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Savvy Senior

How to choose a retirement community

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Jim Miller is responsible for this content, which is not edited by the Wilson County News or
Jim Miller
January 8, 2014 | 6,897 views | 1 comment

Dear Savvy Senior,

Can you give me some tips on picking a good full-service retirement community that offers all levels of housing, from independent apartment-style to nursing home care? My wife and I are both approaching 80 and are looking to downsize from our current home, but we want our next move to be our last.

One More Move

Dear One,

If you want your next move to be your final one, a full-service retirement community -- better known as a continuing-care retirement community (or CCRC) -- is a good option to consider, but they aren’t cheap, so you need to be prudent when choosing.

CCRCs are different from other types of senior housing because they provide all levels of housing, services and care in one convenient location.

While they vary greatly in appearance and services, most CCRCs offer apartments or sometimes single family homes for active seniors who need little if any help with their daily needs. In addition, they also offer on-site assisted living for people who require aid to bathe, dress or perform other basic tasks, and nursing home care for residents who need full-time skilled-nursing care.

CCRCs also provide a bevy of resort-style amenities and services that include community dinning halls, exercise facilities, housekeeping, and transportation as well as many social and recreational activities.

But be aware that all these services come at a hefty price. Most communities have entry fees that range from $20,000 to $500,000 or more, plus ongoing monthly service fees that can vary from around $1,000 to over $5,000 depending on the facility, services and the long-term care contract option you choose.

With nearly 1,900 CCRCs in operation throughout the U.S, finding a facility that fits your lifestyle, needs and budget can take some legwork. Here are some steps you can take to help you proceed.

Make a list: Start by calling the Area Agency on Aging (call 1-800-677-1116 for contact information) in the area you want to live for a list of CCRCs. You can also search online at or that has a national listing of accredited CCRCs.

Call the facilities: Once you’ve located a few, call them to find out if they have any vacancies, what they charge and if they provide the types of services you want or need.

Take a tour: Many CCRCs encourage potential residents to stay overnight and have a few meals in their dining hall. During your tour, notice the upkeep and cleanness of the facility, and talk to the current residents to see how they like living there. Also, check out the assisted living and nursing facilities, and find out how decisions are made to move residents from one level of care to another.

To check up on a facility, call the state long-term care ombudsman (see who can tell you if the assisted living and nursing facilities within the CCRC have had any complaints or other problems. Also, use the Medicare nursing home compare tool (, which provides a ranking system.

Investigate fees: During your visit, get a rundown on the different kinds of contracts that are available and their costs. Also, find out what types of services are included and what costs extra. What yearly price increases can you expect? How much of your entry fee is refundable to you if you move or die? And what happens if you outlive your financial resources?

Research the community’s financial health: Find out who owns or sponsors the facility, and get a copy of their most recently audited financial statement and review it, along with the copy of the contract with your lawyer or financial advisor. Also get their occupancy rate. Unless it’s a newer community filling up, occupancy below 85 percent can be a red flag that the facility is having financial or management problems.

Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC “Today” show and author of The Savvy Senior. Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit
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Your Opinions and Comments

Amelia Willson  
January 14, 2014 12:53pm
These is helpful guidance. I would also add that it is a good idea to check out the reviews and ratings for the communities you are considering on senior living-specific review sites such as

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