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Continuing care retirement community (CCRC) - what to expect?

Continuing care retirement communities (also known as life plan communities or CCRCs) provide retirees with alternative living options, their specificity lying in the continuum of care available to all residents. Also known as life plan communities, they offer senior adults the possibility to spend their golden years in a comfortable setting, with access to a wide range of amenities and services. What is a CCRC?

What does a continuum of care mean? Well, all residents of life plan communities begin their life in a CCRC with independent living, provided they can live and function on their own. When their health needs become more complex and they require assistance with daily living activities, they can transition toward assisted living.

In case of severe health issues, with an increased demand for assistance and rehabilitation, one can opt for a higher level of care, which is called skilled nursing. Should one be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, there is a specific level of care available. This is known as memory care and it often involves constant supervision. CCRCs have specific admittance criteria, and one of the most important regards one’s age. As a general rule, continuing care retirement communities accept people over 62, but some accept younger residents, provided they are over 55. Despite this, statistics have shown that most people arrive in such retirement communities around the age of 80 or even older. Aside from the age requirement, CCRCs require prospective residents to present a reasonable state of health, without any chronic or degenerating conditions. Residents must be independent and self-sufficient in terms of money, so they can cover both entrance and monthly fees. Some facilities might require senior adults to have a long-term insurance policy, such as Medicare.

To determine whether a resident is suitable for admittance or not, the respective facility might require the on-site physician to perform a thorough examination. Both the health status and the level of independence are assessed, and these are often compared to previous medical records.

Assisted living in CCRCs

As mentioned above, all residents start out their CCRC adventure with independent living. However, when their care needs become more complex, they are encouraged to make the transition to assisted living. This decision is always taken in the best interest of the resident.

What does this level of care entail? When a resident moves into assisted living, he/she will benefit from round-the-clock access to medical care and personal assistance. The latter is also known as custodial care and it may involve not only assistance with daily tasks, but also having a trained nurse handling basic care needs. It is worth mentioning that residents are encouraged to remain as independent as possible. The staff is available to offer help whenever necessary. For instance, residents might need help getting dressed, eating, bathing, or using the toilet. Some require assistance with medication management. Depending on the CCRC, residents might live in private or semi-private housing units.

What kind of services can you expect to find at this level of care? Residents benefit from housekeeping and general maintenance, as well as laundry and linen service, emergency call system, and transportation to/from appointments. Customized diets are available and the staff might provide assistance with treatments, mobility, and personal grooming. Even if a resident has transitioned toward assisted living, he/she has access to the on-site amenities. These might include: fitness and wellness center, swimming pool, massage therapy, beauty salon and barber shop, private dining rooms, computer room, library, worship service, etc. As a general rule, amenities target three main areas: physical health, intellectual stimulation, and social connection. Residents can fill their day as they want, taking advantage of the near proximity to such diverse amenities.

The transition toward assisted living is decided either at the request of the resident or when a regular assessment identifies specific changes in one’s health status. The staff might also provide notice of changes in one’s independence. More often than not, transitions are necessary to protect the respective resident from potential injuries. For instance, a resident who is no longer capable to get out of the shower, might slip and fall. CCRCs make a purpose out of preventing unnecessary injuries at senior age, as this also reduces the need of long-term rehabilitation.

Memory care in CCRCs

Most continuing care retirement communities have memory care facilities, with a person-centered approach that helps residents maintain their sense of self for as long as it is possible. Residents who suffer from dementia can enter this level of care, which includes 24/7 monitoring and supervision. The goal of such facilities is to help residents stay safe and thrive, even when their condition is advanced.

The diagnosis of dementia is not an easy one to handle, and you might feel confused at what lies ahead. Living in a memory care facility might make the whole experience less daunting, especially since you will be surrounded by trained staff. Overall, you will benefit from a higher quality of life, with safety features and nurturing staff. Memory care facilities are designed to resemble and offer the same functions as private homes. Residents are involved in daily engagement programs, in accordance with their current skills. Should an emergency occur, the staff is available round-the-clock. The trained staff can also help you determine when is the right time for transitioning into memory care, with a thorough assessment of your cognitive level offering all the answers you might need.

What kind of services can you expect to benefit from? As mentioned, the environment of memory care facilities is adapted to your needs, allowing the staff to closely monitor your needs. Exterior doors are secured and all exists have keypad entries. Many CCRCs have enclosed courtyards or guided gardens where residents can explore the outdoors. The list of general services might include: laundry and housekeeping, daily support, dementia-friendly meals, medication administration.

In terms of amenities, you can expect to find a wide range of programs, activities, and events meant to stimulate the resident’s cognitive abilities. These are also designed to allow senior adults with the opportunity to explore various passions and hobbies. In a warm and welcoming environment, residents of continuing care communities can benefit from amenities such as: learning center, library, brain games, dancing, art classes, music programs, memory garden, butterfly garden. Additional amenities might include: morning cognitive workouts, reading groups, nature interaction.

Dementia residents are assessed at regular intervals, by trained personnel, in order to determine the cognitive level and potential changes. In some cases, the condition progresses slowly, without too many challenges for the respective resident. However, it can happen that the cognitive decline accelerates, with the resident in question requiring constant supervision. Memory care facilities cater to both categories of residents, always having their best interest at heart.

Advantages of moving into CCRCs

Moving into a continuing care retirement community has a lot of advantages to offer, starting with the fact that you will benefit from a continuum of care within the same setting. For many senior adults, this decision is both practical and appealing. They want to spend their golden years in a setting that guarantees immediate access to the necessary healthcare, services and amenities. Moreover, they appreciate the fact that their future needs are considered as well.

A CCRC offers everything in the same place and that is a huge advantage. You can age in place, with an excellent support system that offers everything you might need. We are talking, of course, about housing units equipped with all necessary for comfortable living. The staff handles all the chores and maintenance, so you can enjoy a worry-free lifestyle. Meals are prepared and served, transportation guaranteed, and you are free to spend your time as you wish. No need to be anxious anymore, as everything is taken care of by someone else.

What about the immense opportunities for socialization? When living at home, most senior adults feel isolated, battling depression. By moving into a CCRC, you will be permanently surrounded by like-minded people, who share your interests and hobbies. If you are single or widowed, this move might be even more beneficial. Let’s just remember that CCRCs often organize social activities, including off-site trips. You can make new friends and feel comforted by the fact that you belong to a community, while being able to enjoy private living.

Continuing care retirement communities offer a well-developed healthcare support system. They offer several levels of care within the same setting, encouraging transitions to be made at the right time. Residents can transition – temporarily or permanently – to higher levels of care without having to leave the community. Regardless of the level of care, residents have access to trained staff and medical services. They become familiar with the staff, who can identify potential warning signs of major health events. Sometimes, the changes in one’s health are subtle, but the nurses might identify them nonetheless and the treatment can be started in a timely manner. Residents also benefit from regular medical assessments to identify potential health issues.

Another advantage to consider regards couples. After living for an entire lifetime together, many senior adults are reluctant to leave their home and move into a CCRC. However, such communities are quite flexible, and they allow couples to live together. Should their medical and personal care needs become different, they can transition to different levels of care, but still remain close together. They can see each other every day and be part of the community, taking part in various activities as a couple.

Families can also find their peace of mind, knowing that their elders are well taken care of. CCRCs welcome families to visit the campus and see what it means to be a member in such a community. Knowing that your loved ones are safe, health, and happy is all one could ask for. Continuing care retirement communities promote active lifestyles, so families no longer have to worry about their relatives suffering from loneliness, depression, or anxiety. They can see that CCRCs are equipped with everything necessary, allowing residents to live independently, with as much or as little support as they require. Scheduled visits are allowed and some CCRCs even have guest admissions, so families can spend more time with their loved ones.

Are you thinking about moving into a CCRC?

If the answer is yes, the first thing you should do is decide on the location. You have the choice of moving into a continuing care retirement community in your state or you can choose one that is located in a different state. Keep in mind that each state has different climates and opportunities, and that each CCRC might have its own conditions or admittance criteria to impose. However, this freedom to choose exactly the retirement community you want cannot be overlooked.

It is also a good idea to consider the financial side of moving into a CCRC. All continuing care retirement communities require prospective residents to cover substantial entrance fees, followed by monthly fees. Both vary between different communities, and it is clear that some states have lower costs than others. With entrance fees, you can expect to pay between $50,000 and $500,000. However, there are also luxury CCRCs, where these fees can reach as high as $2,000,000. As for the monthly fees, these are greatly influenced by the type of contract, varying between $1,500 and $10,000.

If you are not exactly certain which CCRC is the best for you, it might be a good idea to ask one of your family members help with the research process. Most facilities allow you to take virtual or real tours, so this might be a useful thing to consider as well. You can make inquiries about potential fees, admittance criteria, floor plans, services, and amenities. A specialized lawyer can help you with the legal part, especially when it comes to financing. You might discuss your options with him/her, as residents usually use retirement funds, savings, or various assets to cover the necessary fees. You might also consider selling your property, using the respective funds to the same purpose.

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