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“The Last Move”: Confronting Mortality with Your CCRC Decision

By | 2018-10-29T11:47:02+00:00 October 29th, 2018|

I recently heard an interesting story on Charlotte’s NPR station about the influx of people who are choosing to retire in North Carolina and the resulting need for more senior living and care options in the state. The piece discussed several new continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs, or life plan communities) that are under construction or being expanded in the greater Charlotte area (including Aldersgate, which has a community garden that I blogged about a few months ago).

But beyond the details about the various CCRC options in Charlotte, there was something else about the NPR story that caught my attention.

The last house I’m gonna have”

The reporter had interviewed a woman named Sara Klemmer, who currently lives in a thriving historic area of Charlotte called Plaza Midwood. Widowed 11 years ago, Ms. Klemmer is an active senior who loves her home of 31 years, but she doesn’t want to have to worry about the upkeep any longer, nor about having access to the type of senior care services she may need in the future, so she has put her home on the market and plans to move to Aldersgate at the end of the year.

But this is what really struck me about the NPR piece—this quote from Ms. Klemmer: “I expected to be taken out of here [her Plaza Midwood home] in a box, but now I’m gonna be taken out of there [Aldersgate] in a box.” The story goes on to say:

“For Sara Klemmer, the decision to leave the neighborhood she loves makes sense financially and logically, but still, she says it’s been emotionally ‘wrenching.’ And the notion of joining a continuing care community is a psychological adjustment, too.

‘This is the last house I’m gonna have, the last apartment,’ Klemmer said. ‘You come face to face with your mortality.’”

In all honesty, I hear this sentiment a lot from people who are considering a move to a CCRC. At the heart of this and similar comments is the idea that, “I know I should do this—it makes sense in every aspect—but it’s the finality of it that is holding me back.”

>> Related: Overcoming the Mental Obstacles & Emotional Barriers of Downsizing

The four reasons seniors delay a CCRC move

There are four common refrains I often hear when it comes to seniors’ apprehension about a CCRC move—the reasons that people give for not being “ready,” several of which were voiced or implied by Ms. Klemmer.

  1. “I’m still active and independent.” 

    People frequently have a misconception that a CCRC is a nursing home or an “old folks’ home,” but this is inaccurate. The reality is that the many residents in CCRCs do still live independently and enjoy active lifestyles for many years before ever requiring assisted living or long-term care services.  Yes, there are residents who need canes, walkers, or wheelchairs, and this fact is off-putting to some prospective residents who don’t want to live among “old” people. Yet one of the greatest commonalities among CCRC residents is that they recognize the importance of having access to a full continuum of care services. They acknowledge that as we age, things can change quickly and unexpectedly, and they want a plan in place so as not to be a burden on their loved ones if and when that day comes.

>> Related: Are Preconceptions About Senior Living Communities Holding You Back?

  1. “I don’t want to leave my home.” 

    It can be difficult to think about moving out of a home you have lived in and loved for so many years—it’s one of the main reasons that a majority of seniors say they plan to remain in their current home as they age. Yet, staying in the home frequently proves to be easier in theory than in reality, for both the older adult and their family. Sometimes staying in the home necessitates a move later on directly to an assisted living facility or nursing home, often at a time when moving to an unfamiliar environment is even more challenging physically and emotionally.

  2. “Moving is too much of a headache.” 

    If this is the main reason for your delay, then I’d argue it is actually better to make the move to a CCRC sooner rather than later. The fact is: Moving (and the de-cluttering that goes along with it) isn’t easy at any age, but it will only become more difficult as you grow older. To assist you with the process and make it feel less intimidating, some CCRCs even offer moving and de-cluttering services as an added incentive to make the move.

  3. “I’m worried that I can’t afford to move to a CCRC this early.” 

    This is a fair argument for delaying a CCRC move; there is no denying that they are expensive. But there also are several resources available to help you determine whether a CCRC is a viable financial choice for you. Many CCRCs utilize actuarial software that will help determine if your assets and income are adequate to cover your projected lifetime cost. If you have a financial planner who is well-versed in CCRC contracts, he or she should also be able to help you assess your financial situation. Additionally, our proprietary financial calculator was designed exactly for this purpose. It can help you run the numbers for yourself, taking into account factors such as a CCRC’s entry fee, monthly fees, and cost of healthcare services.

>> Related: You’re Ready for a CCRC…But Your Adult Kids Aren’t on Board

The case for a CCRC move

All four of these reasons for putting off a CCRC move or wavering about the decision to move are completely understandable. Ultimately, if you don’t feel like you’re ready, it may not be the right choice for you to move to a CCRC, or it may not yet be the right time. And that’s okay.

But if you’re on the fence, uncertain about your senior living decision, I recently wrote about a few important points you may want to weigh.

  • Choosing to “age in place,” instead of downsizing and moving to a CCRC, likely is the easiest solution in the short-term. But should you experience a health setback in the future, this option may end up being not only physically challenging (especially if you do not have a bedroom and bathroom on the first floor of your home) but also costly (the current average cost of in-home care is around $4,000 per month. But this is based on just 6 hours of care per day. If you require more care, especially if it is 24-hour care, it could double or triple this amount.
  • Opting to remain in your home also can cause tremendous issues in the long-term for your adult children, who may end up dealing with the many challenges that come with caregiving for an elderly parent. This can be an especially difficult situation if your adult children live far away, have young children of their own to care for, or lack flexibility with their job.
  • The fact is, someone will have to sort through all of your belongings eventually—likely your adult children or another loved one. They will be forced to choose what to keep and what to give away or sell, pack and move everything, and then sell the home. It is a daunting task to put on someone else’s shoulders, both physically and emotionally.

>> Related: Trash or Treasure: Why Seniors Should Declutter Their Homes…Today

Making the right choice for you

The sentiments expressed by Ms. Klemmer in the NPR story are extremely common. After all, moving out of a cherished home and into a CCRC is a major life change. It would be concerning if a person had zero apprehensions about it!

But I can tell you this, having spoken with literally hundreds of CCRC residents: The vast majority of people who decide to move to a CCRC are extremely happy they did. Yes, most residents say there was an adjustment period when they first moved in, but in the long run, the benefits of living in a CCRC—including services, amenities, and a continuum of care services available onsite—far outweigh the inconveniences that come with downsizing and moving.

In our 2018 myLifeSite Consumer Survey (the results of which will be available in the coming weeks!), the number one reason given for delaying a decision about moving to a CCRC was, “I don’t feel that I’m old enough yet.” Some who are well into their 80s even said this.

The idea that this will be your “final move” does force one to confront their own mortality, as Ms. Klemmer points out, and some people aren’t entirely comfortable with facing this reality. This fact may be at the heart of this common sentiment voiced in our survey that “I’m not old enough yet.”

However, what I hear from most CCRC residents is how glad they are that they moved earlier, rather than waiting until some unspecified time in the future when they felt “ready” or “old enough.” Moving sooner rather than later has given them the opportunity to build meaningful relationships with other residents, establishing a solid social and support network for the unknowns of the future (such as dealing with a health crisis or a partner’s passing). This ready-made support system, along with the peace of mind that comes with knowing your care needs will be met no matter what, is a compelling reason to put aside your trepidation and put the wheels into motion on making your CCRC move.

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About the Author:

Brad Breeding is president and co-founder of myLifeSite, a North Carolina company that develops web-based resources designed to help families make better-informed decisions when considering a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) or lifecare community.