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Retirement Communities: Where Life is Designed Around You

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Retirement brings with it an escape from the 8-5 schedule and office politics. You can finally spend your day filled with activities that you want to do rather than have to do without a looming deadline. And while you still may feel pride knowing that you are physically capable of daily chores of cooking meals or mowing the lawn, you may want a respite from these activities, even if it’s just once in a while. Enter independent living communities, the solution for retirees who are physically active and ready for new adventures, just with fewer chores.

If, after reading this article, you would like to find out more about independent living communities or want helping finding one that is a good fit for you or your loved one, please give us a call. Our dedicated team will help you find the right community, in the right location, with the right services and at the right price—all for free.

Seniors socializing around a table outside
Seniors socializing around a table outside

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What are Retirement Communities?

Search the Internet using the term retirement community and you will find communities that offer independent or assisted living services, or continuing care. Even care homes, which offer assisted living services in a residential setting, will include retirement in their community’s name. So where does that leave you in your search? Likely confused.

Retirement community is a catchall term applied to communities that cater solely to seniors. However, this means that one retirement community may not be the same as another. Here are a few types of retirement communities.

Senior Apartments

These types of retirement communities are apartment complexes which have shared common areas, whether it is a pool, TV room or courtyard. Some senior apartments have income restrictions, which is beneficial to seniors who are living on a fixed income. There may also be an age restriction; in the case of SHAG, their residents must be 61+ or 55+ and disabled. Maintenance and grounds keeping are handled by maintenance staff. These communities typically do not offer any services, such as scheduled transportation, or have on-site amenities such as a beauty salon. Community life is often not structured; there may be activities arranged by the community managers, but otherwise residents are left to fill their own days and make friends. As residents age, they may bring in home health agencies to provide assistance with activities of daily living.

a couple laughing on a bench outside
a couple laughing on a bench outside

55+ Retirement Communities

When a community is described as 55+, it means the residents must be 55 or older, unless in situations when a spouse is younger. All 55+ communities are retirement communities, but not all retirement communities are 55+, as some communities only allow seniors who are 65+. The housing options available at 55+ communities vary, with some communities featuring free-standing homes, which may be purchased or rented, or apartments. Just as with senior apartments, there are common areas that may be used by the residents, and community activities may be arranged by the managers or residents.

Independent Living Communities

The term independent living is perhaps the most confusing when searching for a retirement community, because in the case of retirement communities independent living means residents are physically able to care for themselves but want a respite from responsibilities such as meal preparation, driving or housekeeping. These services are usually included in the monthly fee and residents are unable to opt out. No healthcare services or assistance with activities of daily living are provided, through residents may have the option of having a home health agency provide these services.

Continuing Care Communities

These are full-service retirement communities that offer a complete lifestyle package for their residents and frequently cite the perk of “aging in place” as a benefit of joining such a community. On continuing care communities’ expansive campuses, a variety of housing options are available, from free-standing cottages to apartments. They also provide a range of services including meal service, scheduled transportation and housekeeping and laundry.

Healthcare services include assistance with activities of daily living to memory care and skilled nursing services. A sense of community among residents is facilitated by an activity director who schedules daily activities. There are also many community amenities available to the residents, such as movie theaters, bistros, hobby rooms and on-site beauty salons.

A couple dining at a restaurant
A couple dining at a restaurant

Demographics of a Retirement Community

Given the diversity of communities that call themselves retirement communities, there is no standard demographic; rather, the level of assistance a resident requires to remain active dictates what community setting in which they will live. Typically, seniors residing in 55+ communities are in their 60s or 70s, while older seniors who are in their 80s or 90s may call independent living or assisting living communities home. At continuing care communities, seniors of all ages live alongside each other, which can prove difficult, as one of our bloggers, Margery Fridstein, learned.

Community life

The availability of social opportunities with your fellow retirees will likely be one of the deciding factors as to which type of retirement community you decide to join. Some retirement communities, such as senior apartments, may not have a staff member assigned to schedule resident activities. Other communities, such as independent living or continuing care, will have a full-time activity director who arranges outings and on-site activities.

You will also find the number of amenities available at a community is quite varied. Continuing care communities are designed to resemble a small town, with amenities such as a beauty salon, movie theater, wood shop and gardening areas located on campus. In contrast, senior apartments offer fewer amenities—usually just common areas and maybe a community kitchen.

Communities which cater to younger seniors will offer housing options with the conveniences of a house, just without the upkeep and maintenance. Though apartments used to be the housing option, more communities are offering free-standing cottages because seniors want the privacy of a house along with the social atmosphere offered by living in a retirement community. Floor plans range from studios to two-bedroom/two-bath options with dens and include full kitchens, walk-in closets, cable TV and Internet. You might even have the option of customizing design elements such as paint colors. Pets are also permitted, and designated pet areas are often selling points for communities because they recognize that seniors want to move in with pets.

Services Offered at a Retirement Community

Unlike independent living communities, where services such as housekeeping and dining options come standard, the level of services available at retirement communities is quite varied. For example, senior apartments offer minimal services, often only groundskeeping and maintenance. At continuing care communities, a full range of services are offered, whether it is scheduled transportation for errands or laundry services. At these communities, residents can customize their service package to meet their needs, whether it is five meals a month in the community dining room or once-a-week housekeeping.

Selecting a Retirement Community

When selecting a retirement community, the same considerations you used when deciding upon a home still apply: Is the community located near places you enjoy visiting, i.e. a favorite golf course, park or shopping center? If you expect friends and family to visit, is the community easy to access?

Beyond the location questions, you should also consider what type of social life you want to have during retirement. Do you want to belong to a community that encourages socializing among residents and facilitates this by offering happy hours or community gatherings? While you can’t guarantee that you will develop friendships with every neighbor, you shouldn’t overlook that a sense of camaraderie among residents will make living in your new home even more enjoyable.

Price is also an important consideration. Even though you might have sticker shock when having to pay monthly rent after not having a mortgage payment for years, the upside is you no longer have to pay for utilities, property taxes or household repairs. But can you afford the monthly rent for another three decades? Rent increases will occur, and you don’t want to worry about financial insecurity during retirement.

You should also assess your future healthcare needs. Does the community have a separate building where assisted living services are provided, and if not—such as is the case with senior apartments—can you bring in in-home care? This will likely be the last move you make, and you should make it count.

Retirement Community Costs

While the costs of assisted living and nursing care have been calculated across the country, the same isn’t true for retirement communities. What you can expect is paying a monthly fee that covers rent; however, there may be additional community fees. For example, continuing care communities require a substantial entrance fee, of which a certain percentage is refunded. Other communities may require a one-time community fee, and there may be additional monthly fees if you request meal services or housekeeping.

Touring a Retirement Community

Once you have narrowed your choice of communities, touring a community at different times is recommended, as this provides you with the opportunity to view residents and staff throughout the day. Note how the staff and residents interact: Does the marketing director greet each resident by name and is there a sense of community among residents?

Because touring can be overwhelming at first, bring a checklist with you to note certain features. Also, make sure to use all of your senses to study the community. If you see the building is in need of repair or the carpet looks worn, it could be a red flag.

Confirming Licensure Status of a Retirement Community

In spite of the benefits of touring a community, this doesn’t necessarily provide the behind-the-scenes insight that indicates a community is well-run and provides a safe environment. Unless a portion of the retirement community provides healthcare services, as continuing care communities do, they are not subject to the rules and regulations governing long-term care facility operations, such as assisted living communities or skilled nursing centers. However, if a community serves food, they are likely inspected by local health departments. They would also be inspected for fire code compliance. Asking to review these records can tell you whether the community is in compliance with required state and federal regulations. And if the community declines your request, consider that a red flag and move on.

Life after move in

There will undoubtedly be an adjustment period after your move into a community. Hopefully, you planned the move successfully so all your furniture fits into your new apartment. Just as it took you time to settle into your neighborhood where you lived for decades, so too will it take time to adjust to your new home. And you aren’t alone if you worry that the transition won’t be easy; one of Joan’s Journey’s blog posts featured her transition into her new retirement community. But what you can expect after this transition period is even more time to spend creating the retirement you always desired.

A senior surfing
A senior surfing

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Those with certain disabilities or diseases have more obstacles to overcome when searching for a quality assisted living home. If you have questions, we are here to help provide the answers. Give our senior care advocates a call and read our guides for specific information and resources related to your or your loved one’s condition.

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