The majority of us want to age in place, that is, remain in our current home as long as possible. The comfort of familiar surroundings and pushing back against the inevitable need for care are important reasons. The reality is that at some point, living alone, or even with a spouse or partner to help, you are going to need more support than is possible at home.
For some, making that move is a logical decision. Children or relatives do not have the caregiving burden or expense to deal with. The elimination of maintenance and other home-owing or renting facts of life disappear. Moving while still healthy enough to enjoy your new surroundings and lifestyle makes sense.
Modern retirement communities offer more opportunities for entertainment, learning, and staying active, if that is what you want. A full service CCRC, or Continuing Care Retirement Community, has a range of housing and care options, including the presence of a nursing facility if that stage of care becomes necessary.
This care does not come cheaply. A "buy-in" up to $300,000 (or more) is often required. That gets you in the door and into an appropriate level of housing (independent or assisted living). It guarantees you living space and care for the rest of your life. On-going fees can add anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000 a month. That pays for most of your meals, overall care, and all maintenance. Think of it as rent with benefits.
Other options are less expensive but usually do not include a guaranteed place in a nursing center or a full range of services. Independent living is probably in an apartment rather than a separate casita-type facility.
So, what your fiances can handle, what your care needs are at the moment, and what level of activities and living style you desire are considerations. How to decide what is best? Here are some ways to evaluate full service retirement communities:
1. CCRC's or larger retirement communities that offer more limited care are usually privately owned and operated by a for-profit corporation. A community can run into serious financial problems and have to cut services, raise monthly fees, or even go out of business. Obviously, with the amount of money you have invested in the buy-in and the monthly charges, you could suffer some severe consequences if that happens.
It is wise to ask some basic financial health questions of a community you are considering. How long have they been in business? Are they growing or contracting? How long has management been in place (lots of turnover could equal potential problem)? What is the staff to resident ratio in the more specialized areas like the nursing center? Something in the range of 40% - 50% is good. Does it have publicly available financial information you can review? Ask to see the last 5 years of monthly fees. Are they increasing more than inflation can justify?
* Click this link for a more in-depth look at how to analyze retirement community structures and expenses. Another excellent article: reviewing a community's financial health.
2. What are your first impressions of the facility? Are the buildings well maintained? Are the interiors inviting and well-lit? Is any landscaping being well cared for? Are the dining, exercise, and public areas attractive? What do the independent and assisted living options look like? Could you see yourself living there? Do any residents you encounter appear happy and active?
3. What transportation options are available for those who don't drive? Does the community have on-property shuttle or bus service? How about ways to go off-site to medical and religious facilities, shopping, and entertainment options? If you prefer to not travel much, are there enough activities and events on-site that match your interests?
4. Do you have a pet or plan on getting one? What are the rules concerning ownership and control? If barking dogs bother you, do you hear too much of that while on property?
5. Try the restaurants and lounges on campus. Would you be happy with the choices, quantity and quality of food and drink on a daily basis?
6. If part of the package, is the nursing center well-staffed, clean, and pleasant? Are residents left in wheelchairs in front of a TV all day, or is staff engaged with each one on a regular basis?
7. If possible spend some time talking with a few of the residents. They may be your best source of what it is like to live there.
A move to a Continuing Care Retirement Community or larger facility aren't your only choices, of course. Cohousing, having a roommate to share expenses and care for each other, or living with family are all possible options. Smaller retirement communities without a full range of services usually don't require a large initial buy-in. Monthly fees are lower.
Whatever you are considering, take your time, do the research, and be sure the one you pick is best for you. Ask questions and feel comfortable with your decision.
Since this is likely the last move of your life, make it one you that makes you happy.