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The pros and cons of continuing care retirement communities

Jayme Kennedy
June 8, 2018

There are many factors to consider when planning where you want to spend your golden years. For many seniors, aging in place is the most practical and appealing option. But for those who want to retire somewhere that offers plenty of amenities, continuing care retirement communities, or CCRCs, are quickly becoming a popular choice.

Before deciding whether or not to move into a CCRC, it will help to understand some of the pros and cons of being a resident in this type of retirement community.

What are the benefits of a CCRC?

Quick look: Pros

  • All-inclusive

  • Social network

  • Access to medical services

  • Couples can stay close

  • Independent living

  • Peace of mind for family

One of the biggest perks of living in a CCRC is that everything is included. It’s very similar to a full-amenity resort or hotel and is a great option for seniors who want to age in place but might not have the support system to do so. In a CCRC, everything is taken care of. Residents enjoy maintenance-free living with all the freedom of living on their own. Meals, transportation, housing maintenance, housekeeping, laundry, security and even some utilities may be provided. It takes the worry and work out of living and allows the resident to enjoy their retirement.

In addition to the perks and amenities provided by the community, residents have access to a large social network of people with shared interests. For single or widowed seniors who transition to a CCRC in their retirement, the social benefits and sense of community can be a huge draw. Many communities offer a variety of social activities, like outings, mixers, clubs and even organized travel. In a CCRC, there’s always a friend around, and many seniors like having the sense of community while still maintaining their private living space.

Another benefit to living in a CCRC is that residents are able to live their lives with the added security of a health care support system. The majority of CCRCs offer varied levels of care within the community, such as assisted living, skilled nursing and memory care services. Residents are able to move from one level of care to another without ever having to leave the community. For example, if a resident’s health begins to decline, they may have to move from their independent living residence into a skilled nursing residence, but they won’t have to move out of the community they know and love. In addition, residents have quick access to medical services, including nurses and doctors. Plus, the resident becomes known by staff, who can identify a potential issue or sudden change in their health or demeanor and begin treatment in a timely manner.

CCRCs offer plenty of flexibility for partners or spouses who may have differing medical and care needs. When a couple moves in together but has different needs, a CCRC can meet their needs without forcing them to live apart. Even if one spouse moves into a higher-care facility within the community, they’re still close enough to be able to see each other every day and enjoy many of the same social benefits of the community together.

Finally, CCRCs provide families with peace of mind that their loved one is well-cared for and living an active, healthy life. One of the hardest parts of watching our family members age can be witnessing their loss of freedom and self-sufficiency. But many families aren’t equipped to move their elderly family members into their homes and provide the kind of care that may be required. A CCRC allows seniors to live independently while still providing the social, medical and emotional support services they need.

What are the potential challenges of living in a CCRC?

Quick look: Cons

  • Adjusting to a new lifestyle

  • Living with only seniors

  • Mixed satisfaction with facilities

  • Stress from making big decisions

  • Financial burden and risk

  • Facility instability

For many seniors, leaving their home and familiar territory may be a difficult transition. While CCRCs work hard to create a thriving, supportive senior community, moving into one still means adjusting to an entirely new lifestyle. Additionally, a CCRC will be almost entirely composed of senior citizens. Some seniors may feel more comfortable living where there’s a mix of ages, from children to young adults and other retirees.

Living arrangements in some CCRCs may not be consistent. For example, you may choose a community based on their skilled nursing facilities but find that their independent living areas, social activities or food services aren’t what you were looking for. Once you decide that a CCRC is right for you, finding the community that best fits all your needs can take time and significant research. When touring a facility, you’ll want to investigate everything the community has to offer—from the medical care support all the way down to the size of the maintenance staff and their response times. Many communities allow potential residents to spend a night or even a weekend on the grounds so they can get a firsthand look at how it operates.

Moving into a CCRC requires quite a bit of planning and forethought. Residents have to sign their contract and move in when they’re still able to live independently. They’re making decisions about their health care and living options that will affect them for the rest of their lives. Some seniors may not be comfortable with making so many big decisions at once, or they may be hesitant to enter into a contract that doesn’t offer the option to make changes down the road.

One of the biggest disadvantages of CCRCs is the cost. For seniors living on a fixed income, the financial obligations can be a deterrent or eliminate CCRCs as an option altogether. It is, by far, the most expensive option for senior living. All CCRCs require a substantial entrance fee, which can range from the low six-figures to upwards of a million dollars. In addition to this entrance fee (which can be nonrefundable should the resident move out or pass away), residents are required to pay a monthly maintenance fee. It’s a huge financial investment, and it can be a gamble that doesn’t pay off in the long run.

That brings up another drawback of CCRCs: There can be substantial financial risk involved. According to James Sullivan, a certified public accountant with Core Capital Solutions in Naperville, Illinois, if a community isn’t financially viable, residents run the risk of losing their entire investment should it go bankrupt. When researching CCRCs, it’s important to find out if the organization is for-profit or not-for-profit, as that can have an impact on the stability of the organization. For example, if the community operates on a for-profit structure, there is always the possibility of a sale, which could void or change resident contracts. On the flip side of that, non-profit organizations that rely on entrance and monthly fees to operate are especially risky. Low occupancy rates could create a cash flow problem and drastically affect their ability to maintain day-to-day operations. In some cases, residents do not own their homes or apartments within a CCRC, leaving them with very little protection if the organization runs out of money or shuts its doors.

Potential CCRC residents should thoroughly analyze their monthly expenses—especially if living on a fixed income—when considering their post-retirement living situation. Thorough research and an understanding of the benefits and potential drawbacks of CCRCs will help you make that important life decision.

Read next: Can you afford a CCRC?

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