I had lost a spouse. My instinct was to remain close to all that was familiar, my friends and community. But over a period of months, it became clear that there had been a seismic shift in my vision of life in retirement.
There was the trauma of dealing with the sale of the home we had created together, and the obvious need for downsizing. Our friends were mostly couples, and the relationships were now different for me as a single male in my 70s. My three children were encouraging me to move closer to them. As my oldest son put it, “Dad, you’re in great shape now, but the day is coming when we are not going to be eager to drive eight hours to change your diaper.” That boy has a way with words, and it hit home. It was time for a change.
But relocation was such a daunting prospect! How would I begin to make new friends and find involvement in a community? About this time a dear friend from my college days surprised me with the news that he and his wife were considering a move to a CCRC in western North Carolina. Since I had no idea what a CCRC was, they had to explain (a continuing care retirement community). “But you’re healthy, active, and living happily in a beautiful home,” I protested.
By chance a few weeks later I was attending a conference about 15 minutes away from the CCRC in which they were interested, and I decided to visit there on a free afternoon. After an impromptu tour with some other prospective residents that lasted an hour and a half, I had totally revised my opinion of retirement communities. Here was a community of people like me who were enjoying almost every conceivable activity together in pleasant surroundings with the support of staff for needs as they arose.
Like many of my generation, I had acquired the “old folks rest home” image of places for the elderly who were forced to give up their independence. What I began to realize was that the CCRC offered an active and challenging place to live among people who were still physically and mentally engaged after successful careers. It wasn’t about need. It was the place these residents loved and wanted to be. And rather than surrender independence, it was freedom to come and go without property concerns, while life’s necessities like food and transportation to local events and services were provided.
Both of my parents had developed dementia. My sisters and I had been burdened with the intervention to place them in a facility where they would receive appropriate care. Here I was looking at a place that did not even accept those who immediately required assisted living but provided all levels of care as needed in the future. What a gift to my children to be free of what I had to discern for my parents! A friend wisely observed that “it’s better to be 10 years early than five minutes late.”
So I launched an investigation of the CCRCs in the region within an hour of my children and grandchildren. I’m a comparison shopper and not prone to impulse decisions. The sticker shock hit me immediately. These places are not free! And they differ in the way residents cover their expenses and the range of services that are offered.
Some are nonprofit, and the majority are run by corporations that charge the CCRC for their services. But it became apparent that you get what you pay for. And when I looked at annual expenses without utilities, taxes, insurance, food, etc., the CCRC compared favorably. Even though I had long-term health care insurance, I discovered that a sizable portion of my monthly payments would be deductible as a health care expense.
In the end, I concluded that I felt most comfortable with paying slightly more each month for the security that my payments would not change if the cost of my care increased as I got older. I didn’t want to be “nickel and dimed” for services and activities. And the CCRCs that assume the financial risk for the health of those they admit tend to be more selective of those who are more alert and active, and do more to help them remain in independent living.
I began to visit several CCRCs. Although most places had attractive features, I usually left with some reservations. But I knew I had found a home when I first visited Galloway Ridge.
The campus is located in the countryside within Fearrington Village, a beautiful planned community of about 3,000 mostly retired persons. Fearrington developed Galloway Ridge, and many of the 450 residents previously lived in the village and retained connections with their former friends and neighbors. Together they form a diverse collection of people who enjoyed successful careers in many parts of the country and abroad.
Both the CCRC and village residents share events, clubs, a bookstore, shops, and restaurants. A gym and health care facilities from two world-class medical centers are on campus. The list of daily activities and an amazing library make it evident that this is no nursing home!
The ambiance felt like a lovely home — which it is to its residents. Transportation to appointments and most of the sporting and cultural events in Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh are provided at no additional cost. What more could I want?
It’s been two and a half years since I arrived, and I’m still pinching myself to make sure the joy of living here is real. The friendships with my fellow residents deepen, and my appreciation of their unique gifts continues to grow. Engagement in the self-management process with other residents and staff provides challenges and a sense of purpose. I feel very fortunate that I made the decision to come here when I did.
And that college friend who first planted the seed of possibility for my life in a CCRC? He and his wife are now here, too.
"Choosing Senior Living" is a special series of Senior Correspondent and myLifeSite (www.mylifesite.net). Share your firsthand account of the senior living decision-making process. Send articles of 400 to 600 words to firstname.lastname@example.org.