The most important thing is to enjoy your life—to be happy—it’s all that matters.
― Audrey Hepburn
What makes you happy?
It’s a broad question, and the answer is unique to each person. Maybe you’re an extrovert who loves spending time out and about with friends and meeting new people. Maybe it’s traveling…seeing the world and experiencing new things. Maybe you’re more of a homebody who relishes time spent with family.
As we age, we gain the wisdom to embrace and prioritize the things that truly matter in life, things like family and friendship, health, and security. And the decision to move to a continuing care retirement community (CCRC), also called a life plan community, often involves an amalgamation of these priorities.
A CCRC offers seniors the security of having ready-access to healthcare services if and when needed, which provides wonderful peace of mind. And for many it is seen as a gift to their children–they don’t want their adult children to have to go through what they did with their own aging parents.
While all of these factors are significant and valid considerations when considering a CCRC, it’s crucial to remember what I would suggest is the most important factor: your happiness. After all, this is where you are going to live. Therefore, it is imperative to do your research on the communities you are considering, and by this, I mean more than just understanding the terms of the contract (though this is absolutely vital too). You have to answer the question: Is this a place where I will be happy to live?
Finding your happy place
Here are some suggestions on how to determine if a CCRC will meet your expectations and be a place you truly enjoy living in the long-term.
Visit the communities at the top of your list…each of them.
Just as you wouldn’t buy the first house you and your realtor look at, it is wise to check out several CCRCs, if possible, in order to have a good means of comparison. As a prospective resident, you want to understand the culture of the community, including the overall attitude of the staff who work there, as well as the resident culture. Does this feel like a place where you would be comfortable, physically, emotionally, and perhaps even spiritually?
Attend open houses and other events.
Going to an open house at a CCRC is a nice way to check out communities in a casual way with little to no sales pressure. You will typically get to go on a tour–either individually or with a group of other prospects–and see the highlights that the community has to offer. You will be able to ask questions and at least get an initial feel for the facilities and amenities. Many CCRCs will also offer various types of events, both educational and promotional varieties. For example, I speak at communities all across the country to offer prospective residents insights on issues related to the senior living industry and CCRCs specifically. Attending these types of presentations can not only provide you with some great information but also gives you yet another opportunity to spend time within the community to see if it feels comfortable and home-like to you.
Spend time on-site and trying out the amenities.
Most CCRCs will invite prospective residents to spend a considerable amount of time in their community before signing a contract. For example, once you are on a waiting list, a lot of communities will give you unlimited access to some of their amenities, like the fitness center, walking trails, or other communal areas. Many even offer guest suites where you can spend the night to get a comprehensive feel for the day-to-day realities of living there. While it may not be your favorite thing to think about, I also always advise prospects to check out the healthcare facility to see if it is up to your standards. And let’s not forget one of a CCRCs top amenities: the food! I highly recommend eating in the dining room and possibly the café or bistro to get a taste (literally) of the CCRC’s facilities and service.
Talk with residents.
Prospective residents should know that for many people, there will be an adjustment period when they first move to a CCRC. It is a major life change, after all, but typically, new CCRC residents settle in and love it! So, I can’t emphasize enough the value of talking to the “locals” to get their first-hand accounts of what it’s like to live in that particular CCRC. Perhaps you already know someone who lives in the community. If not, when you are visiting, you can always strike up a conversation with a resident. I think you will find that most people are more than willing to share their personal experiences in the community–good or bad–with someone who is considering moving there. Sure, ask about things like service delivery and lifestyle, but you may also want to delve into deeper topics like, “Do residents have a voice?” or “How active are residents in what happens at the community (both from a management and activities stand-point)?”
The most important CCRC selection criteria
There are many practical considerations that come into play when selecting a senior living option–from paying for a CCRC to contract terms to communities’ financial viability. These are all really important, but none of it really matters if you’re not happy. The “happiness factor” is a big deal…and it should be because you deserve it. Consider whether the CCRC(s) you are interested in will help you continue living the life you want to live; a life with purpose and fulfillment. Choosing a CCRC is a sound decision to ensure you have the security you seek in the long-term, but first and foremost, it should be a place that you can feel good about calling home, a place you enjoy living.
>> To research CCRCs in your area, check out our free online community search tool, which includes profiles on over 500 CCRCs across the county.