Experiences Life at a Continuing Care Retirement Community, by Residents of Kendal at Longwood

We have an analogy to describe a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) to a novice. It’s like going back to the dorms of your college years. Reading, Experiences Life at a Continuing Care Retirement Community, confirms this explanation.

Harry Hammond prompted us to read the book in a reader comment on a prior article. Harry pointed out the relative dearth of first-person testimonials about the CCRC experience. He suggested this effort by Longwood residents as an antidote. Experiences is a new 2015 self-published offering, available at Kendal Outreach.

Experiences Life at a Continuing Care Retirement Community is a series of vignettes. The authors are residents at Kendal in Longwood, a CCRC community is within the larger Quaker-affiliated and multi-state Kendal senior services organization. The Longwood residents offer up personal experiences at one established CCRC within the well-respected Kendal family of senior living communities.

There are no good books about CCRCS! our new neighbor declared…..People needed to know!

— Peggy & Allan Brick, Editors of  Experiences Life at a Continuing Care Retirement Community

Many of the resident’s stories focus on the initial search and the moment that Longwood felt just right. This subset tends to confirm several hypotheses.

  • Referrals from existing residents matter. A lot.
  • Planners begin looking long before they actually move.
  • A health crisis is often the prompt to pull the trigger and switch from planning to moving. The emergence of a health challenge begs the question, “What happens when. . . ?”
  • For couples, assuring a community of support for the surviving spouse is as important as care for an ailing spouse.
  • For singles, planning for support is a form of independence that doesn’t depend on busy kids.
  • Support is more than physical support. Support importantly includes emotional, social and spiritual angles.
  • Seniors are searching for social connection and rejecting isolation.
  • The community’s landscaping and grounds are the first impression. The connection with nature is important to reach that, “I can see myself here,” moment.

Other stories dealt with the hard realities of losing a spouse or dealing with the challenges of aging and disease. These are a more challenging read emotionally, but again some core themes emerge.

  • A resident’s judgment of the community is influenced as much by the experience of the writer’s spouse and friends as their personal treatment.
  • Care and respect are sought after and valued.
  • The kindness and responsiveness of staff are frequently mentioned. Equally important is the response of fellow residents.
  • It really is about the experience of community.
  • Grief is part of the story, but not all of it.

Then there are the stories about daily life. Here the college dorm analogy really plays out. Ad hoc clusters of common interests or shared experiences dominate the tales. Like college, we thrive with serendipitous connections.

  • New friendships are found.
  • New memories are made.
  • Old memories are celebrated and sometimes mourned.
  • Friends move-in and out of a life.

Experiences Life at a Continuing Care Retirement Community

A few attempts at moody, lyrical, poetic or allegorical storytelling didn’t really work for us, but testify that the need to create and learn doesn’t expire with retirement. The whole of Experiences Life at a Continuing Care Retirement Community  was well written and edited, given its format.

The collective read requires a step-back to perceive the gestalt of the CCRC experience. Read too closely, Experiences is just parts of various trees in the forest and doesn’t directly describe either a complete tree or the forest. In this case the forest is life in a continuing care retirement community. It’s more like, here’s one snapshot from my time at Longwood. Sometimes the lens used is a microscope and others a wide angle. The reader has to digest the pieces and do a little assembly work to perceive the whole. Insects with their multi-faceted eyes must have a similar challenge.

What’s lacking is a central narrative thread or voice to tie together the vignettes. Stories are loosely organized within a handful of topics such as:

  • Why Kendal (or Kendal at Longwood)
  • Our Outdoors
  • Creative Lives
  • Our Caring Community

But there is no attempt to discipline the individual snapshots into a single storyboard or conclusion.

While we enjoyed many of the individual vignettes, Experiences doesn’t fully answer the topic of its subtitle, Life at a Continuing Care Retirement Community. We’re not sure it would help a stranger commit to a CCRC versus aging-in-place. It may help confirm the choice of someone already exploring CCRCs or looking for the right CCRC.

Bottom line? The shifting editorial voice is the product of multiple authors. It’s harder to read than a single narrator. If you do the work to assimilate the pieces you can assemble a useful view of the whole. It’s worth reading, but left us wanting a more direct summary. In reflection, Experiences Life at a Continuing Care Retirement Community reads as a collective apologia for why the writers chose the community environment of Longwood. Collectively the writers say, “We left our long-time homes, but found a community.” Viewed that way, Experiences is another referral or endorsement for Longwood specifically and the CCRC concept generally.  It is especially an affirmation of Kendal’s version of a senior living community. It made us want to review Longwood.