Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Finding the right retirement community for an aging parent

Today, I’ll describe the selection process of a retirement community for Mom.

  1. First of all, I had an open-ended conversation with Mom. I felt it was important to understand Mom’s thoughts and perspectives. Know that even if a parent is 100% set on moving out of their home and into a retirement community, when the reality of leaving their home sets in, all kinds of strong emotions will emerge. As I’ve said in previous blogging, my mother and I kept reminding each other of the end goal she wanted. She no longer wanted to care for a large home; she wanted to live in a caring and vibrant community with excellent healthcare and services available.
  2. So, our criteria for selection of a community came down to these factors
    1. Location
    2. Size
    3. Inclusion of services
    4. Cost
    5. How she felt she would fit in
    6. Availability
  3. Location: She definitely wanted to remain within an hour drive of her current home, so she could stay in touch with her friends, church, and doctors. We came up with a list of 3 retirement communities, all highly recommended.
  4. Size: The 3 communities were different in number of residents which ultimately impacted the variety of activities, services offered, and something we had not thought about, diversity of the residents. Mom decided early on to exclude one of the communities because it was too large; it reminded her of a little city. She wanted something a bit more personal.
  5. Inclusion of services: Mom’s remaining 2 choices were Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC). This was very important to us. Even though she would start out in independent living, if she had to move to assisted living or nursing care, that move would be possible at no additional charge. The place Mom eventually chose also had a highly rated Alzheimer’s / memory impairment facility. Again, if she ever needed this level of care, it would be available to her at no additional charge.
  6. Cost: At this point, we had made an initial visit, had very positive feelings about the community and …..we started to consider costs. Mom knew she preferred this place, but could she afford it? Her place of choice was “all inclusive”, unlike the other option. We compared initial cost, long-term cost and the overall quality and felt the costs were reasonable. Mom’s place of choice had a spreadsheet program that they could plug all her income into (including estimated proceeds of sale of her house). We found, that yes, Mom could afford this. And, Mom’s initial fear (of having to turn all her money over to a retirement center) was totally unfounded. She remained in total control of her money. This was a wonderful turning point. We decided to put down the deposit at that time and get on their wait list.
  7. How she would fit in: Now that Mom knew she could afford her place of choice, we had to try to find every way possible to see if Mom would be happy here. Here are some of the things we did:
    1. We made trips often back to the community; sometimes just driving around the grounds, walking through the halls, or having lunch/dinner in the dining rooms. The Marketing Staff was wonderful. My advice is to find a key point of contact; they absolutely want to help in the decision-making but they can’t read minds. I would often email our contact with questions. (Also, it was interesting…every staff member we met told us how much they loved working at this place. We could sense that in their interactions with us.)
    2. Mom enjoyed walking through the buildings. We could tell a lot by the people we saw, their demeanor, the noise level, even the light and the smells. Some of the things I remember from my first visit: everyone had a book with them; people would be sitting and quietly chatting or reading. They had a wonderful wall where they showed paintings of local artists. They had a community garden. And, probably key for my mother, she loved the food, and the way she was personally greeted on every visit.
    3. We read and re-read all the literature provided, all the calendars, activities. We even spent time looking through the biographies of the residents. What an incredible diverse group of people! We learned about the Wellness Center and that her primary care physician came there every week (as well as many of her other doctors).
    4. When she finally made the choice and was given an apartment number, she made several trips back to take measurements, to try and visualize how much she could bring and where to place it. (I’ll devote another blog to how she decided what to bring, another key decision in the transition. Don’t minimize how important each item is. For my mother, it was her piano.)
    5. All these visits were so important. With each visit, she began to consider this her new home. As she went through her daily routine back at home, she could now begin to think, how will I do this in my new apartment? What will my new life be like? We took every opportunity to keep our focus on making this a smooth and positive transition.
  8. Availability: This was so very important. One place Mom was considering had a wait list of 2 years. Fortunately, her first choice had an apartment open up and she moved in just 2 months after we had begun the search.
  9. So, what’s the rest of the story? As I end this blog, I’ll include some of the unexpected delights for my mother as she transitioned to her “new home”.
    1. She told me she loves the ecumenical service held at the retirement community, even more than her own church of 30 years.
    2. She loves the way she and her friends are greeted by name, as they enter the dining rooms each day. She looks forward to the Friday night social hours, a time to meet all the new residents…. and also, the many special events, such as the Crab Feast, the 4th of July cookout.
    3. Mom loves to tell me each week about the lectures and performances she has attended on site. She saw her first opera the other night!
    4. Her good friend down the hall has been bringing her fresh tomatoes from her spot in the community garden. They truly all look out for each other.
    5. The same friend called the other day to say she was making reservations for the New Year’s Eve party for the whole floor. My mother, who never went to college, says she feels like she’s living in a dorm. The dear gentleman living next to her volunteers at a local school. A priest down the hall is still active in his parish. These are people with vibrant lives and what a difference Mom’s choice has made in her life. In just 4 months, we have seen my mother blossom (and her health improve immensely) in her new surroundings.

The place my mother chose was Fairhaven (Sykesville, MD). I can’t imagine my mother being anywhere else, and neither can she. http://www.fairhavenccrc.org/subdomains/fairhavenccrc/

Stay tuned tomorrow as I talk about our process of dealing with everything in Mom’s house. My dear husband did a superb job of going through all the old paperwork, sorting, shredding, etc. I need to devote a whole entry to his efforts.