When individuals are planning for their retirement years, a common goal which is expressed is the desire to remain in one’s own home for as long as possible. While some choose to remain in the family home in which they have lived for years, a growing trend is to leave the old neighborhood for a 55+ community, where folks can be surrounded by others of a similar age group, enjoy resort style amenities, and have fewer home maintenance tasks. What remains to be seen for these 55+ communities is how they will look in 20 years as their original buyers age and become less active. Will these older adults be forced to move again in order to obtain long-term care services? Will these communities still be attractive for those age 55-65 if a significant portion of their population is over age 80?
An option which combines some of the benefits of a 55+ community with the availability of services to meet potential future health care needs is a continuing care retirement community (CCRC). I recently met with a number of retirees who are residing in two local continuing care retirement communities, in order to explore the background of their decisions to move to a CCRC and their independent living experiences since making the move.
Sometimes an individual’s health becomes the catalyst for a move to a CCRC. One couple chose to move when the wife developed memory issues and became lost one day while walking their dog in the neighborhood in which they had lived for over 30 years. Although their children encouraged them to move in closer proximity to one of them, this couple chose to remain in the local area because of their close ties to their community and their desire to continue to participate in longstanding activities. A factor in their choice of a specific CCRC was the style of housing, as they preferred the “house-like” living arrangement of a cottage as opposed to an apartment. An added benefit was the five or six other couples they knew who were already living in the retirement community. Over the years, the husband has been able to continue some of his community service activities while also becoming engaged in opportunities within the CCRC. His wife has received the benefit of supportive care over and above that which her husband provides. Despite payment of an entrance fee and monthly maintenance fees, they have now lived in the community long enough so that their housing costs less per year than it would have had they purchased another private home.
Health status at the time of the decision to move was not a factor for the remaining couples with whom I spoke, and most were from out of state. Like the first couple, none chose to move closer to their children. They pointed out that it would be too easy for their children to have a reason to move somewhere else. These couples decided to choose a place to live based on their own desires, and came to this area for lower taxes and to escape more densely populated areas. A CCRC appealed to them because they had begun to feel that “the house owned us,” and they were tired of climbing stairs, mowing the lawn, and waiting for various repairmen when something wasn’t functioning properly. In addition to maintenance-free living, they desired one final move so they wouldn’t have to worry about selling another house and to be in a place where care would be available if their health declined. A number of them had experienced caring for parents who had chosen to remain in their own homes, and after finding that experience to be difficult, wished to avoid placing their children in a similar position. They viewed the CCRC in part as a gift to their children, so that their children wouldn’t have to persuade them to obtain assistance in the future or deal with as many stressful “parental obligations.” For couples without children, it is reassuring to know that help is available if needed.
While the benefits listed above appear to make a CCRC a smart decision, emotional factors are also part of the equation. One woman admitted that “my heart wasn’t in it” when they first moved, as she previously had moved many times during her life. It took her about a year to adjust. Another woman stated that “it is a nice feeling to be surrounded by people whose job is to care for you, although it takes some getting used to.” One couple stated that some of their friends, upon learning that they were going to move to a CCRC, became convinced that one of them had a terminal illness, and asked, “Why else would you move?” A stumbling block for some of the family members of these couples was that they wouldn’t “own” their cottage. These couples viewed their investment as a purchase of “care and a place to live,” which was more appealing to them than owning a house and property.
A major theme in our conversation about moving to a CCRC was the timing of a move. These folks stressed the importance of moving to a CCRC when people are in good health, so that there is an opportunity to become involved, build up a network, and learn what resources are available. “If you don’t come when you can be part of the community, you’ll never become part of it.” They saw a definite difference between living in the community and being a part of it. They agreed that there is no ideal age to move, and viewed one’s attitude as more important for adjustment and involvement in the community, rather than physical age.
Next week’s article will share some insiders’ tips about searching for the “right” community.
Karen Kaslow, RN