Senior communities are safer, easier and fun.Admittedly, the first night at their new cottage was lonely for Sue and Dick Kaplan. As the first residents to move into The Boulders Community, the newest of the RiverWoods family of senior living communities in Exeter, "we were in the huge dining room by ourselves," says Sue. It wasn't long before the locale was humming with activity and new friends, however. At near capacity just over a year since opening, how quickly things have changed.After living in Exeter for nearly half a century and raising their three kids there, the Kaplans decided to move to the Boulders to save themselves - and their children - the stress of keeping up a 52-year-old house. "My daughters used to worry about Dick shoveling or other rugged chores. Because we're in our 70s, an eight-room house - and the chores that go along with it - didn't make sense anymore," says Sue.Sure, the house contained many memories. But the decision to move was easier than you'd think. The couple simply thought about how they would be leaving their children a huge burden of what to do with the home once they passed away or needed to move into a nursing facility. By choosing a continuing care retirement community, or CCRC (which starts out with independent living, then moves into assisted living and skilled nursing options if and when needed, essentially letting you "age in place"), the couple had more control over their options.That's exactly the same philosophy that John and Mary Beth Gillespie had five years ago when they chose to live at the Woods in Exeter, also part of the RiverWoods community. When John, 72, was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, he took an early retirement as an Ob/Gyn and the couple decided to start looking for living options. "Parkinson's is one of those diseases that doesn't follow any rules," says Mary, who is 69. "You can't be sure how many years you have because it moves very individually. Although John is doing incredibly well right now, we moved in younger than we expected to, because we wanted to be proactive and get in while we both passed the physical exam."She adds that she and John are in the perfect situation when John's disease progresses. "We have physical therapy right in the building, just by going down the hall. We won't have to go outside." And she adds, if or when the time comes that either one of them moves into assisted living, it's in the same building.Margaret Mechling's desire to be near her daughter's family brought her about three years ago from a suburb of Washington, D.C., to the Courville at Nashua, a skilled nursing facility, after a bad surgery to the back of her neck left her greatly impaired and the 89-year-old could no longer continue living in the condo she shared with her sister. Originally she had hoped to move into assisted living, but because of the help Margaret needed, she was denied. So instead she started scoping out nursing homes.Some of the buildings she visited were "too institutional and cold," she adds. "The minute I saw Courville I felt good about it, and then when I talked to the people and looked at the facility it made my decision." Although her condition has improved since she has arrived at the Courville, she no longer wishes to move into assisted living. "Nope, I'm so happy here I don't want to move," she says.Facilities like the Courville work hard to make their facility feel comfortable and homey for its residents. "We provide all the same services - doctors who come on a daily basis, nurse practitioners, nursing care teams - and we still operate like a nursing home, but it's just our environment and our care that makes it different," says Jason Smith, executive director of the Courville at Nashua. "The residents here become like family members. Our staff really builds a bond with them, which helps to pick up on whether they're not feeling well or if they're having a bad day. It makes it easier to catch things earlier and assess their needs."Along with medical care comes the peace of mind of home maintenance done for you. No more shoveling out from those Nor'easters, no more mowing the lawn, no more fixing the broken gutters.And perhaps the third bonus, besides the medical and maintenance options at senior living communities, are the social aspects. While many seniors find that staying in their own homes eventually forces them into greater levels of isolation - for example, with eyesight deterioration comes loss of driving ability - being within steps of a group of people around your age is a big plus.In fact, living in a retirement community could not only add life to your years but years to your life. Mary Beth's take on it is that living in a senior living community means that people stay young longer. She says, "They eat better, and they have exercise programs so people are more active, and they get more social stimulation than those who are older and who wouldn't get out as easily."From quilting groups and gardening clubs to political candidate forums and library committees, museum trips to piano concerts, today's retirement communities offer tons of social outlets. But no one is forcing you to participate - a la Julie the cruise director from "The Love Boat." You can join in as much or as little as you'd like.Think you're too young to make the move? Think about it this way: a lot of people wait and move in when their children have to help them and they don't reap as many of the benefits. "It's harder at 90 to make new friends, harder to become a part of a community," says Mary Beth.According to Cathleen Toomey, vice president of marketing at RiverWoods, she's seen people reunited with their summer camp friends and college roommates, people whom they haven't seen in 50 years - just by stroke of luck. And, really, when it comes down to it, isn't it better to spend those golden years among friends?"I think we all age no matter what," says Mary Beth. "We can't deny it. But I think we're fortunate knowing that we'll be able to age here and not move away from our friends because our friends will be right here." NHSenior Living OptionsThere are three main types of senior residences. Whatever you choose, though, be sure it's accredited:CCRC: A continuing care retirement community that promises care throughout the entire continuum of independent living, assisted living and nursing home care, to "age in place."Nursing Home: Provides care for both chronic conditions or short-term rehabilitation stints or rehabilitative care (such as hip replacement or stroke).Assisted Living Communities: Designed to provide residents with assistance with basic activities of daily living such as bathing, grooming, dressing and more. Assisted living communities differ from nursing homes in that most don't offer complex medical services.Independent Living: Units designed for seniors who require little or no assistance with daily life, although housekeeping, laundry and meals may be provided.
This article appears in the April 2011 issue of New Hampshire Magazine