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Beyond the Brochure: What Your Retirement Community Won’t Tell You

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Here at AgingOptions we typically hear from our clients, radio listeners and seminar guests that it’s their fervent hope to stay in their homes as they age – to “age in place,” as this preference is called. Aging in place is a wonderful option for retirees, but it’s not the only option. There are still many hundreds of thousands of seniors who live happily in traditional retirement communities across the U.S., and you may be considering this popular option.

But how do you pick the one that’s right for you? Most retirement communities are aggressively marketed to potential residents, and all those fancy four-color brochures really do depict a wonderful and worry-free lifestyle. But as with any purchase, especially one as important as choosing a retirement community, there are some things you need to be aware of and to watch out for. We found this very helpful article on the US News website just a few weeks ago, called “8 Things Your Retirement Community Won’t Tell You.” We think this is a good place to start if you’re doing your homework about moving into a retirement community, because, as the article says, “The glossy brochures and slick websites for retirement communities may be hiding a few secrets.” We’ll share a few of these, and we encourage you to click the link for the entire list.

For starters, here’s a fact that may surprise you, says US News: “Cliques don’t end in high school.” We’ve heard from many clients and radio listeners that they or their loved one had a really hard time adjusting to the social environment once they moved into their new retirement home. “Senior communities are just like any other social setting,” says US News, “and some personalities will click while others don’t.” The important thing to remember is that settling in will almost surely take some time. “Seniors should be prepared for a period of adjustment while they find their place in the community,” the article points out.

There are also some things you likely won’t find in the brochure when it comes to how much freedom you have, and how long you’ll be allowed to stay in a particular retirement community. US News reminds readers that, once you move into a new senior residence, you may not be in control of when you have to move out. “It is typically the community’s call when it comes time to discharge someone,” says US News. If your medical or cognitive condition changes, the facility may require you to transfer to another home with a higher level of care. In the words of one expert, “You are often signing away control. The decision (about whether you need to move) is not yours. The administrator is making that decision.”  Before you choose a retirement community, find out what these criteria are, because it’s not something you want to discover the hard way.

As far as personal freedom is concerned, while most communities try to be flexible, “new residents may still be surprised by how much of their day is dictated by the facility’s schedule.” Meal times and medication schedules, for example, are seldom up for negotiation, and government regulations can dictate things like required fire drills and health assessments. If you’re used to living as you please, you may find some of this regimentation unsettling at first.

What about all those terrific activities most retirement communities seem to offer? US News points out that those activities don’t always occur as advertised. “Potential residents shouldn’t rely on the bulletin board in the community room to tell them what’s available.  Go show up unannounced and see if the activities on that board are actually happening.” Sometimes things get cancelled because of a lack of resident interest or insufficient staffing, so again this is something you’ll want to check into to avoid disappointment. And speaking of staffing, the US News article reminds readers that staffing ratios can be misleading.  You’ll want to ask, of the total number of employees, how many are doing direct care with high levels of patient interaction? You don’t want to make a move only to find out later that the community you’ve chosen seems to be short of critical workers on the front lines where consistency of care is vital.

There’s more to this excellent article, so we encourage you to read it if you’re starting the search for a new community to call home. In the words of US News, “The above items shouldn’t be enough to keep you out of a retirement community, but they should serve as a warning to look beyond the glossy fliers when selecting a new home. Understanding all the details is crucial to finding the ideal living arrangement for your golden years.”

When it comes to planning for retirement, understanding those crucial details is indeed highly important. But fortunately it doesn’t have to be an impossibly complex chore. At AgingOptions we offer a unique form of retirement planning we call LifePlanning, in which every aspect of your retirement plan – not just your finances – becomes part of a seamless whole. In addition to finances and housing choices, we’ll help you make sure all your legal affairs are in order. We’ll evaluate your situation to help you make the right decisions about your medical coverage. We’ll even work with you to make sure your family is informed and supportive of your wishes, because – as we often say – aging is a family affair. We invite you to find out more about the revolutionary approach known as LifePlanning by attending a free, no-obligation LifePlanning Seminar at a location convenient for you. Bring your questions and invest a few hours, and you’ll be very glad you did! Click here for dates, times and locations of upcoming seminars, and register online – or contact us during the week and we’ll assist you. It’s much easier to make the right retirement choices with the help of the professionals at AgingOptions.

(originally reported at

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