Senior Living Community Safety: How to Spot Red Flags at a Retirement Home

Choosing a retirement home can feel overwhelming and intimidating for many reasons, and safety for your loved one is probably first and foremost on your mind. While you may understand logically that a senior living community is the right place for your loved one—especially if they need specialized care you can’t provide—it can be a scary transition to hand over your loved one’s well-being to a stranger.

The Transition to a Retirement Home Can Be an Uncertain Time

It’s a trust that senior living communities should not take lightly. As children of aging parents ourselves, we understand the struggle firsthand of choosing a great retirement home and senior living community. It’s why we’ve put so much careful thought into how we structure senior living at Morningside, and it’s why we’re passionate about empowering people like us to make good choices for their aging loved ones. To aid in the process, we’ve put together a handful of red flags to help you weed out the senior living communities that may not be a good fit for your loved one.

1. Visit the Senior Living Community

We would argue that this is perhaps the most important step you can take to ensure the communities you are considering are up to your standards. Senior living communities that don’t offer tours should immediately be disqualified from your list; and communities that don’t have a plan in place that will allow you to tour should raise a red flag.

Furthermore, tours are essential because they allow you to get a feel for how the staff will interact with your loved one and with you. Scheduling the tour will provide you with insight into the community’s communication style, and will help you see if they are strong communicators and attentive to details. Poor or disorganized communication is another red flag.

Once you are there, the tour will give you an impression of the community.

Hopefully, you will feel welcomed and wanted by kind and friendly staff as you tour. Are they respectful, or do you feel as though you are imposing? You should be able to ask any question that pops into your mind and receive well-thought out responses. Guides who seem off-put or annoyed by questions should raise a red flag.

Additionally, take the time to use your senses during the tour. This may seem strange, but is actually very telling.


  • What does it smell like? Stale, or fresh?
  • What does it sound like?
  • Are there lots of conversations and laughter, or is it depressingly quiet?
  • What does it look like? Is it dark, or is there lots of fresh light shining into the building?
  • How does the food taste? (Don’t skip eating a meal there!)
  • What does the furniture feel like when you sit, comfortable or not? If the living center is not appealing to your senses during a brief tour, can you really imagine your loved one living there permanently?

At the end of the tour, listen to your gut. Even if everything seems in order, if your gut seems to be saying no, listen to it. Often, your intuition will have caught something that your logical mind missed; a “no” gut reaction should at least wave a red flag in your mind and cause you to ask additional questions.

2. Research Accreditations and Complaints

Most states make it easy for you to discover what accreditations the living community you are considering holds, and how many and what type of complaints have been made against it. Depending on the level of care your loved one will need, you will want to ensure certain levels of accreditation not only have been achieved but are still current.

Additionally, a few complaints are not unreasonable for a senior living community; however, you should check to see what types of complaints are made, how frequently they are made, and if they were addressed or ignored once made.

3. Look at the Management

It’s important to look at the management of the senior living community you are considering. Are they experienced, stable, and accredited? Or is there a high turnover rate in management (or in staff)? Strong, steady management is far more likely to provide a peaceful, well-organized community. This in turn leads to systems and processes that ensure your loved one is getting the right medicines at the right time, or that staff are paying attention to the little details that can make a stay positive or negative.

High turnover of management should be a major red flag in your search. This applies to staff, as well. If staff have a high turnover rate, even if the management has been consistent, this may indicate that there is something wrong with the community or the management.

4. Watch for Morning Activity

Senior Living Communities that have a thriving morning social life are a good indicator that the community is well-staffed and excellent at helping residents get up in the morning, ready for their day, and engaged in activities.

If the community that you visit is quiet with few residents participating in activities, this could be a red flag, because it may mean that the community is short-staffed or doesn’t value helping residents be active and involved during the day. Be sure to ask if the quiet morning is the norm, or if residents are simply on a field trip (a good sign!).

5. Talk to the Residents

You should be able to talk to the residents, both during and after your tour. If you are not allowed to talk to residents, this should raise big red flags in your mind. Additionally, red flags should fly if the residents seem unresponsive or even unfriendly. Ideally residents should be warm, engaging, and happy to talk about the positive experiences they have had at the senior living community.

Again, it’s important to trust your gut, but it’s also important to remember that a single red flag doesn’t mean you have to start your search from scratch—you may just need to dig more deeply or ask more questions. Often, there are reasonable answers to these questions. And there’s nothing wrong with asking to schedule a second tour—tours are the best way to get to know a community from the inside out! If you’re ready to get started with a visit, schedule a tour now at Morningside. We can’t wait to show you around!

Resource Guide

I am a:(Required)