Questions to ask if you're considering independent or assisted living, or a continuing care retirement community.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT COMMUNAL LIVING?
Baby boomers, says Joseph Coughlin of MIT's AgeLab, are "the generation who stopped joining bowling leagues, PTA, Rotary, and all of a sudden, at 83, we're going to join a community?" Visit the property you're most interested in several times before committing to it.
CAN YOU PICTURE ALL YOUR STUFF IN THE UNIT?
"We talk to people about their expectations for size and space," says Chris Golen of the Commons in Lincoln. "We ask them to visualize downsizing and the things that would be important for them to bring. We want it to be like home." You may have to decide which is more important to you: a large apartment or high-end amenities.
WHAT KIND OF CONTRACT IS BEST?
Though you'll need an attorney before signing, a geriatric care manager can help you sort out various contract types and even smooth the entire transition, from choosing a place to moving in. The Aging Life Care Association of New England (617-277-4669; gcmnewengland.org) can get you started.
DOES THE COMMUNITY HAVE HIGHER LEVELS OF CARE?
Only 24 percent of those aged 40 and older believed they would need long-term care someday, according to a 2013 survey by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The actual number is about 70 percent. CCRCs with assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing on-site or nearby are more practical than strictly independent living communities.
WHAT ARE THE OPTIONS FOR FOOD AND DINING?
Restaurant-style dining distinguishes independent and sometimes assisted living from the more institutional offerings in memory care and skilled nursing. Ask how many restaurants and cafe are on-site, whether you can eat when you choose, whether friends and family can join you, and how many menu choices are found on a given night.
WHICH ACTIVITIES ARE IMPORTANT TO YOU?
This can be a tiebreaker between very similar places. If you're not outdoorsy but love to read, you might want to find a place with a read-aloud book club and discussion group; if hiking's your thing, a resident-run walking group would be a huge perk. Having common interests will help you bond with other residents.
AND DON'T FORGET: LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION.
You'll want to be near family and friends, but you should also consider how close you are to a city or town. Can you walk to get an ice cream or to visit museums, sporting events, shopping? "You may no longer be in the market of gathering things," says Coughlin, "but you're still buying experiences." Even if you drive, ask about transportation services you may need in the future.