One of the most important decisions we face as we approach retirement is where and how we will live. It often makes economic sense to sell our house, especially if it’s a large house with extra bedrooms for children who have since moved out and started families of their own, and move to a smaller house or apartment that is more suitable for a retirement lifestyle. If we retire young, or intend to maintain active lifestyles, we will of course choose to continue living independently, years or even decades beyond retirement, as long as we can look after ourselves.
However, some retirees may choose to live in an environment that is more focused on senior-related activities, that provides services and support specifically for seniors. These retirement communities, or “active adult communities,” are become more prevalent across the United States and around the world, as seniors seek out some middle ground between completely independent living, and the full care that one receives in a nursing home.
Independent Living Retirement Communities
There are a variety of different kinds of retirement communities, offering different levels of service. The most open are generally referred to as “independent living retirement communities,” suitable for seniors who are willing and able to care for themselves. These communities have community centers, with organized group outings and other activities; also, basic services such as laundry, lawn care, and security are offered. Various facilities are usually available on-site, such as beauty salons, barber shops, and meal preparation, which residents can take advantage of as much as they wish. Accommodations can be single-family homes, townhouses, condominiums, or mobile homes; sometimes, there is an initial “buy-in” fee; otherwise, there is monthly rent. Additionally, there are monthly fees to cover utilities and common services. These costs can vary widely, depending on the quality of the facilities.
Assisted Living Retirement Communities
Of course, there are age restrictions; residents usually must be at least 50 years or (or, in some cases, 55 or 60); if one spouse meets the age restriction but a younger spouse does not, typically it is allowable for the younger spouse to move in too. There may be restrictions on the number of times children can visit.
“Assisted Living Retirement Communities” offer an additional level of care; though accommodations can be similar to that found in an independent living retirement community (whether townhouses or condominiums), additional services are available for seniors who may require assistance with meals, bathing, dressing, or with medications. Skilled nursing care is also generally available for those who need it.
Continuing Care Retirement Communities
Finally, “continuing care retirement communities” (CCRCs) offer a full array of services, for retirees who are fully capable of independent living right through to complete nursing home care. Retirees who move into CCRCs are generally capable of living independently, and they can purchase into a single family home, townhouse, or condominium as they prefer, and avail themselves of community services as they wish. As residents get older and require more assistance with their daily living, they can move into an assisted living facility within the same community, and eventually to a skilled nursing facility as needed. It is this continuum of care that makes these communities an attractive option for retirees.
There are various ways to purchase into a CCRC. Generally, there is an initial contract, which extends for the life of the resident. Payment is usually in the form of a lump-sum entry fee, plus monthly payments for continuing services. The entry fee can be astonishingly high — for some high-end CCRCs, the sum can be seven figures. Obviously, you will need to examine the contract carefully, preferably with an elder care lawyer, before committing such a large sum. And make sure the facility has been accredited by the Continuing Care Accreditation Commission, an independent commission sponsored by the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging.
Other arrangements including allowing residents to simply purchase a house or condominium within a CCRC; or to pay only a higher monthly fee, rather than a lump-sum entry fee.
Apart from these open retirement communities, another option exists for seniors who are incapable of living independently, but who do not yet require full nursing home care. This option is a “retirement home” — a multi-residence housing facility that accommodates seniors (either singles or couples) in apartments or suites, with additional services available under the same roof. Meals and recreation are usually communal, and health or hospice care is available on an as-needed basis. Residents pay on a rental basis; some facilities allow residents to purchase a room or suite in perpetuity, as one would purchase a condominium. The primary difference between a retirement home and a nursing home is in the level of nursing care provided.
There are many options available for retirees who wish to live in a community with other seniors; it’s important to begin researching your options early, especially if you are considering a high-cost option such as a continuing care retirement community.