After my husband died in 2013 at age 87, I was in a fog. I had cared for him during the difficult year and a half – and put my nurses training in action – between his diagnosis of lymphoma and amyloidosis, and when he entered hospice.
We were married for 54 years. I needed time to grieve and process.
Over the next year and a half, and with my kids’ encouragement, I began to plan how I wanted to live the rest of my life. My husband worked hard as an OB/GYN physician in private practice while I raised our three children. All along, we consistently saved and invested to have choices about how and where we lived as we grew older.
My late mother Peg, who was diagnosed with macular degeneration in her late 70’s, rapidly went blind from the disease. As I entered my 70s, I was also diagnosed with macular degeneration. Happily, with medical advances and new injectable drugs, I have so far retained most of my vision. I also know that eventually, my sight will falter. Rather than wait and wonder, I’ve chosen to control how I’ll receive care when that day arrives.
After we retired, my husband and I enjoyed visiting Kendal at Oberlin, a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) located near Oberlin University, Ohio, about ½ hour from our home. Quick primer: CCRC’s, also called Life Care Communities, offer their residents peace of mind that they will always have access to a full spectrum of care that includes assisted living and skilled nursing, if/when they need it.
We saw how much our friends at Kendal enjoyed their proximity to the university’s education and arts programs. We went with them to performances and concerts. We saw the bonds they formed with fellow residents by dining, socializing and enjoying activities together. We observed their carefree lifestyle – no more worrying about home maintenance, utility bills or cleaning! And we saw how the Kendal community took great care of all its residents, regardless of their age, physical ability or state of health.
In contrast, my husband and I also witnessed the agony of several older friends who had no future-living or care plans in place. We saw their families scramble to find care options when they experienced debilitating illnesses. It was heartbreaking.
In early 2015, I put together my application and went through the screening process to become a resident of Kendal at Oberlin.
It’s important to understand how the CCRC application (and qualification) process works. To enter most CCRC’s, where you begin as an independent-living resident, you must pass physical and mental tests to prove that you can manage all the normal activities of daily living (ADL’s). In other words, you must be able to walk without another person helping you. You must be able to bathe, groom and dress yourself. You must be able to do light household activities. And you must have the mental ability to attend to your personal matters without any help. I knew that if I waited too long, and if my vision continued to deteriorate, I would not pass these tests.
While I did pass Kendal’s ADL test and my application was accepted, I began to wonder if I wanted to continue living in a northern climate. My kids, who live in Connecticut, Maryland and Northern California, said, “Mom! If you are always cold, move south! We’ll help you find a community that’s just as nice as Kendal in Florida. And if you settle there, we’ll love visiting you, especially in the winter!”
So, my quest began anew in Florida. I’ve made it a point to educate myself how to use a computer and surf the Internet. The web is a fabulous way to do research about anything, including the options for retirement living. It is important to check the financial stability and valuation of each CCRC that you are considering.
I went on the web site of CARF International, a not-for-profit accrediting organization that rates CCRCs for quality and financial stability, as well as the quality of care that each CCRC’s skilled nursing facility provides. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ skilled nursing comparison tool is also a great source or information.
My daughter, my oldest son and his girlfriend accompanied me on “go-sees” to Oak Hammock at the University of Florida, a lovely CCRC with close program ties with the University of Florida Gainesville. We visited The Glenridge on Palmer Ranch, an equally attractive CCRC in Sarasota.
Then I looked farther south, and found Moorings Park, a CCRC in Naples. My husband and I had rented an apartment for many winters on Fort Myers Beach, near Bonita Springs and Naples. I was familiar with the region and loved the idea of having access to museums, performing arts and year-round outdoor living.
My daughter and I toured Moorings Park. We had dinner with residents. We learned about the countless education, arts and community programs, events and outings. We toured their Center for Healthy Living, complete with medical offices, physical therapy/rehabilitation services and a state-of-the-art gym. We toured the campus’ assisted living and skilled nursing facilities, which would be available to me as a resident when I needed them. At the end of the three-day visit, I was convinced that this would be my new home.
After applying to Moorings Park, passing their activities-of-daily-living tests and putting down a deposit on the entry fee, I was accepted and put on a waiting list for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment. Two months later, two units became available; I chose a second-floor, all-one-level garden apartment with easy access to an elevator. (Right now, I still take the stairs to get my exercise!)
By November 2016 I had sold or donated about 85% of the contents of my Ohio home. The rest fit in 1/6 of a moving van! In December 2016, my daughter and her partner helped me drive from Ohio to Naples to begin the settling-in process.
Getting healthcare (and staying well) has become a lot easier. I go to chair yoga classes and weight training classes. I walk all around our campus and use a stationary bike at the gym. The community’s concierge medical program has a geriatric physician on-campus who gives checkups when I need them. If needed, he also refers me to specialists. Best of all, the retina specialist who administers my critical monthly eye injections is a five-minute drive away – and transportation is provided.
I’m more social and active in my new community than I’ve been in many years. I also call and text my children often. When Florida’s summer heat gets too oppressive, I can visit them the north. And yes, they will escape their cold weather by visiting me!
To those who say, “But I don’t need to think about how I’ll live when I’m old, I’m still relatively young!”, I would respond “The time to plan and make decisions is before you lose the ability to do so.”
I’m grateful that my children encouraged my journey to a new place (and life) that meets my needs now…and as I continue to age. And I’m grateful that I was financially able to choose an option that guarantees quality care for the rest of my life, come what may.
The choice to move to a CCRC was mine – and I’m proud and satisfied that I made it when I did.