People have lots of questions about retirement communities and I get my share.
Now past my 84th birthday, alone for the past year and a half, and in the ninth year of residence in a large continuing care retirement community, I frequently hear from friends near my age some version of “do you like it there”. I have always been outspoken in my praise for the retirement community where I live, and I am sure that anyone who asks this question already knows my answer. Are they really asking, “would I like it there?” Most of the time my answer would be yes, but there is more.
In those cases where the conversation goes further, the next question I hear is some form of: “What’s it like to live there?” I assume that the questioner wants to hear more rather than less, and the answer should be framed around the perceived needs and wishes of the questioner. There are three parts: concept, people, and place. The first is objective and definable, the other two are relative and dependent on the individual.
I live in a continuing care retirement community (CCRC). A newer name is Life Care Community. If you choose this there will be an upfront entrance fee with a declining return and monthly fees. The amount of both varies, usually on the cost of the apartment. This system offers independent living, assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing as needed for life on site. It is the priciest option. There are others with varying cost, service, and requirements. If a CCRC is not your choice, there are other options to suit a person’s wishes and finances. The type of facility is the first and most important decision to make once you have decided to move into a retirement community.
My own attitudes about people and place when it comes to living in a retirement community are personal and subjective. They are summarized in bullet points. I try to cover most when explaining retirement home living.
• Location is best where you have family and friends and is seldom overruled by selection in a location with better weather but in unfamiliar surroundings.
• Be sure the facility is on a sound financial footing. When you are signing up for continuing care it is like buying an insurance policy. It is no good if the issuing entity goes “belly up”. This unfortunate occurrence is not uncommon, but it can be avoided by doing your homework ahead of time.
• There is no hard and fast rule about age, but here are some guidelines. Active living communities like the villages starts at 55. Other retirement communities expect people to be 65. At any age a new resident must be physically able to qualify for independent living. These are the parameters. Now the decisions you make. Two things are paramount when it comes to the best time to move in: health and satisfaction with your current residence. Only you can make these decisions. DO NOT consider that moving into a retirement community means you “have thrown in the towel”, given up on life, are going down for the count, etc. Don’t be embarrassed about what your friends will think.
• Talk it over with your kids. In almost every case they will be relieved that you have made the decision because you will be living in a safe and stimulating environment.
• Be ready to enjoy freedom from: cooking, food shopping, meal preparation, home maintenance, property taxes, lawn care, snow removal (in the north), being stuck without reliable transportation, concerns about in-home injuries like falling, finding a cleaning service, window washing, loneliness (boredom), and the list goes on…
• Be ready to enjoy on your own terms: cooking, food shopping, vacations with no worry about the home you are leaving, a work out center and swimming pool down the hall, facilities readily available when your health needs require a change in life style, a near endless list of activities like movies, trips to restaurants in a group, theatrical performances, and much more, plus regular in-house entertainment, educational programs, religious services, and that is just a start.
• Be assured that you can do as little or as much as you choose when it comes to activities.
• You can select a facility where people you know already live.
• You can be confident that regardless of your health status and needs, you will have a place to live, and if you need in-home care, help is readily available but at a cost.
By this time the person asking the questions has heard enough. The next question might be a joking, “do you say all of this because you are on the payroll?” The answer always is, “no, I am just happy to be here.”
There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to senior living. Making the move can be best at a different age for different people. It depends on myriad circumstances that only you know. Some people make the move in their 70s or even before. A good benchmark for considering the move in any case is at or near the 80s particularly when one or both are “feeling it”.
I admire people at any age who are enjoying good health and living happily in their own home. They are lucky and hooray for them. But I pity those who are just hanging on worried about what people will think or fearing a move late in life – “I have lived in my home for __ years and I have too much stuff to move!”.
There are sad cases where a person moves in so late that they miss the opportunity to enjoy the community and vitality that a senior residence can offer. A senior community is not where you move for the express purpose of dying. On the contrary you move there to live the best you can before you die, something that everybody does eventually.
Then there is cost, but that is for another message. Usually a substantial amount is required to purchase an apartment or cottage in a facility that offers life care from independent living, to assisted living if needed, and memory care when that is required. After a predetermined time, you will have no equity in the property in your estate or if you move out, but you will be able to live there or an equivalent based on your needs for the rest of your life. You will also pay a monthly fee to cover all your living needs and many special things.
Entering a continuing care retirement community is an important move. It needs lots of careful thought and when the right answer is determined it makes for the life that is pretty near the best it can be.
Words to the wise in closing:
There are only two times to move in, too early or too late.
For a couple, the time to move is strongly influenced by the health of the most needful partner.
By Savvy Senior
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