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What to Look for When Choosing a CCRC

Lisa M. Davila, B.S.N., M.S.
March 22, 2018

Older adults are often faced with a difficult decision: what type of living situation will best meet their needs for their retirement years?

You may want to stay at the home where you've lived your entire adult life. Perhaps you've put a lot of work into your house and property and being there evokes warm memories about raising your children.

But your health can change, and change quickly. Your long-term home may no longer be the safest or most convenient place to live. You may no longer have time to take care of all the duties that come with home maintenance. You might have to sink thousands of dollars into home modifications if a health condition results in a reduction of your mobility or ability to manage daily living activities. You may need in-home caregivers.

CCRC basics

Planning for alternative living arrangements could alleviate stress on you and your family. With the aging of the U.S. population, continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) are becoming an ideal option for many seniors. According to Ziegler Capital Investments, there are about 1,950 CCRCs in the U.S.

The nuts and bolts of what constitutes a CCRC may vary somewhat among communities, states, or regions, but essentially, CCRCs offer three living options—independent living, assisted living, and long-term care. Campuses typically include on-site medical care and amenities.

Entering a CCRC usually involves paying an entrance fee and then paying a monthly fee thereafter. These fees can be vastly different depending on location, contract type, what services are offered, and whether the community or parent company is for profit. According to AARP, entrance fees can range from $100,000 to $1 million. Basic monthly fees can range from $2,000 to $5,000 depending on factors such as the type of housing, level of care, any add-on services, and the type of contract.

The AARP website outlines three basic types of contracts, or continuing care agreements. An extended or life care contract covers assisted living, medical treatment, and skilled nursing care without extra charges. A modified contract specifies a set of services for a certain length of time, and in a fee-for-service contract, residents pay market rates for assisted living and skilled nursing care. The scope of coverage can be different depending on the community.

What to look for in a retirement community

Keep an eye out for events at the community that are open to the public and go for several visits. While there, trust your instincts.

"Watch for a sense of engagement among residents and staff," says Tom Neubauer, executive vice president of sales, marketing, and communications for Erickson Living. "You should notice a spirit of engagement among residents and staff and sense a friendly community atmosphere."

Even if you are going to be living in an independent living unit, check out the assisted living and long term care facilities. Another very important place to go is the medical center. "You never know what the future holds, so it's helpful to know you have access to comprehensive health care, including doctors who specialize in the care of seniors. Easy access to specialists is a definite bonus," Neubauer says.

You are likely to stay healthier if there are abundant opportunities for active and enjoyable living. Research shows that people who are physically active and socially engaged are happier, healthier, and live longer. Look for activity schedules, a modern fitness center, wellness initiatives, current technology, learning opportunities, and pleasant places to gather, such as restaurants, libraries, or game rooms.

As you walk around, ask employees how long they have worked there. "Employees are the heartbeat of the community," Neubauer says. "Life can be much easier when you have a responsive and engaged staff who have been in their roles for a long time and know the community well."

The senior living community as a business

If employees are happy, that also speaks well for the financial viability of the community. But moving to a CCRC involves a financial investment and you need to protect yourself. "Do your homework to make sure the community and parent company will be financially viable in the years to come," Neubauer says. "You want to make sure there are funds available to invest in the infrastructure and services."

It shouldn't be a struggle to get the information you need. "Staff should willingly share financial information with you, and in today's world, it's easy to find out from objective sources if there are money-related issues," Neubauer says.

The people who live at the community should have an active role in the community's operations. Ask about resident councils or other resident-run groups.

Misconceptions about retirement communities

"The common thinking is that moving to a CCRC signals the beginning of the end," Neubauer says. "But from the first day here, our residents think of it as a new beginning. My grandparents and my mother lived in CCRCs and counted it as one of the best life decisions they ever made."

Some people think you have to be a social butterfly to be happy living at a CCRC. "You can interact as much or as little as you want. People respect you as an individual," Neubauer says.

A frequent mistake is waiting too long to make the change. "Too many people wait until the last minute to move to a CCRC," Neubauer says, "but residents always proclaim they wish they had moved here sooner."

Visit an Erickson Senior Living community to dispel CCRC misconceptions

If you are considering a move to a CCRC, but still have questions, we invite you to find an Erickson Senior Living-managed community near you and schedule a visit to see what it is all about for yourself. Our dedicated staff will answer all your questions and make sure you know exactly what to expect when moving into one of our vibrant independent living communities.