When choosing a continuing care retirement community, after consideration of a retirement community’s location, size, cost, and care services (see our previous article), there are many other aspects of a community which can help retirees decide whether or not a particular community is a good fit. Based on their experiences, our resident experts have suggested exploration of the following aspects of community life and functioning.
Are you bringing a pet with you when you move? There may be restrictions as to the type, size, and number of pets which are allowed. An additional security deposit may also be required. If you become ill, does the community have any provisions to care for your pet until you have recovered?
Does the community have a special interest? One community in our area has a ukulele club, while another has a building on campus dedicated to model railroading. One may also ask about how resident activities are managed. Is there an employee who facilitates the organization of activities, or are activities for independent living residents run by resident committees? Does the community host any annual special events? Do activities take place both on and off campus?
What services are considered routine maintenance and which ones will incur additional charges? Are modifications allowed to be made to cottages, such as the addition of a sunroom? How often are cottages or apartments repainted, recarpeted, and updated? If an individual enjoys gardening, are residents allowed to manage flower beds around their cottage or only in designated areas?
Whether or not a community is for-profit or non-profit may make a difference to some people. While many non-profit communities are owned by faith-based organizations, our insiders suggested only a couple of potential stumbling blocks for those who are of a different faith or denomination: the possibility of a dress code for dinner and limitations on the serving of alcohol with meals.
Resident diversity and friendliness are additional considerations. Our experts suggested several ways to explore these characteristics. The first was to visit a community more than once, and to do more than just attend marketing events. If a community offers guest accommodations so that you can “try out” the community, take advantage of this opportunity. Interact with others who already live in the community, such as by meeting with a community ambassador (volunteers who offer to speak with potential new residents) or attending a meal.
Speaking of mealtime, all of the residents I met with for this series of articles firmly believed in the social value of shared meals. You will find different alternatives for meals at different communities, however. Some communities may not offer any type of structured meal plan to independent living residents. Others may offer only a la carte items, or perhaps one meal/day is included in the monthly fee. The purchase of at least a minimal meal plan may be required by some communities, with flexibility as to when and how often residents choose to visit the dining room. If residents attend regularly scheduled meals, ask if seating arrangements are assigned or are flexible. The ability of the kitchen staff to accommodate special diets will be an essential question for some prospective residents.
The multiple facets of campus communication also came up in our conversation. Important to these folks was the presence of a process for independent living residents to communicate with management and the receptivity of management to the concerns and suggestions of residents. The type of ownership of the community (individual or part of a larger organization) may impact the effectiveness of this communication. Sharing information within a community is also essential for resident awareness of daily events and general community life. Newsletters are a common method of accomplishing this task. A final thought on communication relates to technology. Here in central PA cell phone service, as well as internet and cable connections are often impacted by challenges with reception. If you are checking out communities in rural areas, you may want to ask about these issues.
For those who no longer drive, transportation options within a community should be explored. Is transportation available for off campus appointments, shopping, and church services? Are there weekly routine trips to certain destinations? Is there an additional fee and what is the procedure for special scheduling?
Finally, our experts offered a few general tips for moving. About three months beforehand, begin keeping track of mail so a list of contacts can be made for address changes. They suggested hiring a professional to assist with downsizing, as decisions about what to keep, what to give away, what to auction, and what to junk may be difficult. Some found it helpful to utilize a nearby storage facility for additional items which were moved due to the possibility that these items would be wanted or needed in their new surroundings (just remember to make a decision about keeping or disposing of these items within a reasonable period of time).
I would like to thank the residents of the two local communities who were willing to share their insights with me for this series of articles about continuing care retirement communities. While CCRCs may not be a desirable or available option for some people, this group has definitely found advantages to this style of retirement living. One woman summed up her experiences by saying, “I’ve never laughed so much.”
Karen Kaslow, RN