By Claudia Rumwell

When my husband and I decided to embark on our fact-finding mission to learn about continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs), our friends were perplexed. Weren’t we too young to think about this? None of them were thinking about it. They thought Mel and I were crazy to go to what they called an “old folks home.”

We had our reasons – rooted in the experiences of our parents.

Let me take you back to the year 2000. Every six to eight weeks, I made trips to Spokane, Wash., from Portland, Ore., to visit my dad (age 82) and mother (78), who were having more health challenges. Over a 10-year period my trips increased to monthly as I advocated for their ever-changing health care needs. In partnership with my brothers, I facilitated their moves from their home to a retirement apartment; then to assisted living, stops at the hospital in between, and finally to extended care, where they lived together until 2008 when Dad moved into Heaven, with Mom joining him in 2011.

It was quite an experience. I (we) learned a lot. Advocating for and coordinating my parents’ care for those 10 years was the inspiration for the “Senior Care Organizer,” a hands-on caregiving and resource guide for managing senior care. In addition, I feel like I continue to honor my parents’ memory in my role as an educator as I provide presentations about senior care preparation.

Mel’s mother made informed and timely decisions. At 82 years old, she decided to move to a CCRC (before we even knew what that was) because she knew that based on her health concerns, she would need different levels of assistance as she aged. This was a very positive experience. She even called Mel one day and said, “I’m done driving.” She made all the right decisions – at the right time.

Our parents’ experiences prompted our fact-finding mission. We didn’t want to be in a position where our adult kids would have to figure out what to do about us as our health needs changed as we aged. We wanted to make the decisions while we were still healthy and active. We also knew that this would be a “gift to our kids.” Finally, we did not want to be in a position where we waited too long.

So where did we start? The Internet! We searched for CCRCs in Oregon, since we lived there; then in Nevada; and finally in Arizona. Here’s a list of some steps we took with each community:

  • Looked through the website first.
  • Called the community; spoke with the marketing office.
  • Asked for an information packet to be mailed.
  • Started our list of questions and set up a comparison table. (We found several lists of questions to ask from related websites and even from some of the CCRC websites.)
  • Set up a visit where possible. (We stayed overnight when it was available.)
  • Focused on our top questions, which had to do with financial stability, future planning, and staffing longevity. (We made sure to ask the same questions of each community and added the answers to the table.)
  • Talked with Residents whenever possible.

Although Royal Oaks Lifecare Community was in another state, it just seemed to always come to the top of the list (like cream rising to the top). We knew we wanted to be in a sunny place, but there were many choices for that. So why did we choose Royal Oaks after three years of fact-finding?

The community had such great ratings and quality of service. There was proof of financial stability in more ways than one. We were impressed by the good infrastructure with future master planning in the works.

Furthermore, we liked the staff and administrative personnel we met. This is a trust factor. Finally, the community gave us the option of a house since we weren’t ready for apartment living yet.

Mel and I are currently 76 and 71, respectively, but we weren’t too young when we made our decision to move in two years ago. At this point, we know a lot more than our friends when it comes to being prepared and having security and quality of life as we age. We have found terrific friendships here that we will share for years to come.

Royal Oaks will never be an “old folks home.” In fact, it’s just the opposite. The community is indeed a blessing in our lives, and we are so glad we didn’t say, “It’s too soon.”

About the writer

Claudia spent most of her life in Washington and Oregon prior to moving with her husband, Mel, to Arizona two years ago. She is a registered nurse, educator, author and patient advocate. She has worked with seniors for 40-plus years; 20 of which were spent with the Division of Vascular Surgery, Oregon Health Science University in Portland, Oregon as vascular nurse coordinator, researcher, and instructor of surgery. She shifted her nursing focus to senior care in 2008 and continues to enjoy her role as an educator while also providing presentations about senior care preparation.

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