This is the fifth in a series of articles intended to demystify the experience of living in a retirement community.

Here is a little quiz for you. In what living arrangements in the Prescott, Arizona area will you find

  1. A large vegetable garden in an interior courtyard, which provides enough eggplant for the chef to make eggplant parmesan for everyone, and enough fruit to permit home-made jam to be served at breakfast?
  2. A once-a-week "spa" experience with a relaxing hour in a jetted tub, followed by a massage and a pedicure, at no extra charge?
  3. A continuous loop hallway, so that people who might have trouble finding their living quarters know that if they just keep walking, they'll eventually reach home?
  4. Three large, interior courtyards, so that people who easily get lost have several completely safe places to go outside and enjoy the fine weather, on their own?
  5. All meals served restaurant style, available over a 2-1/2 hour span for each meal, so that people can eat when they like?
  6. Elegant nameplates for each door in hallways that look like a lovely hotel?
  7. Help surfing the Internet and/or staying in touch with families via email or Skype, even if you are fuzzy about how computers work?
  8. Full access to all activities offered to any group in the retirement community?
  9. No need to move from the apartment you have been living in independently even if you start to need assisted living services, because all services are delivered to people who need them regardless of their location?
  10. Uniformly stunning views, no matter what type of apartment you live in?
  11. Apartments that range from more than 500 square feet to almost 1,400 square feet?
  12. No complications if one person in a couple needs assisted living and the other does not, with no need for one person to move to another part of the site, because it is part of the standard offering that tailored services are delivered wherever they are needed?
  13. The option to eat in any of several dining venues, routinely enjoying meals such as eggs Benedict, seafood primavera on gluten-free pasta, and fresh Atlantic salmon -- your choice of grilled, poached, or seared?
  14. The chance to participate in cooking demonstrations with the chef, in a well-equipped test kitchen?
  15. Upscale interiors, starting with a sweeping spiral staircase in the lobby?
  16. Free transportation not just for shopping and doctors' appointments, but for other personal appointments as well?

The answer: all of these are features of assisted living arrangements in retirement communities in the Prescott, Arizona area. (Items 1-4 are found at Good Samaritan; 5-8 at Las Fuentes; 9-12 at Granite Gate; and 13-16 at Alta Vista.)

When I first planned to check out the assisted living arrangements in these communities, I prepared a spreadsheet with nearly a hundred questions: How long has the site been operating? How many square feet are the apartments? What do the apartments cost? What are the charges for different levels of additional care? Is there staff onsite 24/7? How many people live there?

I have gathered much of the information, and it is useful to have. However, I feel a bit like the aviator in The Little Prince. He is fussing over quantifiable facts concerning his airplane, which has suffered mechanical failure in the middle of a desert. The little prince, who has inexplicably arrived from a distant asteroid, is concerned with matters of the heart.

The aviator later explains this distinction, saying, "Grown-ups love figures. When you tell them that you have made a new friend, they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you, 'What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?' Instead, they demand, 'How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?' Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him."

The "essential matters" concerning retirement communities may have less to do with square feet and more to do with the heart of the place. While I will touch on this point in future columns, you may want to go see for yourself.

-- Next -- 086. What Are Skilled Nursing Facilities in Retirement Communities?