How to find the right community


Have more questions and don't know where to turn?

Join our community and get access to monthly support calls, an online chat forum for questions, and even monthly 1:1 calls with Rachael! CLICK HERE for more information.

Are you enjoying my blog posts? Grab a free download of one chapter from my audiobook here and also receive any future helpful tips and posts right to your inbox!

I’m often asked, “When should you move someone to a care community?” My simplest answer is this: if you’ve been thinking about it, it’s probably been time.

What I find is that many caregivers consider the idea of transitioning a loved one into a dementia care community, do some preliminary research, feel anxious and overwhelmed by the simultaneous wealth and lack of information, and put the idea aside for a later date.

I can’t blame anyone for doing this. A quick Google search for senior living, especially with little previous knowledge of the field, would throw me for a loop. There’s so much information out there, and yet, none of it feels really relevant or useful when it comes to choosing the right community. You’re inundated with advisors like A Place For Mom, but it quickly becomes clear that they don’t have expertise in dementia care. I myself actually used A Place For Mom once when I was working at a dementia care community: we had a resident who I needed to find emergency placement for, so I called everywhere I could find. A Place For Mom seemed confused by my call, didn’t help at all, and then called me 6 months later to “follow up” about my “loved one.”


Enter: Retirement Atlas. (see I met Jennie and her team through my connections in Pittsburgh’s senior healthcare space and I was immediately impressed and excited about what they have been working on: a database of senior living options in Pennsylvania—perfect for families searching for a new home for an aging loved one.

From the Retirement Atlas website

Retirement Atlas is currently available for those looking for senior housing in Pennsylvania, but they plan to expand to the rest of the country. In PA alone, however, their database includes over 200 Continuing Care Communities, more than 1,000 Personal Care Homes and Assisted Living Communities, and over 500 Skilled Nursing Facilities. You can actually go on and modify your search with filters like “Memory Care,” which will help you narrow down your focus immediately.

When someone asks me where they should move a loved one in their area, I often tell them to go on Google Maps and type in, “senior living,” or, “dementia care.” I’m not particularly proud of that recommendation, but I don’t have a lot of options to offer them. Most transitions to care communities begin with two things: proximity and/or word-of-mouth from a close friend or neighbor.

Unlike placement agencies, Retirement Atlas lets you search their database without entering your personal information. This means that you won’t be getting follow-up calls or emails without your consent.

You know when you’re shopping for shoes (or anything) online and you’re completely overwhelmed by sizes, colors and styles? Most online stores offer “filters” that help you narrow your search, so you don’t end up looking through hundreds of items that don’t fit your needs. Retirement Atlas offers these filters, as well, so you don’t have to scroll endlessly through senior living communities that don’t have what you’re looking for. Here are a few of their awesome filters:

  • Care Levels Provided (in case you’re looking for something where you won’t have to move as you progress)
  • Staffing: Staffing Ratios, Nurse on Site, 24-Hour Nurse on Site
  • Secure Dementia Unit
  • Types of Units (Apartment, Private Room, Semi Private Room etc.)
  • Medicare Ratings (For Skilled Nursing Facilities)

Retirement Atlas also makes it possible for you to see all the communities in your area on a map: a feature that is completely indispensable when you need a community close to where your loved one grew up, close to you, or just local to your favorite Sheetz or Wawa. Retirement Atlas may be fairly new to the space, but already list 100% of licensed Personal Care Homes, Assisted Living Facilities, and Skilled Nursing Facilities in PA.

Here are my tips for choosing the best care community for your needs:

  1. Check out Retirement Atlas’ site and then filter by what you’re looking for. If a loved one has dementia, absolutely enable the “Memory Care” feature: you’ll find the care that they need a lot quicker.
  2. Look at the map, ratings, reviews and features on each community and make a list of communities that you want to visit.
  3. Call each community and set up a time to go and have lunch. (Trust me, you’ll want to check out the food.)
  4. Trust your gut feeling. While you are probably feeling anxious, do your best to push past that and listen to what your immediate gut instinct is telling you about the community you’re seeing. What does it look like? Smell like? Do the staff, residents, management and families seem pleasant?
  5. Always stop by for a second, unannounced visit before making your decision. I recommend visiting on a different day, like a weekend, to see how busy and engaged the community is.

Choosing a dementia care community is anxiety-provoking, I know, but it doesn’t have to be a painful, exhausting experience full of options and overwhelm.

To learn more about Retirement Atlas, visit

Liked it? Take a second to support Rachael Wonderlin on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Rachael Wonderlin is an internationally-recognized dementia care expert and consultant. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of three published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

16 things poster
Get the FREE “16 Things” poster!

You're not alone!

Get personal support from Rachael and connect with other Caregivers when you join our community.

16 Things I Would Want If I Got Dementia

Get the FREE “16 Things” poster for your personal use—or better yet—your dementia care community’s staff break room!

I wrote this poem years ago, but to date, it’s the most popular piece I’ve ever created.

When you sign up, you’ll also get access to Rachael’s weekly newsletter so that you can get her top tips, links to new content as soon as it’s released, and special offers directly in your inbox! We’ll never sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

16 things poster
Shopping Cart

Have questions?

Book a Dementia Detective
call and talk to a DBD expert!