By CHRIS BARSTEIN
Homeownership: the American Dream. For so many adults, our homes not only fulfill the dream, they also are our most significant single purchase and our greatest investment. They’re where we build lives, families, and memories.
Then, it happens. We age and, almost without warning, that dream starts to become a burden. This time of year, as winter sets in over much of the country, many older homeowners dread snow removal and heating bills. Regular upkeep and repairs get in the way of quality time and bigger projects are an expense that could be spent in other ways. What to do next can seem an overwhelming proposition.
In an ideal world, retirement-age adults have a plan for where they want to live in their later years. Many families, however, put off crucial conversations about long-term care planning. Some are forced to make a decision because of illness, injury, or decline and, at that point, options are limited. Planning ahead and knowing the range of available options gives older adults and their families peace of mind, quality of life, and the opportunity to make a smart investment in their future care.
A continuing care retirement community (CCRC), sometimes called a lifecare community, is one such investment. There are about 1,900 CCRCs across the country, according to AARP, that offer services, amenities, and care to help older adults to age in place.
CCRCs are not nursing homes. It’s a stretch to even refer to them as retirement homes, but they’re far more comprehensive than a 55+ community. Residents who enter the independent living neighborhood shed the burdens of home maintenance and are free to enjoy life to the fullest extent, from onsite dining and housekeeping services to a full array of social, intellectual, and fitness programming. Some residents still work, others volunteer and many travel, knowing that their basic needs are taken care of now and in the future.
This is the distinguishing factor of CCRCs — the amenities they offer are attractive but more important is how they account for residents’ evolving needs from day one. It’s like getting a home, a social life, and the potential to move through a continuum of care in one place. Choosing a CCRC — specifically a Type A CCRC — becomes an investment that may also offer both tax and an array of other benefits.
The benefits of a CCRC depend on the type of contract a resident signs. A Type A, or lifecare plan, is a contract that typically includes an admission fee, a monthly fee, and the option to add a care plan as medical needs increase or change. This allows a resident to move from independent living into assisted living, memory care, or skilled nursing if needed and at a predictable cost.
Admission fees are correlated to the unit a resident chooses. Like the real estate market, the fee is larger when the apartment home is larger. It is also affected by local market demand and the community-wide amenities. The admission fee may also be refundable, as some CCRCs offer different contract types that scale the admission fee and the refundable amount.
Monthly fees cover a package of services that includes necessities — utilities, maintenance, repairs, taxes, etc. — as well as services like dining, housekeeping, and security. The fee also provides access to the amenities a community has to offer like activities, a fitness center, a pool, and a beauty salon. At some CCRCs, this monthly fee remains predictable if couples with a lifecare plan need, at some point, different levels of care — for example, if one transitions into assisted living while the other stays in independent living.
There may also be significant tax benefits of living at a CCRC, which individuals should discuss with their tax advisor. In all cases, it is important for seniors evaluating a CCRC to fully understand what their contract options cover and what benefits they offer.
Like any major life decision, details matter. Retirement-age adults should fully assess their options — especially the social, medical, and financial considerations of those options — when planning for their long-term needs. They may discover that a CCRC not only meets their needs but provides stability and peace of mind as well.
Chris Barstein is the campus executive director for Meadow Ridge, a Benchmark Senior Living continuing care retirement community located in Redding, Conn.