Making A Move

These seniors are off their rockers — in a good way.

Giving up your home can be hard. But making the move to the right retirement community can be an enjoyable alternative — as well as an adventure.

Very few people actually want to leave their home, where they created their memories and raised their families. On the other hand, there’s the dilemma of what they’ll do if the day ever comes when they get sick and need services in their home, which can be costly. And aging in place has other drawbacks, as well.

Seniors generally choose to move into a retirement community instead of staying in their own homes for three basic reasons: Perhaps they’re looking for a little more social interaction; maybe they don’t want to be bothered with lawn cutting, snow removal and repairs to their home anymore; or it might be important for them to be closer to family.

“Those are three good reasons,” says Gene Goodwin, executive director of Sugar Hill Retirement Community in Wolfeboro, “but seniors may also need to think about planning properly. They want to get settled into a place before it’s too late — then they’re forced to make decisions in a crisis mode. That’s not the most prudent way to go.”

Some think they’re too young to move to housing for seniors, picturing doddering grannies spending the autumn of their lives doing puzzles and confined to their beds. Or they worry that even if they move to a “55+ community” they’ll still have to move to a nursing home should they become ill or need further care later in life. Cathleen Toomey, vice president of marketing at RiverWoods at Exeter admits that not all retirement communities are created equal. No longer do seniors have to choose between a “retirement community” and a “nursing home.”

“The best thing to do is to be an educated consumer and do a little homework,” she says. Like a handful of retirement communities gaining popularity in New Hampshire, RiverWoods at Exeter is a Continuing Care Retirement Community, or CCRC. Though each CCRC might be slightly different, the basic premise is the same: seniors who live at a CCRC start out with the goal of living a vibrant, active life in apartments or cottages. Then, should they need more care later in life, they can receive it within the same community without having to leave. Residents pay an “entrance fee” up front — which is “95 percent refundable,” says Toomey, should a resident pass away or move, as well as a monthly maintenance fee.

“What we provide people is the assurance that you will be taken care of no matter what happens to your health down the road,” she adds. Toomey adds that it’s often the case that their residents are thinking ahead, and don’t want to worry about the cost of bringing services into their homes — or move into their kids’ homes. “It’s a great solution. The kids can focus on being the kids and not the caregivers,” says Toomey.

A common thread throughout these types of retirement communities is that residents plan ahead. “Most of the folks that move here are planners,” says Judy Franseen, marketing director of The Huntington at Nashua, a Life Care Community (similar to a CCRC). “They are proactive in making the decision to live here.”

Developed 13 years ago by nearby Huggins Hospital, Sugar Hill is a cooperative retirement community, meaning it is similar to a CCRC where all aspects of care are included. However, instead of paying an entrance fee, Sugar Hill’s residents own shares of the property. Though it remains a separate entity from the hospital, it is still very closely associated with it: physicians regularly come to Sugar Hill to see patients, and the president of the hospital sits on the community’s board.

“I once heard a speaker say that the three plagues that seniors face are boredom, loneliness and helplessness,” says Paul Charlton, director of marketing of The Taylor Community, a CCRC in Laconia. “This is true not only for someone living alone but also for a couple who is not interacting with other people in their home.”

As Toomey of RiverWoods points out, as people get older, their friends move or pass away, and new people come into the neighborhood. “As you get older you define independence as holding onto your home,” she says. “But let’s say you stop driving at night and your friends move away. Or you might stop going out for walks as often. Your world is actually getting smaller — you’re not getting out and meeting new friends.”

She says that what often happens when people move to their CCRC is that they develop new friendships and become more active. They tend to live longer and they are healthier. “I had one resident say to me that he has made more and truer friends at RiverWoods than he’s made in his first 70 years.”

When seniors move into a retirement community they get the opportunity to dine with other people, join in activities and have neighbors nearby, which provides safety and security, adds Charlton. “You have as much privacy as you want but also the opportunity to be around other people.”

As for activities, Bingo is blasé and shuffleboard is just plain silly in today’s retirement communities. Instead you’ll find vibrant, active members. Franseen of The Huntington reports that more than 70 percent of the folks who live there exercise on a regular basis. “The Huntington offers an impressive exercise program and a dynamic personal trainer,” she adds. Nowadays folks in retirement communities are kayaking, traveling, learning new skills, taking classes — even playing video games.

At Taylor Community, a group of gamers has gotten pretty gung ho for Wii bowling, says Charlton. The team visits other retirement communities for matches and there’s even a traveling trophy. “Folks actually cheer them on returning to the campus. They’ve got the windows down on the bus like they’re teenagers coming back from state football championship.”

Today’s stimulating retirement communities might seem more like college — minus the keggers, of course. In fact, to say that they are very much like a college campus is not a stretch, says Charlton. “You have this very big area, like a campus. It’s not one building — there’s the independent living apartments, and then there’s assisted living and nursing care.”

At RiverWoods, the community’s nascent beginnings started as the brainchild of a group of 15 Seacoast residents, one of whom who had done some evaluating for state nursing homes at the University of New Hampshire and decided that there had to be a way to replicate the university environment, where people motivate each other.

“It’s very much like college dorms,” chuckles Toomey, “except the all nighters end at 9 p.m.” And like a university, people are drawn to RiverWoods from all over the country. “I’d say a third come from New Hampshire, a third from New England, and the rest from all over the country. Ninety-nine percent come here because they have family in the area, their children have children and they want to be close to them but not live with them.”

You might say it was fate that brought Dick Applen from Ithaca, N.Y., to Riverwoods 13 years ago. His wife, JoAnne, had just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and their daughter, a hospice nurse from Lee, N.H., thought the CCRC would be a good fit for them.

“When we moved here, it was a godsend, because of my wife’s declining health. At first she could still get around and have a lot of friends,” says Applen. In 2005 his wife’s health declined enough that she had to be transferred to the nearby hospital’s surgery intensive care unit. She then came back to the nursing home on Riverwoods’ campus, where Dick was able to visit her whenever he wanted, and she died shortly after.

But this story doesn’t end there. Dick met a woman named Peggy, who had just moved into the community after living by herself “on the side of a ski mountain” in East Madison, near North Conway.

Friendship between Dick and Peggy — and then eventually romance — bloomed, and after a year and a half of dating, the couple was married. “When you’re our age, you can’t fool around,” says Dick, 80, who jokingly calls Peggy “a cougar” because she is seven years his senior. “You have to celebrate every minute.”

Applen says that they’re one of about seven couples who have met and married at Riverwoods since he’s been at the community. And it’s not just Riverwoods: stories abound not only about people meeting and finding love, but also regaining long-lost friendships.

Dick and Peggy are going to Alaska and next year to Greece. “You need to move while you can still move,” says Dick. “A lot of people are fearful that if they move into a retirement community they’ll lose their independence, but in a lot of ways you get more.” NH

Categories: Health & Wellness