Special Section

Living Your Best Life in Retirement

Your guide to continuing care retirement communities.
By Alice Shapin — August 2022

Are you thinking about your next move? Maybe you’re empty nesters and you hardly use half the rooms in your house. Maybe you want to move, but not too far from your kids and grandchildren. Or maybe you’re thinking ahead and want a place that offers independent living with more care in the future. Luckily our area offers plenty of choices.

Purchasing A CCRC
Former astronaut 75-year-old Mary Cleave had a very exciting career. She went into space twice on Atlantis, and worked at NASA-Goddard and NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. “When I went to work at Goddard, my cousin suggested I move to Annapolis,” she says. Cleave lived in her house for 30 years. “I would have kept living there, but one night my hearing aids were out when the low battery on the fire alarm kept beeping, and I never heard it. My sister happened to be visiting and said, ‘You can’t live alone anymore, it isn’t safe.’”

“Since I love the water, I knew I wanted to stay in Annapolis,” she continues. After visiting several communities and talking to people at each, Cleave decided on Bay-Woods of Annapolis, a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC).

“In the morning I sit and watch the sunrise over the Bay Bridge. . .”

Cleave moved in 2017. What attracted her to BayWoods is that it is a resident-owned-and-run co-operative community where residents provide vital input on operations. (In Maryland there are only two co-op CCRCs.) Also a must for Cleave was that it was pet-friendly. “I think for people who live alone, a pet is very important,” says Cleave, who lives with her dog Brinx.

“In the morning I sit and watch the sunrise over the Bay Bridge,” says Cleave, who has a one-bedroom with a patio. “It’s a great way to start the day.” Although downsizing can be difficult, Cleave found getting rid of a lot of her stuff to be liberating. And when she has company, she reserves a guestroom at BayWoods.

Elizabeth O’Conner, director of marketing and sales at Blakehurst, says, “Today’s residents are very active.” A gym is a must-have, and many CCRCs have more than equipment and classes. They may offer trainers, indoor pools, hot tubs, steam rooms, walking trails, a putting green—even gardens where residents can grow flowers and vegetables.

BayWoods has plenty of activities and amenities, some unique to that community, such as swimming in the bay off their dock. Cleave says, “With the gym right here, I take classes three times a week and do tai chi once a week. And Brinx, my ‘trainer,’ makes sure we get out and walk,” laughs Cleave.

Is a CCRC Right For You?
A CCRC is a type of retirement community that is part independent living, part assisted living, and part skilled nursing home. Today, many communities offer memory care too, and on-site rehabilitation therapy. According to AARP, a CCRC offers a tiered approach to the aging process, accommodating residents’ changing needs. Upon entering, healthy adults can reside independently in single-family homes, apartments, or condominiums. When assistance with everyday activities becomes necessary, they can move into assisted living, memory care, or nursing care facilities. These communities give older adults the option to live in one location for the duration of their lives, with much of their future care already figured out.

“I came in needing a walker, graduated to a cane and, thanks to the in-house physical therapy, I now need nothing.”

When you choose a facility, it’s also important to know what type of contract it offers. These contracts can be very complex; treat this decision like you would any major investment, including seeking assistance from a lawyer or someone very knowledgeable. In addition, you should determine that the finances of the CCRC are healthy so that your present and future services are safeguarded.

Ray, 83, and Phoebe Sachs, 80, are no strangers to moving. “We’ve lived in New York, Chicago, Delaware, D.C., and moved about 10 or 12, times,” says Ray. While living in a Baltimore condo, with their three children living all over the country, the couple decided a CCRC would give them the future security they wanted. Their children agreed.

“We are very active and decided we’d make the move while we could participate in the activities and be part of the community,” says Ray. After checking out several CCRCs, they chose Blakehurst. “It had what we wanted—care if we need it, attractive surroundings, lots of activities including woodworking (where my wife is the only woman), walking trails, and we were able to make changes to the apartment.”

Making changes was very important to Phoebe, who was a builder and does interior design. “We made our second bedroom into a library and totally redid the kitchen,” she says. “We can cook, but they do such a remarkable job with the food and it’s so convenient, we don’t.”

“Our new appliances aren’t getting much of a workout,” admits Ray.

Typically, residents in independent living get at least one meal a day. In assisted living, memory care, and nursing, there are three meals provided. “At BayWoods the food is fabulous and healthy,” says Cleave. “I’m eating better than I ever did. And I don’t have to think about what I’m going to make for dinner, shop for it, and cook it.” Many CCRCs offer a variety of dining options beyond a dining room, including informal choices such as a café, bistro, deli, or pub. Some even have outdoor dining.

A Rental CCRC
Kathryn Lewis, age 72 and retired from working for the State of Maryland, was living with her son and his family. But after she had a knee replacement and ended up in rehab, she knew she could not return to her son’s house and its stairs. “The staff at the rehab facility suggested I consider moving to the Atrium Village in Owings Mills,” she says. Lewis moved there in 2021.

“I came in needing a walker, graduated to a cane and, thanks to the in-house physical therapy, I now need nothing. What was so great was that I didn’t need to leave Atrium Village and didn’t need family to take me to therapy,” says Lewis. As an ordained minister, Lewis loves volunteering at Atrium Village and doing activities: Bible study, choir, trivia, happy hour, movies, games, discussions, and exercise classes including Zumba and yoga.

At Atrium Village there are no entry or buy-in fees, or a commitment of retirement assets, as with most senior living communities. The cost of an apartment, dining options, all activities, fitness, housekeeping, and other services is included in a monthly lease.

Atrium Village has independent, assisted, and memory care. And it just underwent a $13 million renovation. Angela Spence, senior divisional director of sales and marketing for Senior Lifestyle, the company that manages Atrium Village, was involved in the renovation. According to Spence, the multimillion-dollar renovation is part of a 20-year anniversary transformation to create a next generation senior living experience.

“There are still some people who think of senior living communities as nursing homes. We need to overcome that stigma. Since COVID and with the renovation, our goal is to have programs that help residents get back into life and find a purpose. Living well is all about having a purpose,” says Spence.

Anyone visiting many of today’s CCRCs would never think of them as nursing homes. Many who live there say it’s like living on a cruise ship; it just doesn’t move.

Part of the renovation at Atrium Village included an array of new services and upscale amenities. In addition to two restaurant-style dining venues, there are two new bistros, a library, wellness center, salon, art studio, hospitality lounge, movie theater, and family center.

Happy hour is also big at many CCRCs. Spence says, “We added more happy hours after the residents requested them.”

Many of the CCRCs have continuing education. At BayWoods there are lectures given by neighboring St. John’s College scholars. Atrium Village partners with the Community College of Baltimore County to offer instructor-led classes.

CCRCs arrange trips, art classes and, yes, the list of activities and amenities goes on and on. But don’t worry, you can be as active as you want, or if you prefer a quieter experience, you can have that too. It’s all up to you.

An Over-55 Community
The Weidmans, Hope, 70, and Tim, 69, were no strangers to life at a 55-and-over community. They had lived in one in New Jersey for seven years and loved it. “When I retired after 38 years of teaching, we decided to move to a place that would be fun. A 55-and-over community fits the bill,” says Hope.

But trips to visit their son and his family in Virgina became too much. “So we started looking. We checked out Delaware, Virginia, and Maryland. When we visited Four Seasons on Kent Island it was everything we wanted.” There were single-family units and condos, walking trails, a pool, pickleball, and, best of all, there were other people their age for socializing. The Weidmans moved into a two-bedroom, two-and-half-bath home with a den and screened-in porch in 2021.

According to Veronica Lawson, an associate broker at Real Broker, LLC, these communities are ready-made for like-minded individuals for whom physical and emotional well-being are key.
Things like social activities and planned trips to local events create a strong sense of community that in turn create a fun and safe environment. Fifty-five-plus communities are becoming more and more popular as many healthy retirees look for active communities once retired.

And for some, buying before they retire is part of their long-range retirement plan. That was true for Gamini Dharmasena, 62, and his wife Desilva, 59, both scientists living in New Jersey. “We aren’t planning to retire for five years but thought prices would only keep going up. For my wife, who grew up in Sri Lanka, being by the water was a must. We checked out several places on the East Coast but were afraid of hurricanes in North Carolina,” says Gamini.

After filling out information online for Four Season on Kent Island, they got a call from a realtor. They visited and fell in love with the area and were attracted to a 55-plus active community with lots of activities and opportunities to be social.

The Dharmasenas purchased a single family, 3,500-square-foot home with the master bedroom on the first floor and a screened-in porch. It backs on trees and is a five-minute walk to the water. “Our 5,000-square-foot home on five acres is a lot to look after. When we retire, we’ll be ready to downsize,” says Gamini. Plus, they love to travel and won’t have to worry about the house. For now, the Dharmasenas plan to use it as a vacation home twice a month until it becomes their permanent home.


To learn more about retirement options check out these helpful websites:

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