, Massachusetts, a CCRC successfully serving families for over 20 years, The Baldwin residents will have a chance to help shape the community and be a part of something brand new.”

What if I want to bring my pet with me when I relocate to a retirement community?

John Parolin, Silverstone Living: “Let’s not forget our four-legged friends. Both communities (Hunt Community and The Huntington Nashua) are pet friendly.”

Joanne Rizzo, Bedford Falls: “Each individual community has its own rules regarding pets. However, generally speaking, small pets of most types are allowed. At Bedford Falls, we welcome small dogs, cats and other furry friends with open arms and they are a fun part of our community that help to support healthy, active aging.”

What should people know about the opportunities Hillside Village at Keene offers to people looking to stay active as they approach retirement?

Karen Rathbun, Hillside Village, Keene: “I often talk to people who have an antiquated concept of retirement living. They think they should wait until there is a concern or a health crisis to consider making a change. While we do have high quality private long-term health care through assisted living, memory support and nursing care on-site to provide peace of mind and security for residents, the exact opposite is actually true. A Life Plan Community like Hillside Village Keene is focused on independent living to maximize the resident’s retirement years. In fact, individuals in Life Plan Communities tend to enjoy their independence longer than those who stay in their homes due to the following:

Services and amenities: One of many benefits of living in at Hillside Village is having easy access to an array of services, amenities and activities. Many of these perks take place within the community, but communities like ours are increasingly providing ways for residents to stay involved in the broader community through service projects, adult education classes and more. Moving earlier allows residents to more fully enjoy and benefit from socializing and staying involved.

Wellness programs: Hillside Village Keene will strive to help residents stay healthy and live independently as long as possible. Health and wellness programs include access to a qualified fitness professional, aquatic and fitness center, fitness and yoga classes, just to name a few.

Friendships: Residents often say that one of the best things about the community in which they live is the friendships they form with other residents. These meaningful relationships can be particularly helpful as part of a support network. There are also many emotional benefits to having a group of friends that share common interests.”


How do you recruit and retain top health care staff?

Cathleen Toomey, The RiverWoods Group: “Attracting and retaining talented health care staff is one of the biggest goals of Birch Hill, RiverWoods Exeter and RiverWoods Durham. We are a high-touch service community, and ensuring we have the right people on board to care for our residents is essential. Health care staff enjoy our environment because we have a high staff-to-resident ratio, which means they have the time to care for residents thoroughly, and they know the people they are caring for. Also, because we are a strong interconnected family of CCRCs, we share opportunities for growth within all three organizations in Exeter, Durham and Birch Hill in Manchester.”

Paul Charlton, Taylor Community: “Taylor is doing what just about all communities are doing, i.e. Facebook and other social media. We have an active presence on other online forums, and 75 percent of all applicants come from We have hosted
successful onsite job fairs, and we present to all surrounding job fairs hosted by colleges and New Hampshire Employment Security.

Recruitment efforts like these are important, but a better strategy may be to focus on retention. We want to be that place where people want to work. Call it the ‘employer of choice.’ We have high staff retention because of competitive wages, superior benefits, a culture of inclusiveness and teamwork and an environment of friendliness and fun.”

Shannon Lynch, Summit by Morrison: “Being proud of the company they work for is important to employees, and we have established a reputation as a high quality, compassionate provider of senior living options with choices in care. We also strive to promote from within the organization so employees know they have a chance to grow with us.

Education is also crucial, and we are committed to providing ongoing education for all employees. An example we are particularly proud of is that we train every one of our staff members in the Alzheimer’s Association’s Habilitation Training. This training provides our entire staff with the tools to effectively relate to and communicate with our residents with dementia maximizing our residents’ overall positive experience and quality of life. We also assist our nursing staff in pursuing additional education through the assistance of our nursing scholarships within our `grow our own’ program.”

Joanne Rizzo, Bedford Falls: “Associate recruitment and retention is our number one priority as we have a values-based culture. It’s our associates who are on the front lines keeping our residents and families connected to what’s meaningful and possible at every stage of their lives, so we feel it’s important to take good care of those who take care of others. We look for individuals who are ‘called to care,’ as well as those who have empathy, compassion and are good listeners. When our associates are fulfilled, they stay longer; and when they feel empowered, they can be fully present to care for our residents, families and one another. As such, over the last couple of years, we have made a number of changes to help us recruit and retain our associates, including revamping our mission, vision and values, increased and refocused staff training and ensuring all of our associates are heard, respected and appreciated every single day. We also offer a number of benefits that help to ensure the health and wellness of our associates, including a One Company Fund, which is a grant program that is available for associates in times of financial setback and ample training opportunities to help our associates grow in their careers.”

Lynda Brislin, Windham Terrace: “Make certain from the start to hire selectively. Also:

Offer adequate pay-salary-benefits — must be competitive.


Offer praise and recognition to let employees know their worth. Rewarding for attitude not just skillset. It’s not always about the money.

Make new employees feel welcomed by all.

Be the manager that communicates effectively, be a leader not a boss!

Seek staff input and suggestions.

Provide employee opportunities to develop their careers.

Most importantly and simply — know your employees.


What is something unique about your memory care approach?

Lynda Brislin, Windham Terrace: “Millstone Inn is a smaller, personal wing — within the same overall community — separated by a keypad code that prevents wandering of those who may have this symptom as part of their dementia. It is a specially designed, lovely and secure unit with an outdoor enclosed courtyard as well as a large, bright three season sunroom. The goal of our Millstone Inn is twofold — to provide a sense of security and belonging through specially trained staff, within surroundings which look and feel like home; and to add quality-of-life through a daily routine which incorporates music, laughter, smiles and exercise along with conversation, creativity and reflection.”

What can I expect if I need memory care?

Mary Bates, Summit by Morrison: “At the heart of the Summit by Morrison Memory Care Community is a commitment to resident-centered care. We have created a safe and nurturing environment that provides stimulation whether it’s sing-a-longs, bird watching or a variety of brain games, while our staff regularly assesses your cognitive, physical and functional skills. Our private studio apartments are outfitted with their own bathrooms, and our residents enjoy made-to-order breakfast, lunch and dinner in our specially designed dining room. Our staff and medical providers collaborate with families to establish clear goals for residents while maintaining constant and clear communication. Each person is cared for with compassion and respect, providing a sense of dignity and a positive environment for all.”

Maria Byrne, The Baldwin: “The Baldwin will offer assisted living and memory care on campus. As a resident of The Baldwin, you will be encouraged to be the architect of your own future when it comes to our continuing care support. Our professional health care team will partner with you, your family and your medical advisors to assist you in making the right decision for you.”

How can I make the transition to a memory care facility easier for a loved one?

Mary Bates, Summit by Morrison: “The transition to a memory care facility is a process. At Summit we will help you through that process from start to finish. We encourage families to come and spend time with us before making a decision. Tour our facility and meet our staff, enjoy a meal or an activity and interact with other residents and families. We also encourage participation in our Community Dementia Education sessions to gain information about dementia and to learn about innovative care strategies to maximize your loved one’s quality of life and adjustment to our Memory Care Community. We strive to support each resident and family in ways that best fit their needs, including individual and group support.”

Maria Byrne, The Baldwin: “One of the intangible amenities you’ll find at The Baldwin is advocacy and a high level of support for those times when transitions are necessary. Being part of a community means that appropriate care is provided where you need it, when you need it, by people you already know. As a mission driven continuing care community, The Baldwin is committed to helping you live the best life possible.”

Are there different types/levels of care for residents who live with dementia?

Mary Bates, Summit by Morrison: “At Summit, our Memory Care Community is designed from the perspective of the person living with dementia. Each apartment is private, accommodating only one resident with access to a full bathroom, including a shower. A central home-like open living area with fireplace, dining and kitchen area provides easy to navigate comfort for socializing, group activities or just sitting quietly. We also have a wonderful private spa tub available for residents who prefer a bath instead of a shower or just to enjoy some relaxing moments.

Our Memory Care Community provides secure spaces, both indoors and outdoors, along with supervision and safety checks. Three meals a day are provided, including made-to-order breakfast. Lunch and dinner are prepared in our main kitchen and are served family style. Snacks are available anytime. Our open living area is complimented by a den for relaxing or visiting with family. Specialized social, cultural, and health and wellness programs are offered each day. Supervised off-campus field trips and activities are also available.

Our entire staff at Summit is trained in ‘Habilitation Therapy,’ the gold standard in dementia care sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association. Training is provided for all members of our Summit team, including maintenance, reception, managers, residential aides, activities and volunteers providing everyone who comes in contact with our residents the tools needed to ensure a positive experience for our residents. Our philosophy is to maximize positive quality of life each day for everyone, especially our residents. At Summit, we focus on abilities and strengths as opposed to challenges or limitations.”


For whom would a CCRC/life plan community be the right choice? 

Cathleen Toomey, The RiverWoods Group: “A continuing care retirement community is a great choice for adults who want to live an active, vibrant life, without worrying about the cost of future longterm health care needs. By joining a CCRC, you have remained in control of the decisions about your future care, which is a gift to your children. It allows you more free time to explore the things you are interested in, along with people who share those same interests.”

Joanne Rizzo, Bedford Falls: “The ideal candidate for a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) is someone who is on the younger side and does not currently need a high level of care. Most CCRCs operate on a buy-in model that requires the resident and/or family to pay an entry fee and, in exchange, they receive access to an array of services, amenities and activities within the community as they age and need an increased level of care. By investing in one’s future, a CCRC can provide peace-of-mind. As you need additional care over time you won’t have to move to receive it. Those who are younger and in relatively good health who don’t yet need assisted living, skilled nursing or rehab generally reap the most financial benefits from investing in a CCRC type living situation.”

Paul Charlton, Taylor Community: “Of course as a marketer my short answer would be everyone. It’s interesting to note that I’ve spoken with people who wanted to move here because they don’t have any children — they wanted everything to be in place for the rest of their lives because they didn’t have family to take care of them. And I’ve heard from others that they were motivated because they do have adult children and they didn’t want to burden them — they wanted to be proactive moving to a CCRC. While moving to a CCRC can be a great option for many, I think those most inclined to make such a move are people who have family members or friends who lived in a community because they more fully understand the many benefits they offer.”

What are some of the most notable changes to retirement living or life plan communities?

Shannon Lynch, Summit by Morrison: “Seniors want to age in place in the communities where they have lived most of their lives. They want to know that what they can expect throughout that new journey will enrich their lives, from the levels of care to the services and amenities provided. They demand options and they want convenience. Summit by Morrison created an opportunity for those local to northern New Hampshire to stay in the area they love while receiving all the benefits of a senior living community.”

Are there any new contract offerings?

Cathleen Toomey, The RiverWoods Group: “This past April, Birch Hill introduced a brand new contract that is the first of its kind in New England. Many CCRCs offer a refundable entrance fee, which means that a portion of your one-time entrance fee is refundable to your estate when you pass away, and after your unit is resold. The new 70 percent refundable Birch Hill contract offers something truly different — you are able to use your refundable entrance fee to offset your health care costs, while you are in the community. This provides residents greater predictability of costs, and the ability to use their assets during their lifetime. Additionally, with this contract, the monthly services fees are reduced.”


Categories: Seniors