The Inquirer: What to ask when considering a continuing care retirement community
APRIL 3, 2018 — 2:22 PM EDT by Sally Friedman, For the Inquirer
The hints from our three daughters and sons-in-law were at first subtle — and then not so much.
“Those stairs will get harder and harder,” one would say of our current home. “Especially with your back,” they’d add, eyes planted firmly on me. My bad back is legendary, and I was having a particularly bad siege.
To my husband, the message focused on other things: driving at night and maintaining the inside of our home, even while our condominium association saw to the outside.
Eventually, the “time to move” messages grew to a steady stream. “So and so’s parents love their retirement community.” “Imagine almost no cooking.” “You’ll meet great people your age.”
And then there was the final straw: My tricky back decided to assert its clout. It wasn’t a fair fight.
So off we went on a new kind of house-hunting: this time to look at continuing care retirement communities, also called life-plan communities.
It was kind of fun in the beginning.
We saw our share of lobbies with chandeliers, sample apartments that seemed straight out of House Beautiful, and marketing events with smiling residents who told us there really is a heaven, and it was right in the lovely dining room where we were having lunch.
(Yes, there is a formula to this seeking nirvana in older age.)
We sat at many marketing desks — on both sides of the Delaware River — learning why this CCRC had all the others beat. We did our homework. And along the way, we got more expert at asking the right question.
Beyond the physical structures, key issues included location, transportation offerings, activities, staff, and, of course, the cost. (People tended to smile less when they talked about that.)
It’s important to compare the costs of home ownership and of a senior living community. CCRCs vary greatly, based on how the fees are structured, available short- and long-term medical care, meal plans, and the facilities themselves.
Consult a financial adviser to get a full picture of your present and future. Choose that person as wisely as you would choose a doctor. Listen closely, ask lots of questions, and take notes.
Here’s what we learned in our nearly year-long search:
- Ask as tactfully as possible what current residents don’t like.
- Find out what a typical weekday is like and also a typical weekend.
- Definitely investigate what’s free and what’s not, and what the tipping practices are.
- Seek specifics about what’s included in “housekeeping services.”
- If you’re interested in diversity, check out the population when people gather for meals.
We saw places we knew instinctively were wrong for us. Others were difficult to evaluate because they all had features we liked.
And, yes, we made sure our daughters and their spouses were part of the process. It certainly made us more comfortable to get their feedback — and definitely made them feel involved, as they should be to some extent.
In the end, the vote was unanimous for a Quaker-run place in Medford, about 10 miles from our longtime home in Moorestown.
Now we’re busy selling our present home, making it conform to new safety codes, and shedding, sorting, and donating many of our worldly goods, while begging our children to please take more, more, more and being turned down.
All of that and the final reality — accepting that this move will almost surely be our last — are powerful challenges. As we say goodbye to the town where we’ve lived for 45 years and the home we’ve called our own for 18 years, we’re feeling sadness, hope, uneasiness, optimism, and, ironically, a bit like we did that first day of school all those decades ago.
As someone along the way observed, choosing the right CCRC is a bit like choosing a mate: One certainly needs to know a lot to make the right decision, but instinct also matters.
In all our research, the most unusual answer we got when we asked what residents didn’t like about living in their CCRC came from a woman in our future Medford home: “There’s not enough broccoli on the menu.”
We’d found our place.