When making a decision about moving to a continuing care retirement community (CCRC, also called a life plan community), there are a lot of different factors to consider. It's certainly vital to understand the financial implications and contract details, but there’s something else just as (or maybe even more) important to consider, and you won’t find all the answers in a brochure.
One of the most crucial factors to consider when selecting a CCRC is your happiness. Will you be happy living there on a day-to-day basis? Naturally, this applies to not only those considering a CCRC but also other types of retirement communities. However, choosing a CCRC is typically a bigger commitment—financially and otherwise—so it’s even more important to make sure your first choice is the right choice.
So how can you really know if you will be happy in any particular CCRC? Here are a few details to consider as you make your CCRC decision.
Stay on site for a few days. In addition to visiting your top CCRC contenders several times, be sure to visit at various times of the day. Many CCRCs also have guest suites on their campus—a fully furnished unit within their independent living complex, which allows prospective residents to stay overnight. Indeed, these guest suites offer a glimpse into the realities of living in that particular CCRC, so look at it with a critical eye. Is it clean? Is it in good repair? Does everything work the way it’s supposed to (TV, faucets, HVAC, etc.)? You can likely expect a similar experience if and when you move in, so if things in the guest suite are not up to your standards, you may want to cross that particular CCRC off of your list.
In addition to examining the guest suite, take note of the general upkeep of the community, both the grounds and inside the buildings. Are the walls and floorboards well-kempt or dinged up? Are the carpets clean or worn out? If things aren’t up to snuff, ask why. Maybe a renovation is commencing in the near-future, and so they're holding off, but if not, it could be a sign of a bigger problem.
It’s tough to beat a first-hand account when it comes to learning about day-to-day life in any community. So be sure to talk to current residents (and preferably members of the residents’ council) about how well complaints or service issues are addressed. No one wants to live someplace where they have made this sort of commitment—financial and otherwise—and not feel that they can get their concerns efficiently and satisfactorily addressed. Indeed, a recent survey of prospective CCRC residents revealed that “residents having a voice” is one of the most important considerations in the community they chose.
By definition, all CCRCs provide a continuum of care services to their residents, from independent living to assisted living to skilled nursing care. But even though a community is a CCRC, you still will want to make sure you know exactly what care services are available, and where. For instance, not every CCRC has comprehensive memory care on their campus. If someone needed this type of care, they may have to leave the community.
All CCRCs will have a dining hall, and some will have several different dining options, including bistros and coffee shops. Try them all! Is the food tasty and of good quality, and are the menu offerings diverse? Can you get take-out? Are dining times flexible? What about off-hour options? Since residents will typically be eating at least one meal a day within the dining facilities as part of their meal plan, you want to be sure you like the food they serve.
Most CCRCs offer some level of transportation services, providing residents with the freedom to get off campus even if they are no longer able to drive themselves. But how flexible is the transportation? Is there an extra fee to use the service? Is it simply a scheduled daily or weekly bus trip, or do they have additional options like individual rides to doctor's offices or the grocery store?
Finally, and maybe most important, there are certain aspects of happiness that can only be determined by you, and you want to be certain that those specific “happiness needs” can be met by the CCRC you are considering.
Let’s suppose you love to garden. Is there still an opportunity to do that once you move to the CCRC? For example, are there available independent living residences that have yards or at least a community garden? What if you love to cook? Are the floorplans and kitchens set-up to accommodate cooking enthusiasts? Or maybe you are an animal lover. Is your beloved pet going to be permitted?
Yes, the more practical aspects of selecting a CCRC are important—like the cost, quality, amenities provided, financial viability of the community, availability of care services, etc. You want to be sure you understand exactly what you are getting when you sign that contract! But ultimately, this is a place where you will be living for years to come—it will be your home. Don’t settle for a place that doesn’t meet your needs when it comes to your long-term happiness.