It seems everywhere I go these days, there’s one thing on everyone’s minds: where (and how) to live after retirement. In the past week alone, the topic has come up everywhere I turn. In my office, of course. But also at my bridge club, on the golf course, and even at my hair salon. And everyone seems to be grappling for answers.
I have to begin by saying this first: just like everyone else, I don’t have any easy answers. It’s such a complex question, and the “right” solution is going to be different for everyone based on everything from your age and general health to your social and environmental preferences. But one thing is for certain: with the tsunami of Baby Boomers hitting their later retirement years, this issue is only going to escalate. As I look at the options that are out there today, I wonder if finding new, better solutions is going to be up to us seniors rather than the companies who have been busily trying (and in many ways failing) to deliver on what we need to live the most fulfilling lives possible in our last stage of life.
At the moment, the most common options for seniors include:
- Aging in place. This has been a popular discussion for years now, both among seniors and in the press. It’s attractive to many because most of us have spent a good part of our lives making our houses our homes. Whether we’ve been in the same place for decades or just a few years, we’ve nested here. It’s where the things we love exist, and it’s where the people or the memories of the people we care about the most reside. It’s comfortable. But it’s not optimal for everyone. The cost of in-home care is not covered by Medicare, and the costs of care can be exorbitant. Plus, it can be lonely, especially of your home isn’t in an urban environment where company is just past your doorstep.
- Independent living communities. These communities are usually built by corporations for a profit, so they can be costly, but they can be the perfect fit for some. Many of my closest friends call Laguna Woods home, and they’re constantly telling me how wonderful it is and how strong the community is there. Another friend is looking at Rancho Mission Viejo, a new 55+ development just east of Laguna Niguel. It’s luxurious, but those luxuries come with a hefty price tag. The pros of these communities include local facilities, a close-knit group of other seniors, and lots (and lots!) of activities. The cons: every neighbor is a senior as well, so there’s no diversity and no “younger” energy. Plus, by necessity, these larger communities are often a city unto themselves, so getting beyond the gate requires driving, which is not always an option in later years.
- Assisted living communities. Also called Continuing Care Retirement Communities, these facilities are designed for seniors who require a variety of levels of care and provide everything from independent living options to full-time nursing care and, in some cases, even hospice facilities. This type of community can be particularly attractive to couples who want to age together in a facility that offers various levels of care in a single location. Though they’re often expensive, a couple can move there together as early as age 55, sometimes even into a single family home, and then shift their joint or individual level of care as they age. Interestingly, as a board member at Heritage Pointe, a senior living center in Mission Viejo, I’ve seen an unexpected evolution to the structure. As the independent residents have aged, the facility has become more of an assisted living facility than a hub of senior activity. As a result, it’s not attracting younger retirees, so the mission of the facility has evolved as well. Until we identify a solution to the challenge (which we will!), this facility—and I’m sure others like it—are in a bit of a quandary.
- Co-housing. Personally, this concept intrigues me. The concept is that seniors who have the same preferences work together to purchase and design their own housing situation—where they want it, and how they want it. I’d love to live in Dana Point after I retire, but it’s doubtful I could afford an “aging-in-place” option there, and there are no independent or assisted living communities in the area. By banding together with like-minded seniors, it may be possible to purchase an ideal property and either lease commercial property on the site to provide essential services, or ensure the property is located near the services we would need. It may sound like a new twist on the old commune, but I think it could really work this time around!
- Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs): This is my other favorite. A twist on “aging in place,” NORCs are community-based programs formed in neighborhoods where the residents are already living and aging. Rather than having to leave their own homes, services and facilities evolve out of the community, and are built or formed to serve its aging residents. On the plus side, seniors are able to stay in their existing neighborhoods and maintain close relationships that can dramatically improve quality of life as they age. And with built-to-serve facilities, they can receive a certain level of care. On the downside, while some NORCs establish assisted-care and other medical-level facilities within the community, high-need care is not part of the standard structure.
If you’re overwhelmed with this major decision, know this: you are not alone! There’s so much confusion and emotion about this major life choice, and it’s no wonder. Everyone understands that buying a first home is a huge decision—one that’s rife with excitement and new beginnings because it’s understood that what you choose will contribute to your quality of life in this first stage of adult life. Choosing where to spend the last phase of your life is perhaps an even bigger decision. Plus, the options are limited. The only advice I can offer is to make that decision while it’s still your decision. Don’t wait until you’re “ready”—that time may never come or, when it does, the decision may no longer be your own. No matter how overwhelming it may be, consider the options (or even better, create your own!) and make the right choice for you.
Have insights or suggestions based on your own experience? Please email me your thoughts. I’d love to hear them!