By Jack Cumming

It will be no surprise that, as a resident, I have many contacts with people who are thinking about moving into a CCRC, but who don’t want to expose themselves yet to the happy tour and sales pitch.  There is one of those prospects who has been particularly probing in her inquiries. A probe is, of course, what wise consumers should do, though it’s not popular with some sales folks.  One prospect seems to be the very embodiment of the difficult resident.  This is her story.

An Intriguing Book.

Recently, this prospect, who has asked to be unnamed here, responded to a discussion of an academic study of the cultural anthropology of a CCRC. The book is “Second Chance: Life Inside a Continuing Care Retirement Community,” by Robert K. Scripps, Ph.D. Mr. Scripps studied a single CCRC called the Ponds, though a search finds no CCRC fitting his description now. The book was published in 2005.

While the book is interesting in itself, even more, interesting for today’s evolving CCRC industry is our anonymous prospect’s reaction to it. With her permission, I’ll let her guest write most of this article. She explains many of the qualms that impact today’s marketing of CCRCs. Her hesitations are well-considered, especially for a woman aging alone who is fearful of exploitation if her cognition should ever diminish.

A Discerning Prospective Resident.

It shouldn’t be difficult for the industry to develop regulatorily and contract assurances that could unlock the benefits of communal living in a continuing care setting for many more people who may similarly be fearful of an uncertain future. Here are her concerns.

“Thanks for sharing the interesting research and book title. I will read the whole text after I get home and will try to find the book. Based on the summary and the comments, I am wondering about a few things.

“My reasons for considering (maybe) a CCRC include avoidance of becoming a burden to our only son and the assumption that if and when we/one of us will need help and care, we could get it by moving to that next level of care. Until recently I didn’t realize that many CCRC residents are trying to avoid the more institutionalized levels even when they might need it.

“I was wondering why in a Type A community [residents] would pay for private aides, caregivers, and medical assistance after they already paid ahead of time a lot of money for this type of care. This research seems to have the answer.

“But then if one doesn’t want to move from independent living to the next levels of care, why do people pay the huge entry fees for it? With enough money, at least in theory, one can get decent care at home. Staffing issues exist in CCRCs too. I am perfectly fine with my independent living at home. The concern is the time when we/I will not be able to take care of ourselves.

“I know that there are all kinds of attempts to address the issue of aging someplace with new approaches. However, none of them is proven and they are mostly regional experimental solutions that might work out or not.

“What can those of us who are getting closer to the 80s do knowing the many issues with CCRCs, ALFs, and nursing homes and the lack of any other proven solutions? What I have been learning from most of you already in a CCRC (or formerly in a CCRC) is that they are very risky and while they might have some good aspects, the not-so-good ones outweigh them.

“There is no universal great solution, but what would you consider as a “decent,” widely available, and proven solution TODAY, available in most places in the country? I would love to hear what those of you not in a CCRC consider an acceptable solution. Are you still planning to join a CCRC despite what we know about them?

“While we might all have different circumstances, the offerings are more or less the same for all of us. I just could not find anything practical to address my main goals now and I find it very unsettling. I am wondering how others approach the topic and think about it.”

Creating Senior Living That Sells Itself.

Of course, no one can have perfect assurance that they won’t be disadvantaged as they grow older. We’ve all heard the tales of maverick court-appointed guardians who go rogue and enrich themselves fraudulently. We can parallel the Bible phrasing and say, concerning senior living, that “there are frauds and rumors of fraud.” Most are untrue. The public perception is unfair to the industry. Old age evokes primordial fears. Still, there are innovations that the industry could develop to assuage these common fears and perceptions.

One concern for our anonymous shopper, which is a common concern for many, has to do with what one gets for the extra cost of a full-service CCRC compared with other options for aging. For instance, recently, an industry leader, whom I don’t want to embarrass by naming here but who has a career in the development of senior living communities, was asked about his own plans for his future (he’s now in his early 70s).

He responded, “That’s a very personal question that I am very happy to answer. I made up my mind… that my first stop in senior living is going to be active adult and I’ll tell you why ….” He then went on to describe activities that he hoped to indulge in, which he implied are active adult activities, suggesting that full-service community activities may be less active.

Senior living can thrive

He then summarized his thinking by sharing, “All of that you can argue is available in full service in senior housing. What’s different is that as an active adult I can have all of that for about half the cost of what it takes to staff and operate a senior housing community that’s fully licensed and dealing with seniors that are independent, assisted living, and memory care and having to cross those elements.”

Senior living can thrive if we can evolve a way to give people the trust and security they crave and to address the affordability question to which both our anonymous prospect and our unnamed provider allude. It can be done with commitment and ingenuity.