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CCRC: It's not what you think

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August 24th, 2010

Judy Baldwin s door is one of hundreds on campus behind which everything from animal adoptions to news reporting is happening. Currently, she is at the tail end of her shift working a local animal shelter s hotline; she takes the cat calls. Down the hall, a senator is speaking about the state of health care. Three floors below, a group buzzes about best practices in the wood shop. In the clubhouse next door, students are rolling their rs in Spanish class. The New York Times has taken notice of the vibrant campuses like this one cropping up nationwide, most recently in a January 2010 article entitled Like a College Visit, Minus Kegs. But those who call 60-plus communities home have an appreciation for their addresses that college students may not.

Surrounded by their favorite things

Have you ever heard of the bookSimple Living? asks Anne Miller. We have what we need and we don t have what we don t need, she says, gesturing to her Italian-inspired apartment home. Golden-washed walls, a bronze chandelier, and paintings of Tuscany set the ambience in the living and dining area where she and her husband entertain. Since we moved here, we ve had more company than we ever had in our house stepchildren, grandchildren, friends she rattles off, pointing to the fitness center and bocce court as major attractions. It s just like a hotel that s a 15-year-old s concept of this place. It s not even what we thought it would be like; it s so much more. We call it a country club for seniors. She and her husband, Fred, moved to theErickson Living communityin February 2010. Before that, they lived in a house within a 55-plus development, but they weren t satisfied. There wasn t much activity going on, they had more space than they needed, they didn t like having to prepare every meal, and they wanted to travel without worrying about the house. When we first investigated this concept, my friends said, We won t see you anymore, recalls Mr. Miller. In the six months since the move, he reports he has continued to play tennis with them every Tuesday and Friday morning. Four of my buddies have even come out to the pub and one couple who came to visit is planning on moving here. He adds, We thought so much of this that my sister is moving here. Now we ll have her right around the corner. This month, his sister is making the move from Massachusetts to their community in Pennsylvania. And Mr. Miller s sister isn t alone. More people are choosing continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) as a way to improve their quality of life after 60. In fact, the number of older adults living in CCRCs has more than doubled between 1997 and 2007, said Senator Herb Kohl, chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, in a July meeting. Currently, there are more than 745,000 seniors living in over 1,700 CCRCs. With the Boomer generation retiring, Kohl added, we can only expect this number to grow.

History of CCRCs

CCRCs have been around the U.S. for more than a century. With origins in religious communities, CCRCs remain tied closely to their roots; today, 50% are affiliated with faith-based organizations. The number of CCRCs increased during the Depression era as a way for society to care for those widowed and orphaned after the Civil War. In the 1970s and 1980s, the development of CCRCs took off and has been booming ever since. Today, most people who move to such communities cite the freedom from home maintenance, ability to be closer to family and friends, and continuum of health care as the top reasons behind their decision. At CCRCs, the levels of care range from independent living to assisted living and skilled nursing. [They have] what I call graduate schools next door to independent living, jokes Thomas Shannon, who moved last year to Ashby Ponds, a CCRC in Ashburn, Va., managed by Erickson Living. In addition, CCRCs offer financial peace of mind. Unlike the housing or equities markets, where large numbers of seniors have had their portfolios affected, CCRCs provide security for seniors who know where they will live and receive care usually for the rest of their lives, says David Erickson, spokesperson for the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging. A common sentiment among CCRC residents is that they wish they had moved there sooner. It is a lifestyle they clearly prefer.

Improved relationships

From their sparkling eyes and the need to pause every few seconds to wave to friends, it is clear that Toni and John Kaufman are at home in their community. But it wasn t a move they ever thought they would make. We had a house built in Swarthmore (Pa.), and we were going to stay there. We had an elevator put in so we wouldn t have to worry about stairs, says Mrs. Kaufman, a petite, doe-eyed woman. Then we got a mailing from Maris Grove [an Erickson Living community in Delaware County, Pa.]. I thought, if any of this is true, it sounds pretty good. We decided immediately. What sounded good to her? The floor plans! she proclaims. The community offered more than 20 different floor plans, challenging the idea that a CCRC would confine them to a one-size-fits-all lifestyle. She was also interested in the health offerings. I care about my husband, and if anything should happen, I want us to be somewhere we can have everything we need, she says. Once they made the move three and a half years ago, she found perks beyond the ones (like no more maintenance) she had anticipated. Most notably, she says: John and I are closer here.

Community of friends

Outside their apartment home, the Kaufmans discovered activities and friendships around every corner. There s nothing someone can want that they can t find here, says Mr. Kaufman, who can be found tending to the tomatoes in his quadrant of gardens. That is, when he s not busy ballroom dancing with his wife, managing the Penn State and beekeeping clubs, and crunching numbers on the Finance Committee. We re busier now, Mrs. Kaufman says. And it s not just the Kaufmans people living at CCRCs report being more involved than their counterparts still living in their homes. Every day is something different, Mrs. Kaufman says. We have over 150 clubs so if anyone s bored, it s their own fault. Yet she notes that people can be as involved as they want. For example, her friend Bette Alburger is involved around campus she contributes to Maris Grove s resident-producedNeighborhood Newspublication. Yet the veteran journalist still makes time to write for one daily and four weekly newspapers in the area, something she has been doing for 32 years. This June, she won an award for her coverage of the local school district. Moving here put me closer to the school boards, says Alburger. And I have more time to write. I don t know how I did it, working while raising a family and having to go out to the gym. Now it s all right here [on campus]. And if she ever runs out of things to write about, all she has to do is eat. When you sit down to dinner and ask someone what they did, you find there is so much talent and richness here.

It s an Erickson thing

That sentiment that the people make the place is unanimous among residents of the 19Erickson Living communitiesnationwide, and it sets them apart from the 1,800 CCRCs around the country. Norm Fox, who lives atWind Crestin Highlands Ranch, Colo., can vouch for it. In 2008, he took a 41-day road trip and visited all ofErickson Living s communities. ThoughWind Crestremains his favorite followed byTallgrass Creekin Overland Park, Kans., and Fox Run in Novi, Mich. he concluded: Great staff and residents don t only exist atWind Crest. It s anEricksonthing. Across the country atAshby Pondsin Virginia, Shannon agrees: The staff s admiration of the residents is palpable and the reason is the quality of the residents themselves. They are people of accomplishment, including lawyers, schoolteachers, ministers, government officials, medical people, artists, business executives, military personnel, volunteers, and officials of the (shhh) C.I.A. The conversations throughout campus and over cocktails during happy hour are intellectually stimulating and just plain fun. They are the building blocks of new friendships. To find out about theErickson Living communitynearest you, call 1-800-616-1344.

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