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Gift to Myself

Kathy Wilhelm

LATE LAST OCTOBER, I was one of the first to move into the new building at my chosen continuing care retirement community, or CCRC. Now, more than five months later, I’m more confident than ever that I made a good decision.

I’m in my mid-70s, single and childless, with relatives 3,000 miles distant in both directions. Both bathrooms at my old home were up 15 stairs. Aging in place was not a good option.

Now, I have a large apartment, with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a den and a balcony. There’s plenty of daylight, including in the kitchen, which has full-size appliances and a huge island. The washer and dryer, also huge, have their own closet. My study—with its six bookcases and a big desk—occupies the second bedroom. The setup of both the study and the main bedroom are effectively unchanged from my house. The apartment is cleaned weekly—I’m planning to switch to every other week—and the guy who answers my maintenance requests is great.

There’s no shortage of advice on “aging well,” which generally includes recommendations to exercise, eat a healthy diet and stay socially engaged. Since I moved in, I’ve been using the weight machines and the treadmill in the well-equipped gym, and I’m starting tai chi. In the week ahead, for those of us in independent living, there’s a choice of more than 40 exercise classes, including aqua exercise, barre and cardio strength—and that doesn’t count table tennis and pickleball games.

Right now, I’m staying with my primary care physician, rather than switching to the onsite clinic, but I’m getting my vaccinations there. I could attend a webinar on tinnitus next week or one on diet later in the month. And I’ve already seen the continuing care concept at work: A couple of residents injured themselves during move-in. After time in hospital, they stayed in the CCRC’s skilled nursing facility, before being cleared to move into their apartments. 

There’s a lot going on, including charitable activity for both onsite and offsite recipients. Residents run the gift shop and a semi-annual yard sale to raise money for the residents’ association. This funds the budgets for 15 main committees and a number of sub-committees, including the library, which is run by residents and led by a former professional librarian. A professional director for the choir and a trainer for the dance team are also paid out of these funds. A residents’ council with elected representatives from the various floors and cottage groupings oversees the association’s budget and acts as the liaison with management.

There are separate fund-raising drives for the foundation that supports residents who run out of money and for employee appreciation. (There’s no tipping.) Then there’s an annual event for Rise Against Hunger, and ongoing projects for homeless veterans and a local charity shop. Plenty of social events, too. I volunteer in the gift shop and the library, and put puzzles together for the charity shop. I’ve been on lunch outings, socialized at “meet and greets,” attended committee meetings, classes and onsite entertainment, and made new friends.

I’ve seen complaints on HumbleDollar about living with a bunch of old people. Of course, there are very old people here—residents seem to live a long time. There are also a lot of less old people, especially in the new building where I live. Some people are still working, while others are active volunteers offsite. You need to be at least age 62 to move in, but your spouse could be as young as 55.

Food is a perennial topic of conversation, and its quality varies. There’s some excellent but expensive food—paid in dining points—which I indulge in only once or twice a month. The two bars offer very good bar snacks that don’t quite make a meal. A sit-down restaurant with table service usually has good food, but occasionally misses. Other options are a not-bad cafe and a food-court-style eatery that I find short on healthy options. Still, the dining director does listen to residents and some better choices are showing up. For instance, all locations recently switched from white to brown rice.

Between making new friends and volunteering, I’ve been staying very busy—so busy, in fact, that I’m blocking off Sunday as “introvert recharge day.” A friend who’s considering his next move is concerned that a CCRC is no place for an introvert. But if you want to eat all your meals in your apartment, and only venture out to pick up your food and your mail, you could. Still, given the advice to maintain social connections as we age, that doesn’t seem like a particularly good idea.

It’s a bit early for me to be sure how the financial side will work out. My move wasn’t cheap—I’d used the same senior movers before—and I had some distinctly expensive periodontal work done in December and January. I’ll know more when I see the effect of the change on my tax situation. Part of my monthly fee is deductible as a pre-paid medical expense, as was part of my entry fee.

Existing residents are extremely welcoming and seem happy. I still believe, as I and others have posted here before, that a move to a CCRC is the best gift you can give your kids. If you’re childless, it’s the best gift you can give to yourself. But research is critical. Avoid for-profit CCRCs, make sure the facility will keep you if you run out of money, check the financials and be sure to visit in person.

Kathy Wilhelm, who comments on HumbleDollar as mytimetotravel, is a former software engineer. She took early retirement so she could travel extensively. Some of Kathy’s trips are chronicled on her blog. Born and educated in England, she has lived in North Carolina since 1975. Check out Kathy’s previous articles.

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