Retirement Housing: An Overview

Gone are the days when “retirement housing” was just a nice way of saying nursing home. Yet, according to a study published in The Journal of Consumer Affairs, seniors and their families don’t always have information about today’s retirement living options. An overview of the alternatives reveals that retirement housing is as varied as the lifestyles and needs of residents. Families who talk about these options ahead of time can better understand their appeal and plan for the future.

Seniors seek retirement housing for several reasons. Perhaps they want to make changes in their lifestyle: to downsize, shed home maintenance chores or socialize with other mature adults. Some need (or anticipate needing) assistance with daily activities, and retirement housing that focuses on seniors allows them to continue living independent lives while receiving routine or specialized care.

Two fundamental considerations in deciding among the many options for retirement housing are the senior’s level of independence and level of physical and cognitive health.

Independent Retirement Housing

If levels of independence and physical and cognitive health are strong and no assistance with routine activities is required, then the senior can consider an active adult or independent living community. The main difference between active adult and independent living communities is their focus.

Active adult communities cater to active pursuits, such as golf, exercise and socializing, while independent living communities emphasize convenient and secure environments. Residents of active adult and independent living communities pay a monthly fee for services and amenities, such as:

  • Maintenance of common areas
  • Recreation facilities
  • Security
  • Satellite or cable TV
  • Internet connection
  • Garbage collection
  • Snow removal
  • And more

While most residents in active adult communities are homeowners, independent living communities vary and might include apartments and/or rooms. In either case, residents in this type of retirement housing live independently in their own maintenance-free space.

Those who like to socialize or keep busy can participate in organized activities like exercise, games, arts and crafts, and movies. Security systems, such as an electronic gate, guards or 24-hour surveillance, provide residents with a feeling of greater safety.

In senior apartments especially, residents can purchase additional services, including meals in a common dining room (usually one meal per day), housekeeping and laundry. Depending on the community, residents might also have access to a pool, exercise room, library, and meeting and media rooms.

Supported Retirement Housing

For seniors who retain good physical and mental health but need some help with medications and routine chores like bathing, dressing and moving from place to place, assisted living retirement communities are a good solution. Sometimes called “residential care” or “semi-independent” communities, assisted living communities emphasize autonomy and privacy but assist with residents’ needs. Assisted living communities offer:

  • 24-hour staff
  • Housekeeping
  • Meals
  • Assistance with personal care and daily activities

Because these communities are governed by state standards and regulations, facilities and services will vary depending on area of the country.

Full Spectrum Retirement Housing

Continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) offer a mix of retirement housing, from independent living to assisted living or skilled care to nursing home. The advantage of these communities is that the environment includes the entire gamut of services, including an on-site physician- or nurse-staffed clinic and home care services.

When first conceived of, continuing care communities required a large entrance payment in return for guaranteed care in case of immobility or debilitating illness. Now, however, many CCRCs offer residents a “pay-as-you-go” option that fluctuates according to services provided. CCRCs are a good choice for seniors who anticipate changing mobility and health. Residents can move from one part of the community to another as their needs change without too much disruption, retaining doctors and other professionals and remaining close to friends.

As these options show, seniors and their families need not view retirement housing with dread. In fact, choosing retirement housing based on needs and level of health enables seniors to live full lives in environments that accommodate the changes and challenges that come with age.

Written by senior housing writer Lisa Logan, PhD.