At some point, most of us will no longer be able to live independently. Having recently helped my mom get placed in a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC), I have learned a great deal about this topic. While by no means a complete list, here are some things to consider, as well as some takeaways:
Kids & Parents Must Communicate
After our mom had a medical scare a little over a year ago while living alone in Tucson. My mom, sister, and I began to talk more frequently about what mom’s preferences were, her concerns, and how she wanted assistance from me and my sister going forward. Although we are a close family, we live hours apart in the case of my mom, or on opposite coasts in the case of my sister, so talking more often about mom’s situation was key to the process.
Don’t Hold Back
My sister and I had frank discussions with my mom about finances, her desire and need to move, and what we felt might suit her best, etc. We all pondered the issues a great deal, over several months, taking stock in what we thought was the best outcome. Ultimately, Mom decided she was going to move from her house in Arizona to a facility near one of our hometowns to be supported by one of her children as she grows older. Naturally, my sister and I each would have preferred to have our mother near us! The most important thing we did not leave unsaid was “It’s about what is best for Mom, not what we want”.
Thankfully, our capable octogenarian mom toured the facilities in both locations that we each felt were closest to her needs, heard all the advice and input possible, pondered the pros and cons of the options for a few weeks, and ultimately came to her own conclusion.
Establish Priorities Early
When I told my sister that I had met a retirement community consultant in my area, she looked for one near her. This professional walked us down a list of “things to look for”, such as age of facilities, staff-to-resident ratios, overall cleanliness, strength of facilities’ financial statements. My consultant mentioned to me on an early tour that the decision often comes down to two things:
This is the “secret sauce” that gets people out of their apartments. In some cases, activities in the nearby community may be a big draw, such as shopping, art museums, gardens, etc., and of course, favorable weather doesn’t hurt. As the access to cars disappears and mobility declines, activities inside each community take on a bigger importance. Exercise classes, swimming pools, sewing groups, book clubs, discussion groups, and regular card games will take on a more important role. When choosing a facility, acknowledge current hobbies and areas of exploration to ensure engagement through activities.
Dining in fancy restaurants away from the core facility will decline over time. The quality of food service and offerings, as well as the variety at the primary dining location, is key to satisfaction. Each facility is different, but a primary social activity of most retirement communities, each and ever day, is dinner. Your circle of friends and the enjoyment of the meal is directly correlated to your level of happiness.
Be Open-Minded on Tours
Two of the surprising priorities that resulted from the facility tours were the friendliness of the staff/residents, as well as the spaciousness of the overall facility. Did the staff know the residents’ names and greet them as they passed them in the hallway? Do the residents appear to be greeting each other and gathering throughout the facility? Were the hallways narrow, dark or institutional looking? If you want to learn more about a particular feature, such as an attached skilled nursing facility, is the staff willing to spend extra time to take you there?
Gotta Walk In
A good rule of thumb is that most desirable retirement communities require that incoming residents be able to “walk-in” the front door initially. As explained to me, mobility is key to getting involved in activities and making new friends at the facility. Otherwise, new residents feel detached and are often unhappy.
Proximity to Closest Child
No parent ever wants to feel like a “burden” on their children. Every time a child visits or picks up a parent, it’s a round trip. There’s a big difference between a facility located 5-10 minutes away and one that’s 25 minutes away or more.
Ultimately, the choice must “feel right”. There were a few signs that our mom was signaling her choice along the way. Residents with whom she had tea or shared a meal had told her that they wanted her to move in there, that they looked forward to spending time with her. She went back for a second meal the following week and met more people, coming away with the same impression. Closing down the dining hall on both nights was a good sign. On the way home on the second night, she grinned and nodded when I asked the simple question: “Did you find your people?”
It was a lengthy process that required plane trips to Virginia and California, as well as numerous phone calls between the three of us.
Fortune smiled upon us. A little more than a month after her final tour, an opening occurred at her favorite facility. After choosing carpet swatches and paint colors, Mom looks forward to moving in later this spring. Best of luck on your journey mom, we love you very much!