When making a decision about moving to a continuing care retirement community (CCRC, also called a life plan community), there are a lot of different factors to consider. It’s certainly vital to understand the financial implications and contract details, but there’s something else just as (or maybe even more) important to consider, and you won’t find the answer in a brochure or even among all of the information available on myLifeSite.

One of the most crucial factors to consider when selecting a CCRC is your happiness. Will you be happy living there on a day-to-day basis? Naturally, this applies to not only those considering a CCRC but also other types of retirement communities. However, choosing a CCRC is typically a bigger commitment—financially and otherwise—so it’s even more important to make sure your first choice is the right choice.

Finding your “home, sweet home”

Here’s one real-world example: I had a person tell me that they had picked out what they thought was the perfect corner apartment at their chosen CCRC, but after moving in, they realized that the early-morning delivery trucks come right by their unit making loud noises and beeping sounds. This person shared that they wished they had visited the residence in the morning instead of just coming in the afternoon.

As I discussed in my post last week, What If I Change My Mind About Moving to a CCRC?, most people who move to a CCRC are glad they made the choice they did, but there are examples of people who have had second thoughts about their decision either before or even after they have moved. In the post, I explain that there are ways to get out of a CCRC contract, though it can be costly depending upon when you change your mind.

But with the proper research, you can help ensure you’ll be happy in your new home and glad you made the choice you did.

What to look for and ask

So how can you really know if you will be happy in any particular CCRC? Here are a few details to consider as you make your CCRC decision.

Stay on site for a few days. In addition to visiting your top CCRC contenders several times, be sure to visit at various times of day (as exemplified in the example above about the early-morning delivery trucks!). Many CCRCs also have guest suites on their campus—a fully furnished unit within their independent living complex, which allows prospective residents to stay overnight. Indeed, these guest suites offer a glimpse into the realities of living in that particular CCRC, so look at it with a critical eye. Is it clean? Is it in good repair? Does everything work they way it’s supposed to (TV, faucets, HVAC, etc.)? You can likely expect a similar experience if and when you move in, so if things in the guest suite are not up to your standards, you may want to cross that particular CCRC off of your list.

>> Related: Guest Suites: A Chance to Shine (or Not)

Look at upkeep. In addition to examining the guest suite, take note of the general upkeep of the community, both the grounds and inside the buildings. Are the walls and floorboards well-kempt or dinged up? Are the carpets clean or worn out? If things aren’t up to snuff, ask why. Maybe a renovation is commencing in the near-future, and so they’re holding off, but if not, it could be a sign of a bigger problem.

Talk with other residents. It’s tough to beat a first-hand account when it comes to learning about day-to-day life in any community. So be sure to talk to current residents (and preferably members of the residents’ council) about how well complaints or service issues are addressed. No one wants to live someplace where they have made this sort of commitment—financial and otherwise—and not feel that they can get their concerns efficiently and satisfactorily addressed. Indeed, a recent survey by myLifeSite of prospective CCRC residents revealed that “residents having a voice” is one of the most important considerations in the community they chose.

Understand the on-site healthcare services. By definition, all CCRCs provide a continuum of care services to their residents, from independent living to assisted living to skilled nursing care. But even though a community is a CCRC, you still will want to make sure you know exactly what care services are available, and where. For instance, not every CCRC has comprehensive memory care on their campus. If someone needed this type of care, they may have to leave the community.

>> Related: What is a “Continuum of Care”?

Eat several meals. All CCRCs will have a dining hall, and some will have several different dining options, including bistros and coffee shops. Try them all! Is the food tasty and of good quality, and are the menu offerings diverse? Can you get take-out? Are dining times flexible? What about off-hour options? Since residents will typically be eating at least one meal a day within the dining facilities as part of their meal plan, you want to be sure you like the food the serve.

>> Related: Food for Thought: How CCRC Meal Plans Work 

Understand the transportation options. Most CCRCs offer some level of transportation services, providing residents with the freedom to get off campus even if they are no longer able to drive themselves. But how flexible is the transportation? Is there an extra fee to use the service? Is it simply a scheduled daily or weekly bus trip, or do they have additional options like individual rides to doctor’s offices or the grocery store? (Let’s be honest: Riding a bus to the grocery store and then having to wait for everyone else, if you only need a few items, isn’t ideal.)

Consider your unique happiness needs

Finally, and maybe most important, there are certain aspects of happiness that can only be determined by you, and you want to be certain that those specific “happiness needs” can be met by the CCRC you are considering.

Let’s suppose you love to garden. Is there still an opportunity to do that once you move to the CCRC? For example, are there available independent living residences that have yards or at least a community garden? What if you love to cook? Are the floorplans and kitchens set-up to accommodate cooking enthusiasts? Or maybe you are an animal lover. Is your beloved pet going to be permitted?

Yes, the more practical aspects of selecting a CCRC are important—like the cost, quality, amenities provided, financial viability of the community, availability of care services, etc. You want to be sure you understand exactly what you are getting when you sign that contract! But ultimately, this is a place where you will be living for years to come—it will be your home. Don’t settle for a place that doesn’t meet your needs when it comes to your long-term happiness.

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