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Area Retirement Communities Provide a Continuum of Care

Our needs change over time. As adults, we control how we will meet those needs and find fulfillment in life. That control shouldn’t be relinquished in our senior years — and doesn’t need to be — if we plan ahead. 

In Central Virginia, there are several retirement communities where residents can start off in independent living and shift to different levels of care as they age, to assisted living for help with some daily activities and then to skilled nursing care or memory care. For some, the path is charted out beforehand with a continuing care retirement community (CCRC). These facilities usually require a long-term contract with an upfront premium and additional monthly fee that secures all housing, residential services and nursing care for a resident’s lifetime. 

“People are using the CCRC as a planning tool and moving [here] long before they have a need for care,” says Brenda Dixon, marketing director for The Summit, a CCRC in Lynchburg. “It’s designed for people who want to continue their independent lifestyle. People are attracted to the fact that they can know they have access to care if and when they need it.” 


Independent living options range from a large cottage to a more affordable one-bedroom efficiency, built with couples or singles in mind. Some facilities offer the chance to reside in one place while others require a physical move from independent living to assisted living or skilled nursing care. 




CCRCs: The benefits
At a CCRC, residents have a sense of familiarity and stability when the level of care changes. 

“Our care planning team supports you through the process, so you don’t have to figure it out on your own,” Dixon says. “We have people in place whose job is to transition you to the level of care you are needing. In a move from independent living to assisted living, you have people who know you who can make sure you’re in the right place to get the care you need.” 

The dining staff, for example, already knows what residents diagnosed with dementia love to eat even when they can’t order their own food. Dixon says it’s comforting to have relationships already established with staff who know the likes and habits of their residents “so we’re able to make sure they have that experience they don’t know to ask for.” 

Another benefit is putting down new roots where your neighbors and the staff become your friends. 

Marianne Sanford, vice president of Marketing and Development at Westminster Canterbury of Lynchburg, also a CCRC, says a complete continuum of care on the same campus “is so important because a community of friends has already been built, and the relationships carry on even if one requires care.” 


Other benefits she lists are maintenance-free living (so residents can focus on enjoying their retirement years) and opportunities for socialization, with trips, various physical activities and wellness, enriching lectures, clubs and many other amenities.

Sanford says it’s important to many residents to stick to their own schedules, so they emphasize a “person-directed care” model. 


“A resident can stay in their body rhythms for their dining, bathing and sleep habits. Our goal is to help those in care enjoy the many things they can no longer do without help. The personal needs, hobbies and lifestyle of a resident are carefully respected.” 

Families also benefit from a retirement community’s expansive offerings, with many indoor and outdoor spaces where residents can spend time with their loved ones, celebrate special occasions, and even host them overnight in guest rooms if needed.


A major expansion is planned at The Summit to add several new housing options, an indoor pool and other recreation space in the next two years.

CCRCs: The challenges
Before signing a contract consult an elder-law attorney who has experience with CCRCs to help you understand the full extent of the contract, from rules and regulations on managing and decorating your home to financial obligations. 

Upfront entry fees can be costly (sometimes as much as a home mortgage), so careful financial planning is important, including planning for long-term care insurance. 

Healthcare needs may be the biggest concern with joining a CCRC, as families must assess current and anticipated needs. When touring a CCRC, view the independent living housing and all other areas, asking those tough questions that many tend to avoid but are necessary when making a life plan. 

The alternative
Some retirement communities are not classified as CCRCs but are similarly committed to providing top-quality care through all phases of aging. With no long-term contract or large upfront cost involved, the focus is on meeting current needs, says Vickie Runk, president and co-founder of Runk & Pratt Senior Living Communities, which operates multiple facilities for independent living, assisted living and memory support services in the Lynchburg area and at Smith Mountain Lake. 

“When we started Runk & Pratt, it was really important to me that we meet the individuals where they are, not try to predict their future,” she says. “If you don’t think we’re meeting your needs, you can give us a 30-day notice and go make [other] plans. We’ve been operating that way for 32 years because … with aging, we often take away a lot of choices, and we want to leave control in residents’ hands as long as it can stay there.” 

Facilities that aren’t CCRCs still focus on offering prime amenities. 

“I am seeing a trend with seniors and families really demanding that retirement communities have a lot of entertainment and good food — we knew that years ago and were ahead of that demand. It’s why we put so much time and energy into our activity programs,” Runk says. “We understand the need to nourish those two areas because that’s what’s making everyone happy.” 


When to move
Runk says most people put off a move until a crisis demands it. 

“Assisted living and memory care are things people truly are not planning for … until they wake up one day and they’re in their 80s and can’t take care of things. Or it’s a trip to the hospital with a broken hip and, all of a sudden, it’s the moment of crisis that causes you to have to make a decision.” 

The red flags are usually a noticeable decline in everyday abilities, like no longer being able to do yard work, or take themselves to the grocery store, or when they aren’t paying their bills on time. Runk says this is the time to start having family conversations, before there’s a “big drama moment,” and the children, often part of “the sandwich generation” (tending to their own children and grandchildren’s needs while also trying to help their parents) must try to agree on a plan. 

Look for tips in the next Future Forward:
Senior Housing feature this fall.

“A crisis can start to break down that family unity that has been tight for years. But if mom and dad will make their wishes [on senior housing] known early, then there’s no question or debate about it. … You say to them, ‘We want this to be your choice, so let’s just sit down and start a conversation.’ This gets seniors to wrap their head around the fact they are going to be doing a favor for their adult children by making these decisions, and they won’t have to.” 

The best time to consider moving into senior housing is when individuals or couples are healthy and active. Sanford says, “This allows them to fully benefit from the amenities and services available while also having the opportunity to establish relationships within the community. Waiting until health concerns arise may limit options and make the transition more challenging.” 


Dixon agrees: “Move when you have the ability, before there’s a medical crisis, when you can make that decision on where you can spend the rest of your life instead of having a situation dictating it.” 

All senior housing providers will offer tours even years before you’re ready to make any decisions. “The value of peace of mind,” Runk adds, “you can’t put a dollar amount on that.”

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