Last week I had the pleasure of speaking to a large group of prospective residents at a life plan community (also called a continuing care retirement community, or CCRC) in Phoenix, Arizona. Following the presentation, a couple from the audience came up and spoke with me.
I could see right away that they were considerably younger than the average prospective resident of a life plan community, and not long into the conversation, they alluded to this. They proceeded to tell me that one of the main reasons they were already planning their move to a CCRC is because the husband’s parents had lived in one, and it had been a great experience for the parents and the adult children.
Specifically, he mentioned that not too long after his parents moved in, his mother experienced a health event that put her in the healthcare/rehab center for some time. He went on to describe how being at this CCRC made his mother’s situation so much easier both on his parents and on the adult children. His mother was able to easily make the transition from the hospital to the CCRC’s healthcare center, and after her recovery, she made the easy move back to independent living with his dad.
The best thing about it, according to the gentleman I spoke with, is that during that time, his dad was able to make the short walk over to the on-site healthcare center to see her every day, without having to worry about driving back and forth across town. Lastly, he told me that about a year later, his father experienced his own health crisis, and that time, it was his mother who was able to easily walk over and see his father each day.
A frequent refrain from younger-than-average CCRC residents
As I reflected on this conversation later in the day, it dawned on me that last year I was speaking at another life plan community — coincidentally, also in Arizona — when I met a couple living in the community that was also significantly younger than most of the other residents. I recalled that as we spoke, they too shared a story about the wonderful experience his parents had had living in a CCRC.
This couple described how the husband’s father had to go to the hospital in an ambulance. A day or two later, the husband was trying to work out the details of how to get his dad home from the hospital when he learned that the staff at the CCRC where his parents lived had already taken care of everything and were planning to pick him up from the hospital.
I may be missing a few details of this family’s story, but the overall point is that the couple I was speaking with was absolutely blown away by how well the staff at the retirement community handled the entire situation with his parents, how much the CCRC’s staff cared, and how easy they made things for him and his wife.
The common thread
Looking back on each of these similar conversations, it made me wonder why a good experience with their parents caused each of these couples to want to move into a CCRC at a younger-than-average age. Afterall, both of the situations with their respective parents were healthcare-related events and didn’t really have as much to do with the amenities or independent living aspects of such communities.
Perhaps seeing life in a CCRC working out so well for our parents, and experiencing how much the staff cares for their residents, we become endeared to the CCRC concept and just want to be there. Or, maybe it’s the recognition that even at a younger age, things can still change—sometimes quickly—and these couples just want to be somewhere that they know they’ll be taken care of, no matter when that day comes.
The draw of the CCRC
In 2011, Mather LifeWays Institute on Aging, an award-winning not-for-profit resource for research and information about wellness, aging, trends in senior living, and successful aging innovations, co-conducted the “National Survey of Family Members of Residents Living in Continuing Care Retirement Communities,” along with Ziegler, a major underwriter of financing for non-profit senior living providers, and market research firm Brecht Associates, Inc. Over 220 CCRCs (primarily not-for-profits) took part in the web-based study, and over 3,600 family members from 49 states and the District of Columbia responded.
The survey responses from these family members of CCRC residents were decisive:
- 93 percent agreed that CCRCs were providing good services to residents (the respondents’ family members).
- 93 percent would recommend their loved ones’ community to others as a good place to live.
- 88 percent felt their family members’ community had a high-quality reputation compared to others.
- 76 percent believed that the services provided at the CCRC reflect good value for the price.
But here’s where the family members survey gets really interesting:
- Over three-quarters (77 percent) of respondents said they would be “likely” or “very likely” to consider a CCRC lifestyle for themselves.
- Respondents’ interest in a future CCRC lifestyle for themselves is strongly influenced by their family members’ experiences of living in CCRCs. Among those who said they were “very likely” to select this senior living option for themselves, 74 percent reported that their family members’ CCRC experiences influenced their interest to a great extent.
- Access to assisted living and long-term care (what is referred to as a continuum of care services) were among the most important reasons respondents said they would select a CCRC for themselves in the future.
- A large majority of the family members who responded to the survey agreed that CCRCs offer: continuity of care if and when health needs change (91 percent); maintenance-free lifestyles (90 percent); opportunities to engage socially with new people (87 percent); and, opportunities to seek new interest and passions in life (77 percent).
>> Related: 4 Key Factors of the CCRC Decision Process
Life-changing experiences with aging parents
When considering the results of this family member survey, they sync with much of what those two couples in Arizona shared with me about their own positive experiences with having parents who lived in a CCRC.
I’ve heard countless stories from the other side of this coin as well—people who had life-altering, bordering on traumatic, experiences with caring for their own aging parents. Often, these accounts involve a parent who is still living in their own home who suffers a sudden health crisis. As a result, their families had to scramble to either find in-home care services or an open bed in a skilled nursing home, or alternately, serve as caregiver to their parent.
It is frequently this physically and emotionally exhausting experience that inspires seniors to seek out a better option for themselves, with one goal being to spare their own adult children the extreme stress they went through.
The couple I met a few weeks ago at the CCRC in Arizona summed up this motivating factor perfectly in a follow-up email last week:
“It takes a significant amount of intellectual and emotional energy to make family decisions about money, moving, health care and distribution of assets. It takes much more energy when you have to make them in times of crisis. The more decisions we can make now when the pressure to act is minimal, the better. The more we can take the burden of making those decisions off of our children, the better. It will be very surprising if we anticipate all the decisions that need to be made, but we can limit them substantially. Of course, no one knows the optimal time for making the decisions about whether and when to consider a CCRC. But I have spent over 40 years as a lawyer, including 20 years as a judge, and I have seen very few people regret making decisions like this too soon. However, I have seen many regret that they acted too late.”