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More People Are Choosing Continuing Care Retirement Communities—This Is Why

Read our latest mention from Newsweek.

From the article:

As people age, planning long-term care becomes a daunting task for many seniors and their families. Across the country, continuing care retirement communities, or CCRCs, are working every day to ease that stress and worry.

A continuing care retirement community, also known as a life plan community, is not simply a nursing or retirement home. They are long-term care options where residents stay on the same campus as they age and their medical needs evolve.

While a resident might move into a home or apartment, the community will provide a continuum of care that adapts to each resident as they transition through different phases of life—from independent living to assisted living, memory care or skilled nursing care.

These communities also offer a slew of activities, including fitness classes, sports, book clubs, off-campus trips, speaker series and live music. While all of the communities listed may look different or offer different amenities or treatments, they are all united in their mission to ensure their residents are living their best lives.

Melissa Honig is the executive director at HumanGood-Valle Verde in Santa Barbara, California.

She knew from a young age that she wanted to work with seniors after witnessing her own grandmother’s struggles at a nursing home on Long Island.

“I visited her every weekend with my family, and I decided that I was going to change nursing homes,” she told Newsweek.

Her mission now: to make these places feel more like home and less like what she calls “the F word”—facility.

When it is no longer feasible for people to live alone at home, Honig said she and her staff do their best to create that same environment at Valle Verde. She wants to ensure residents don’t feel like they are giving up anything, but rather gaining care, connection and community.

“All of us here are committed to creating the best life for all elders,” she said. “We really work to harness all of the wisdom and all of the love and all of the grace that the residents bring and that the team members bring.”

here are about 2,000 CCRCs across the United States, and as the population continues to age, that number is expected to increase to accommodate the needs of the next generation of senior citizens.

Recently, Newsweek released our ranking of the top 250 CCRCs in the country to help our readers make informed decisions about the next stage of life for themselves and their loved ones.

This ranking was based on two metrics: The first was a national online survey that generated a reputation score based on responses from medical professionals and other professionals working in CCRCs as well as residents living in the CCRCs and their acquaintances. Some of the quality dimensions included accommodations, food, safety measures, community services, affordability and overall care.

The second metric was several accreditations associated with CCRCs. The accreditations included those relevant for CCRCs, based on the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF).

Dan Lavender has been at Moorings Park in Naples, Florida, since 2006 and has served as the CEO since 2009.

“We’re all about successful aging,” he said. “We want to make sure they can have the absolutely best life possible, whatever their situation is, and they can become the best versions of themselves.”

The role of the staff and administration, he said, is to enable residents to thrive. That is done by creating a community with social connection, hospitality, restaurants and expert heath care that meets the needs of all residents.

The residents at Moorings Park are much livelier than people might expect from a senior living community, Lavender said. Naples already attracts a very active community of people who have accomplished a lot throughout their lives. The city has a wide range of outdoor and physical activities and community engagement opportunities. Those experiences do not end once residents transition into the CCRC.

“The people who come to Naples are captains of industry and leaders in fields that they’ve been in,” Lavender said. “Moorings Park attracts that same kind of person as their residents—I would call them thoughtful achievers. They’re usually future-oriented and looking at the latest and greatest way to successfully age….That’s why they ended up choosing here [to live].”

All of the CCRCs on this list feature impressive amenities and medical care, such as concierge doctors, on-site clinics and visiting specialists.

But there are several common features that some of the top communities share, including resident involvement, life-long care and socialization.

At each of these communities, residents are allotted a great amount of freedom to be as involved on campus as they wish to be.

Virginia Olsen has been a resident of Friendship Village in Bloomington, Minnesota, for six years. She decided to move to the campus in her 60s after her husband passed away and she realized that she needed to be taken care of for the remainder of her life.

“I was with my husband until his last breath, and I knew there would be nobody to do that for me,” she said. “I don’t have to be concerned because there will be somebody here that will be with me.”

After joking that she never wanted to live with “old people,” she said she feels “blessed” to be a part of the community. The vast number of amenities and activities available do more than keep residents busy, they allow people to maintain a semblance of the lives they led before moving in.

“They don’t wake up every day and say, ‘Now what am I going to do with my day? I’m bored,'” she said. “We offer the opportunity to have a purpose for every person.”

Olsen has served on several different committees that make an impact in the community, including serving as the resident council chairperson and the foundation chairperson. She notes that she does “a lot of different odd jobs,” like being Executive Director David Millers’ interior designer on campus.

Raymond Spack and his wife have lived at Friendship Village for almost three years. They moved in at age 78 after visiting the campus for a continued learning class through the University of Minnesota.

“I’m amazing, I’m busier now than I was in the 10 years of retirement before I came here,” he said. “It’s an arena of interests that respond to my needs and I feel engaged in, and the community is engaged, and the team is engaged.”

While many families might be apprehensive about transitioning their loved ones into a CCRC, current residents say it is one of the best decisions they can make.

By living in this community, residents can ensure their children and grandchildren don’t have to take on the responsibility of taking care of their elderly family members as their health declines and handling their affairs after they pass away.

Spack and his wife do not have children, and the executors of their estate are their nieces who live far away. He said Friendship Village has become “a wonderful gift to their families.”

“We’re in very good hands and when the time comes that we need greater care, decisions are being made here which can be put forward to families for approval, and we will be cared for in a very qualitative, kind manner,” he said.

It is also very common for residents’ family members to move into the same CCRC when they are ready. At Friendship Village, there are over 50 of the current residents who have family members who are currently living there or have lived there in the past, according to Miller.

“That surprised both my wife and I that people who are watching their parents or grandparents in this situation are choosing to come to that same place because they were so impressed by what was going on here, and they continue to be impressed by that,” Spack said.

Valle Verde resident Dorothy Burkhart, 87, said three of her children recently visited her and “they all agreed that this is the best choice I could have made.”

“They are thankful that I am living in such a caring community,” she said. “In fact, my oldest daughter and her husband are planning to move [here] in a few years.”

Honig said it is common among residents to feel they have alleviated anxiety for their families by moving into this community.

When working with families, she said her staff acknowledges that the transition can be difficult—whether it was expected or not.

“Our job is to make sure their family stays family,” she said. “We don’t want the daughter to have to be a care partner and [take on] those challenges and burdens. We want the daughter to always be the daughter and be fully present in that relationship and in that role.”

One of the greatest benefits of moving to a CCRC is the socialization. Often, many seniors fall into isolation when they live at home, especially after their children and friends move away or they lose a spouse.

Tom, 83, and Carol McCann, 82, met at Georgetown University and have been together ever since. After living and working around New York City for many years, the couple bought a home in Naples, Florida, before moving into Moorings Park in 2014 when they were ready to downsize at the age of 72.

“We’ve always been very social people,” Carol said. “When you come to one of these fabulous CCRCs, you’ve got such a wonderful social advantage. Meeting so many people, we’ve made so many dear friends, which is sort of unusual at this stage of life, [being] far from our family.”

Another aspect of aging is a decline in health—something CCRCs are especially capable of handling. While people might think CCRCs are going to be “running their lives,” Tom said that could not be further from the truth. He said the residents are in control in the various committees, classes and activities.

Ralph Fera-McIlwain, the executive director of Freedom Pointe at The Villages, Florida, said new residents sometimes think that they will get “forced” through a continuum of care when they move in. But that is not the case.

“When people come in, the decision to move through the continuum really is yours,” he said. “We’re involved with your day-to-day, we’re involved with you when it’s the right time. Generally, it’s the resident that is deciding, ‘I need some of the services.'”

He said the employees at the community “have their arms around” residents and can notice a change in daily functions or behaviors, like if someone’s eating habits have changed. His staff is paying attention to residents and having those conversations with them about the right time to move into a new phase of care.

“For people in CCRCs, the life expectancy generally is longer and that’s because you’re getting the right attention and the right care at the time that you need it,” he said. “Not when it’s too late and you’ve stayed home for too long before making that change.”

Aging is a part of life, not the end of life. While change can be stressful to many people, the administration and residents of the various continuing care retirement communities assure prospective residents that their communities allow seniors to age with dignity and grace.

For Spack, moving into a CCRC unlocked a new phase of life that is just as exciting and engaging as his earlier experiences. People are not coming to the CCRC to die, he said, but they are coming to live more fully.

“I think so many people go to senior facilities and it’s like requesting a seat on the Titanic, the ship sinks,” he said. “I came here not knowing what to expect and all of a sudden, I found out that I was sitting in the business section of an international flight. It’s wonderful to take off into the sky instead of sinking into the sea. As an aging person, that is a wonderful experience.”