In Your Prime: Choosing right retirement community means having answers for now and later

Choosing the right retirement community means thinking about the amenities that are wanted now as well as the services that may be needed later.

“It’s a fact of life with aging: We don’t know what tomorrow might bring,” said Shiela Wallace, who is on the marketing team at the Ohio Masonic Home.

The Ohio Masonic Home, which has a campus in Springfield, offers independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing and memory care. Known as continuing care retirement communities or life plan communities, these types of facilities allow residents to transition from one level of care to another when their needs change, Wallace said.

Seniors in independent living live on their own and come and go as they please, but they have access to amenities such as eating their meals on the campus, she said. Those in assisted living receive help when and how they need it, such as getting in and out of the shower or making sure they take the correct medications every day.

Skilled nursing encompasses both long-term care as well as short-term rehabilitation, in which physical, occupational or speech therapy may be provided. Memory care involves serving those with dementia.

“For a younger person moving in, they want to know about the lifestyle,” Wallace said. How active is the community? What type of food is served?

Older residents should also consider on-campus amenities, said Robin Kent, the business development coordinator at BrookHaven Retirement Community, in Brookville. For example, BrookHaven offers a beauty parlor, doctor’s office and library, as well as trips to wineries, casinos, restaurants and grocery stores.

Residents at BrookHaven also can be found outdoors, sitting on the porch or enjoying the gazebos, courtyards or walking trails, she said. Potential residents and their families should be greeted and see people up and about instead of stuck in their rooms.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

“You want to look for that active lifestyle,” Kent said.

Cost is one of the biggest surprises as seniors make their decision, she said, and prices can vary by thousands of dollars based on the type of care and services needed as well as a facility’s location. Ask if a facility accepts Medicare, Medicaid or Veterans Affairs benefits.

Some seniors turn to retirement communities so they no longer have to mow the lawn or shovel snow. Others begin looking when they have a medical condition that requires more care or a spouse that needs more assistance than they can provide. Kent said that couples can live separately at BrookHaven based on their needs, with one spouse in independent living, for example, and the other in assisted living.

Facilities will complete an evaluation to help determine what level of care a resident needs, and staff may also notice when a resident requires more care, Kent said. Signs that long-term care may be needed include an increased number of falls, not eating properly, a drop-off in personal care, forgetting to take medications and being unable to response to emergencies.

If a resident does need to transition to another area of care, already living in a life plan community provides continuity.

“They like that because they’re not moving into a strange place,” Kent said. “There’s that familiarity.”

One resident at St. Leonard Franciscan Living Community has been there for 27 years, moving through the continuum of care, said Nick Carson, executive director of the Centerville retirement community. Long-term residents know the core values, staff and other residents of a particular facility, even as their needs change.

“If you choose the right location, you don’t have to worry about ever moving far,” he said.

Those who have time to decide on a retirement community should attend events at the facility, have meals there and go to a couple of programs, he said. They will get to know the community better and see for themselves if there is much staff turnover.

For people who must decide quickly, Carson suggested visiting a place unannounced, on weekends or after business hours.

“You’re going to see what’s actually going on at the community,” he said.

People with health challenges may want to begin their search for a retirement community earlier than others, Wallace said. Visit multiple facilities and ask for tours. If a specific facility or living arrangement tops the list, ask how long the wait is and if you can be put on a waitlist.

Whatever the age, visit early and speak to a financial planner.

“One thing we stress to everyone is don’t ever wait until you need it,” Wallace said.

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