As people age, a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) can be an excellent option. CCRCs are distinguished by providing several different levels of care, from independent to assisted living. Some have separate facilities for older people who have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. As a result, if senior citizens progress from healthy and active to needing care and support services, they can transition on the campus of a CCRC, without disruption.

If a family member is getting older, it’s a good idea to check out either local CCRCs or CCRCs in areas where they may want to move. Looking at CCRCs can be a lengthy process, and there can be waiting lists. It’s therefore a good idea to start well before your loved one needs to move.

Many senior citizens are drawn to the flexibility of CCRCs. They may be attracted to the ease and convenience, especially if they no longer want, or can perform, the maintenance and upkeep required on a house. Many also like the idea of a community. Many CCRCs have social activities for residents and sponsor trips to local cities frequently.

But what do you look for in a CCRC? Here’s a guide.

Consider Cleanliness and Location of Facilities

Start with a visit to the campus. Many CCRCs offer open houses or lunches for prospective clients on a frequent basis. Many will let you stay overnight as well. If they do, it’s a great way to get a sense of what residence there will be like.

If a tour isn’t offered, ask to set one up. Because there are tiered residences, ask to see all of them — the areas for independent living, for assisted living and any special wings.

Look at the residence areas as you would look at any real estate and ask questions:

Is the Area Comfortable and Pleasant?

Does it offer ample and convenient space? Is it well maintained? Would you or your loved one be comfortable living here? Make sure there is sufficient space for items your loved one wants to keep, such as a beloved chair.

Will It Be Safe and Clean?

Many older people have arthritis, for example, so baths and showers should have grab bars and be comfortable and convenient to enter. For all the facilities, look for sparkling cleanliness and care. Everything should be well maintained and kept up well.

Tour the dining areas and the activity areas. Are these comfortable and convenient? Are they clean and well maintained?

Where Are the Facilities Located?

Are there places nearby your loved one would enjoy, such as a shopping center or a city with cultural events? Is it close to nature, for suitable outdoor outings? How often do activities take place? Ask to see a schedule.

Are the residents near doctors’ offices, a hospital or medical center? Regular check-ups and medical care are highly important for senior citizens.

Is There a Transition Process?

Finally, ask what the criteria are for transitioning to other levels of care within the facility. What are the assessments, and who is involved?

Talking With CCRC Residents

Ask to speak to several residents. Ask about their experiences. Ask them about all aspects of the CCRC. Are they comfortable with the facilities? The ability to transition? The staff, on all levels? The meals? The activities?

The Staff at the CCRC

CCRC staff perform multiple duties. Some look after the residents on a daily basis. Some provide nursing care. Some are medical, either on staff or on call. Others maintain the facilities and perform administrative tasks. Ask about turnover and retention of staff. It’s important to have long-term staff on board. Frequent turnover may result in a lesser quality of care or indicate management issues.

Observe interactions between residents and all the staff. It’s particularly important to watch residents, caregivers and nursing staff. They should be respectful and friendly. Observe both the tone and body language. They should never talk down to residents or act as if they are humoring them.

Ask to review the credentials of caregiving and medical staff. Are the doctors affiliated with a hospital? If so, is the hospital nearby? This is important to know in case your loved one requires hospitalization at some point.

Financing a Move to a CCRC

It’s very important to review the financial picture of living in a CCRC, in every respect.

First, make sure you know what the costs are. You should look at a contract before making any commitments. Have your attorney and accountant review it. What are the entrance fees? Are entrance fees charged when residents change tier? What is the deposit? Is it refundable, to the resident or the heirs?

Look at the monthly fees. Make sure you understand what they cover. Are activities or special meals assessed an extra fee? Ask how frequently monthly fees are raised. What goes into the assessment of raising them? Ask the questions you would ask of any real estate deal.

  • First, will you be assessed property taxes, for example? Do they remain tax-deductible?
  • Second, make sure that your loved one can comfortably meet all the costs. It’s prudent to do several sets of financial planning — current costs and projected costs, average and high. If your loved one is selling their current home to finance the CCRC, will the amount comfortably cover them for years to come?
  • Third, check into what happens if finances experience a shortfall. If your loved one plans to live on a portfolio of stocks, for example, what would happen if stocks took a tumble and they suddenly had less income? Some CCRCs offer short-term financial assistance to residents. Others don’t. Be sure to plan for unexpected contingencies.
  • Fourth, check into what would happen if the resident wanted to leave. Is any money refundable? Again, it’s prudent to plan for contingencies.

The CCRC’s Financial Picture

It’s important to ask about the financial health of the CCRCs you are looking at as well. Although bankruptcies are very infrequent, they have occurred. A CCRC is a combination of paying for a service and making an investment in the future. You want to make sure it’s solid and solvent, just as you would with any purchase and any investment.

Ask for a financial report, both for the CCRC and the organization that owns it, if there is one. Look at the revenues versus expenses. Have your financial professional review it as well. Revenue should comfortably cover costs. There should be no sign revenue or profits are declining. Their financial health should be robust.

A Smart Choice for Seniors

Moving into a CCRC can be a wise move for older people who want to transition from independent to assisted living if the latter is needed. They can be highly appealing to people because of the community they provide, the relief from the care and upkeep a home requires, and the proximity to medical services.

But moving into a CCRC also needs to be undertaken with care and thought. Be sure to ask about the facilities, the residents’ experiences and the staff. Carefully plan for financing a CCRC. Finally, ask to see their financial report to make sure the facility you choose is in good financial shape for the future. Make sure your loved one’s stay in a CCRC is set up to be a success.