Are you or your aging parents making plans for how they will spend their retirement years? If so, it’s a good idea to know about continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) as an option.

CCRCs usually offer a combination of living plans, depending on the health of the residents. There is independent living, where residents live by themselves in apartments or homes on the grounds of the CCRC. There is assisted living, if the residents require assistance with the activities of daily living (ADL) or frequent care. There are also skilled nursing facilities, for residents who require a higher level or care or more intensive care.

Benefits of a CCRC

There are multiple benefits to CCRCs. Some CCRCs, however, may also have potential drawbacks for senior citizens. Below, we itemize some of the benefits and possible drawbacks.

  1. Coverage for Each Stage of Retirement

Perhaps the most significant benefit of CCRCs is that they allow senior citizens to plan for the stages of their retirement. For many people, most of their retirement can be spent living independently. However, sudden illnesses, convalescence from surgery or development of chronic conditions can require assisted living. If that happens, seniors can move comfortably and conveniently to assisted living in a CCRC. If they require more constant care, they can also move to a nursing facility.

Approximately 52 percent of seniors will need long-term care or long-term supportive services as they age. Most of this group, however, will need these services for a relatively short period of time. It can provide peace of mind to know that this care can be provided in a CCRC without major disruption or a significant move.

  1. No More Maintenance

As people age, it is normal to find the chores of household maintenance more difficult than they may previously have found them. Everything from raking leaves to climbing up on the roof to clean gutters may take longer or even be challenging or painful due to conditions like arthritis, which are common in senior citizens.

At CCRCs, maintenance of living spaces and grounds is done by a professional staff. Most are beautifully landscaped and superbly maintained.

  1. Prepared Meals

CCRCs come with meal plans. As a result, residents are assured of meals prepared and served by someone else. This can be a considerable convenience for an aging population who may not have time or inclination to shop or prepare meals. As people age, they may find shopping and preparation difficult, or not be able to see well enough to do it adequately.

In addition, seniors, like everyone else, need proper nutrition. CCRC meals are designed to deliver healthful and balanced meals.

  1. Community

CCRCs offer planned events and outings for their residents – everything from cross-country skiing to shopping expeditions. This can provide a welcome sense of community and engagement.

In addition, of course, CCRCs provide great opportunities to know one’s neighbors, either through meeting around meal tables or at events.

  1. Health and Recreation Opportunities

Residents have multiple opportunities to engage in opportunities to maintain their health and strength. Many CCRCs have gyms and exercise equipment. In addition, many outdoor activities, such as walking or canoeing, are health- and sports-related.

Potential Drawbacks

  1. Expenses

Seniors and their children need to carefully review expenses at any CCRC they are thinking of. CCRCs have a reputation of being quite expensive. Some of this reputation was generated during the Great Recession of 2008-2009, when housing prices fell. Some seniors couldn’t afford entrance fees because the prices of their houses had dropped.

Generally, CCRCs have entrance fees and monthly fees. Some may have other fees, such as health care charges or transition charges when a resident moves from one part of the CCRC to another.

CCRC expenses are governed by a contract. You should ask to review the contract and expense history of any CCRC you are looking at. You need to ask whether the entrance fee covers a portion of any future needed care or whether these will be charged at time of service. It’s essential to assess whether you will be able to cover all the expenses needed.

Finally, how are entrance fees refunded, if at all? A steep entrance fee may not be fully amortized should a family member die suddenly after moving in or after just a short residence. Are any fees refundable to heirs?

  1. Flexibility

Some CCRCs allow residents to move out if their circumstances or desires change. Others have a contract that may be difficult to break. Ask about the flexibility at every CCRC you consider.

Another component of flexibility is the decision concerning when residents move to other levels of the CCRC. It’s important for seniors to feel that they have control over their own lives. Can they decide to move to the next level, or is the decision made by medical personnel? Once they move to another level, can they move back if circumstances change?

  1. Satisfaction Levels

Because CCRCs are long term, it’s important to know whether current residents are happy with their choice and if they would choose the CCRC again. Ask the CCRCs you are considering if they have any customer satisfaction data from past and current residents. Also, can you chat with current residents?

You should also ask if the CCRC maintains data on staff turnover. CCRCs with high staff turnover may not be well run and may have difficulty attracting qualified staff.

  1. Long-Term CCRC Finances

It’s important to know the long-term financial health of any CCRC you consider. Some, unfortunately, have run into difficulty paying their bills. If this happens, they may be forced into foreclosure or have to raise fees to unsustainable rates for current residents.

Ask to see the operating and financial statements of any CCRC your family is looking at.

CCRCs can be great retirement choices, providing convenient and pleasurable living with long-term peace of mind. Some, unfortunately, have developed poor reputations due to financial difficulty. It’s important to weigh the benefits and drawbacks for your family’s situation.