Part 2: Two Flights Forward, One Flight Back

Joan London with her two grandchildren in Mercer Island, WAHello, Readers! I am back to share the progress of my senior living search in Washington state and California.

About six weeks ago, I returned to Baltimore following my first hands-on search in the metropolitan areas of Seattle and San Francisco, two of the locations where I am considering relocation. The flights that took me to and down the West Coast were uneventful, but the visits to senior housing sites proved to be an adventure.

During my 11-day trip, I met new friends, toured lovely senior living communities, and scratched the surface of my quest. The added super-bonus was spending quality time with my son Brian, three grandchildren and grand-dog in Seattle, and my daughter and her canine pal in San Francisco.

Planning My Trip With Help From Care Advisors

In all, I personally visited four Seattle-area senior residences and three Bay Area residences. Care Advisors at with whom I gave my criteria for housing recommended the facilities. By thoroughly discussing the price range, locations, level of care, meal plans, amenities, and wellness and social activities I want, my limited search time was wisely spent.

First, I explored online the criteria-specific facility recommendations of the experienced Care Advisors. Then, using a process of selection and elimination, I made tour appointments at the most promising locations. In the United States, more than 38,000 assisted living residences serve more than 975,000 seniors–and that number is growing.* Despite hours of research, I could not personally find and determine all the facilities that match my criteria. That is why I am grateful to have the assistance of the free services.

Off To See The Emerald City

With convenient transportation from the nanny who helps my grandchildren, I first visited Island House, a Merrill Gardens senior living community located on beautiful Mercer Island. I had an interesting tour and chat with several residents who said they are very happy with their living accommodations.

At noon, we drove to The Garden Club senior residence in lovely Bellevue, an urban city located near Mercer Island. At the Garden Club, we enjoyed a gourmet lunch and toured the charming facility. I spoke with residents who said they are very happy with their senior living.

From suburban Bellevue, we dashed to the heart of Bellevue’s busy downtown district to tour The Bellettini, a luxury senior living community. I felt most at home with the apartment residences, which on a smaller scale resemble my condominium in suburban Baltimore, MD. Conversations with residents about their satisfaction at the Bellettini were upbeat and positive.

Exploring The Heart of Silicon Valley

A few days later, I flew to San Francisco to resume my search in Northern California. On prior visits to San Francisco, I determined that I did not want to live in the city. The climate, steep hills and high cost of living are deterrents, despite the fact that my daughter lives in this interesting city. Therefore, a day after my arrival, my daughter and I drove down scenic Interstate 280 toward San Jose, in search of several senior living communities recommended by

Our first visit was to Woodside Terrace, a Brookdale Senior Living community in Redwood City. We continued on to the Moldaw Family Residences in Palo Alto, then to Atria Sunnyvale, an Atria Senior Living community in Sunnyvale. We had an enjoyable diversion with lunch at a nice restaurant, and drove past Silicon Valley Internet giants Google and Linked-In.

By this time, the sun was setting and the traffic horrific. We decided to skip the additional drive to San Jose to visit the independent living community, The Atrium of San Jose, also a Brookdale Senior Living community. I was sorry to miss touring this place, for the community looks quite promising from my research.

By the end of the journey, my head was spinning with details and recollections of lobbies, dining rooms, activity and wellness centers, apartments, community residents and staff. It was time to return home and sort out my thoughts. I concluded that each of the friendly and encouraging folks I met seemed a good fit with their senior living communities.

What Did I Learn About My Search And Myself?

1. Geography, Climate and Ambiance of Location
The climates of greater Seattle and the city of San Francisco apparently do not agree with my chronic arthritis. The cities south of San Francisco have warmer, dryer climates and are quite attractive. However, with my limited mobility for walking up and down hilly terrain, and the traffic congestion, unfortunately these locations are not a perfect fit.

2. Demographics of Residents
Relocating to a facility filled with strangers is a major life change. Communities vary in the age, health, physical and social demographics of residents. At 67, I drive and function independently. I am seeking senior living compatible with my interests for daily living. It is too soon in my journey to make a decision on this point.

3. Staff and Facility Ambience
I toured each facility and spoke with staff and residents. Everyone was extremely friendly and each community was attractive and clean. Because the layout and amenities of the Bellettini apartment models in Bellevue resemble my condominium, I felt most at home at this style of community.

4. Menus, Food Preparation and Mealtime Schedules
Dining room facilities, hours of operation, meal plans, food selections and seating arrangements vary with company policies and individual residences. My preference is for open seating, meaning I may dine at the time of my choice, rather than at specific dining hours. Due to the arthritis in my hands, I prefer meal service, rather than a salad, soup and dessert buffet.

Moreover, I prefer to eat breakfast in my own living area, and may have lunch and/or dinner away from the senior residence. Therefore, I prefer a meal plan with a flexible number of meals per month, rather than a charge for three meals a day, seven days a week. The flexible dining plan is important to me, but less available than the three meals a day plan.

5. Price, Investment and Availability
A wise person told me long ago, “there is no sense to being house poor.” The prices, investment/resale values and availability of senior living communities vary. At this point, I am keeping my options open and considering locations that meet my other criteria. Once I identify the geographic location and type of residence where I feel “at home,” then price will become a major factor.

6. Mind/Body/Spirit Philosophy
While researching each facility, I learned that senior living companies have varying philosophies for the mind, body and spirit of its residents. Knowing what this philosophy is and how it practiced is a key to the right fit.

That is good information for a start. My search will continue in Southern California in early February, where I will tour Palm Springs and Los Angeles senior living communities. While in Los Angeles, I will be a proud Grammy celebrating my grandson Oliver’s second birthday.

*Assisted Living statistics provided by the US Department of Health and Human Resources 2007 assisted living report.


Joan London is a freelance writer who lives in Baltimore, MD with her beautiful Russian Blue rescue cat Mia. London is working hard to determine whether the metropolitan Seattle area, San Francisco Bay Area or Southern California will be the best fit for her senior living relocation. email your questions to

Read part three of Joan’s Journey: Move West Stalled, But Not Stopped.

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