Stan's World - Everything Works...Until It Doesn't

S.F. Ehrlich Associates |

March 31, 2019

A recent phone call with an old friend led to a lengthy discussion on where to live in retirement. We touched all the bases: aging in place, independent living within a senior community, assisted living, and nursing care. The conversation paused, however, when I was asked the question: “How do you know when it’s time to go?”

It’s a great question. While I suspect no two answers are alike - because our individual circumstances are all so different – there are a few common threads to help us make the decision as to what’s next. Aside from spending years addressing these issues with clients, listening to experts at conferences, and reading what feels like a bazillion articles on the subject, Pearl and I are fortunate to each have a 97-year old mother. In other words, I have a little familiarity in this field, so whether you’re a senior, or have senior parents, read on while I share some life experiences.  

Everything works until it doesn’t. That’s my go-to phrase when it comes to discussing anything with a senior. It’s the line I use whenever someone tells me they’re going to stay in their home and age in place. It’s a wonderful idea until it’s not.

Whether by design or by happenstance, my mother has followed a path that I think makes perfect sense for many seniors. When my parents retired, they owned a condominium in Westchester, NY. They planned to buy a house in Florida and spend six months a year in each location.

That plan fell apart early because my parents were fortunate to buy a house in a very welcoming 55+ golfing community. (I guess I should add that neither of my parents had ever played golf.) They made friends quickly (everyone who moved there was in the same boat; relocating to Florida and looking for friends), and became regular golfers. It didn’t take long until I got the call to sell the condo; they weren’t coming back.

That lifestyle lasted until my dad passed away 15 years later. Rather than immediately sell her home, my mother listened to friends who suggested she live there for a year and figure out what she wanted to do. About a year later, she moved into a condominium in a nearby senior community. She had quickly learned that friends who are couples don’t associate as much with singles, so it was time to make new friends.

The new community also included a golf course, so my mother was able to find ladies to golf with, partners for bridge, and fellow mah-jongg players. Fortunately, the realtor who sold her the condominium suggested a building right next to the clubhouse, so it was easy for my mother to walk to and fro for all the amenities the community had to offer.

While there, my mother and a group of her friends started looking at independent living communities, because they all realized there was another move to come. They would collectively visit communities, deciding which features they liked, and which amenities were missing. Over time, some moved away, while others kept looking.

When my mom turned 87, she told me she didn’t want to drive anymore and was tired of eating alone on the days when she didn’t have anyone to eat dinner with. In other words, it was time to go.

While her initial reaction was to find a community in or around Boca Raton (for the typical reasons: weather and doctors), we managed to lure her up north by finding a community that checked virtually all the other boxes. It was large (2,000 residents) which meant a multitude of facilities (medical center, restaurants, climate-controlled walkways between all buildings), services (home care aides, transportation, security) and social (clubs, communal dining for dinner). Plus, it offered a continuum of care: independent living, assisted living, and nursing care.

Over the 10 or so years since my mom has lived in Cedar Crest Village in Pompton Plains, NJ (an Erickson Living community; but I don’t earn any commissions by stating that), it has fulfilled all of her needs. While her journey wasn’t necessarily a straight line (they rarely are), she has managed to thrive along the way.

So what lessons have been learned from watching others take this journey?

  • One of the fears I routinely hear when I suggest moving to an age-restricted community is not knowing anyone. It doesn’t take long to meet people in many of these communities because many residents are also looking to make friends and do things. Moving to a community with a clubhouse is vital in that regard (along with a social worker and/or activities director).
  • Sooner is better than later:
    • Part A: Money. Many independent living communities have buy-ins, which means paying X dollars to ‘own’ your own apartment. (In many cases, a large percentage of those dollars are returned to heirs upon death.) If you can’t pass the financial screening because you’ve used up your assets while living elsewhere in retirement, you won’t be able to get in.  
    • Part B: Health. Sometimes, things happen in life that prevent us from doing that which we planned. If you live at Cedar Crest Village and break a hip, you can get rehab at the Physical Therapy Center, have an aide help you in your apartment, get visited by a nurse to help with medication, and/or have a short-term stay in the assisted living unit. If you live at home, you have to figure that out on your own.
  • Doctors: Large independent living communities either have in-house medical staff or attract doctors to the immediate vicinity because they have so many aging residents with a potpourri of medical issues. While your current dentist/internist/podiatrist may be the best in the world, you’ll be able to find the second best at your next stop.

But when to go? To use another well-worn expression, the good news is we’re all living longer, and the bad news is we’re all living longer. Absent a health or other significant issue, retirees might be best served by waiting until they approach 80 (if possible) before relocating to an independent living community. The reason: the populations of those communities are aging as many of us live longer. If you move into a large community and you’re younger than everyone else by 10 years, you may feel out of place for a while. The goal, of course, is to make the move without regret.

In the meantime, if you are a senior, visit communities. Ask if you can spend a night so you can walk around during the day and see if the population is active. Eat meals with residents so you can learn about who’s living there. (Walking through the dining hall during the dinner hour is a great way to gauge the age of the residents.)

If you have an interest, like reading, and you learn the community has an active book club, show up for a meeting. In other words, explore the possibilities. In the end, armed with information, you’ll not only know when it’s time to go but where.




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