We entered the lobby – armchairs upholstered in mid-century colors; a painting of a rearing white horse; a row of walkers parked along a wall; a foursome of bent, white-haired women around a card table in a corner – and I swallowed hard. The word “old-fashioned” came to mind. So did the word “old.”
I’m not old. I’m 74 and in great shape, thanks to 18 solid years of yoga. My husband, on the other hand, is beginning to be old; he’s 81 and has Parkinson’s. Unlike me, Tom seemed pleased by the lobby’s décor; with its open space and bare tile floor.
Nothing to trip over or bump against as he walked. Yet it was my idea to visit this “continuing care retirement community” (CCRC for short) in the first place.
CCRCs have been around since the mid-1900s. Many were started by religious orders to house their retiring seniors. The number of CCRCs ballooned as services were extended to lay seniors able to participate financially.
Essentially, you pay an entrance fee and a monthly charge in return for room, board, and care. You live in a fully furnished apartment that you don’t own, so when something breaks, the CCRC fixes it.
You are provided meals, exercise, excursions, amenities, and as much society as you want without needing to pull out your wallet. And if your condition deteriorates, you get skilled nursing.
It’s ideal for someone who won’t or can’t deal with the hassles of homemaking or commuting. But, I worried, what about an adventuresome, able-bodied person like me?
I had talked to friends my age, and most had said the same thing: “A CCRC is a great idea. I’m going to buy into one eventually. You should do it sooner rather than later so you and Tom can enjoy it together before one of you crumbles. But me? I’m not ready.” Nor am I, I’d wanted to respond.
Nevertheless, I’d done the research and found three communities that met our criteria for location, features, and cost. We explored.
During an open house at one of the communities, residents told us how much they loved living there. Listening to their stories about exercise classes and communal outings, I realized how easy it would be for Tom to turn off the TV and get out of his chair to do stuff – he hasn’t driven in three years.
I realized how easy it would be for me to arrange the care he will need as his disease progresses. So, still reluctant to give up my independence, I prepared mentally to empty out the 17-year accumulation in our garage and list our home for sale.
One of the CCRC marketing reps we encountered told us he appreciated his customers because they were “planners.” In fact, he said, the CCRC is rebranding itself as a “life plan community,” for people who don’t want to impose on their children in their later years but do want a hassle-free, good time.
He glossed over the “sickness” part of “in sickness and in health.” He was a little too slick, and we decided against his place. Growing old is not glamorous, despite the pictures in his glossy brochure.
Heart in hand, we eventually signed papers at The Terraces of Phoenix, the place with the spacious lobby and a close-up view of the mountains.
Yes, there would be slow pokes and scooters in all the hallways, but I would be able to walk our dog through the campus in my cowboy boots and, they said, no one would block the way. People might even smile.
I must also admit to a selfish reason for wanting to proceed. In the last little while, I’d tired of planning meals and going to the supermarket. For a year or so, I’d been cooking the same old things over and over.
The thought of eating meals that someone else had prepared – and would clean up after – turned me on. I’d be able to grow my nails, finally, and have more bandwidth for my creative pursuits.
At least that’s what I imagined, and it was enough to tip the scale for me. For a map of the major CCRCs in the US, you can check Aging Smartly.
Have you considered living in a CCRC? Do you know if there’s a CCRC near you? Do you wonder if the CCRC lifestyle would suit you? Stay tuned to this column, and please do respond with your questions.