Helping Parents Decide: Age at Home or Move to a Retirement Community?

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Parents who reach their retirement years often ask their children for advice about the future. Should they remain in the family home or downsize? If they downsize, should they buy or rent? Should they remain in their present community or move to a different city? Would they be happier in a traditional neighborhood or in a retirement community that caters to older residents?

These are not easy questions. There are no one-size-fits-all answers. Adult children can help their parents by assuring that they understand the benefits and detriments of each choice they might make.

Aging in Place

After children finally move out of a home, their parents can relax and enjoy their freedom. Yet parents typically want their families to remain connected. Staying in the family home provides an anchor that imparts a sense of security to the family, a place to which children can always return. The home may be a place filled with happy memories that adult parents would regret leaving.

Parents in good health who can live independently may be content to remain in the family home. That’s particularly true if they have paid the mortgage or can easily cover payments and taxes with their retirement income. Remaining in the home assures that they will maintain relationships with friendly neighbors. Parents who no longer need to work or care for children may be pleased to devote more time to community organizations or other local activities that they value.

To help parents age in place, it may be necessary to modify a home to accommodate their needs. Adult children can help their parents by installing grab bars in the tub or shower, making sure that surfaces are slip resistant, and replacing frayed rugs. Children might want to take a fresh look at the home and consider updates that will make it more senior-friendly.

There is nevertheless a downside to aging in place. Parents living alone might feel that the house is now too large for them. Cleaning and maintaining a family home might be burdensome. Landscaping and gardening activities that were restful in middle age might cause aching knees and backs as homeowners grow older.

Older adults might also find it more difficult to drive as they age. They might be more comfortable living within walking distance of supermarkets and restaurants. Those factors might weigh against aging in place.

Some of those problems can be overcome by hiring cleaners, landscapers, and home repair specialists to perform chores that have become difficult for homeowners. Family members who live nearby might also help. Ride-sharing and senior transportation services reduce the risk that parents become isolated within their homes. Adult children should consider and discuss all options with their parents when the time comes for parents to decide whether to sell the family home.

Retirement Communities

Older adults who can live independently have a variety of housing options if they decide to downsize. They can pick a city and buy a house or condo that meets their needs. They might live with family members or move to a place they loved to visit on vacation. 

Just as remaining in the family home comes with the burden of home maintenance, buying another house comes with the same woes of home ownership. Adult children of aging parents might want to discuss retirement communities as a solution to the problems of owning a home. 

Retirement communities typically feature free-standing homes or condominium units in two-to-four-unit buildings. Communities tend to be gated and typically hire security guards to patrol streets and enforce speed limits within the community’s walls.

Residents own the interior living space of the home they purchase, but an association manages the property. Unit owners are not individually responsible for maintaining the roof, the building’s exterior, hallways outside the unit, or any electrical or plumbing issues that develop between the home’s interior and exterior walls.

Retirement communities may offer a variety of amenities, including swimming pools, golf courses, exercise rooms, tennis or pickle ball courts, game and hobby rooms, garden spaces, walking paths, meeting rooms, and a dining hall. Prices of retirement community homes typically depend on the variety of amenities the community offers.

Retirement communities generally impose age restrictions that govern potential buyers. Most communities require at least one principal resident to have reached the age of 55. Different communities have different rules about the length of time younger visitors are permitted to stay with the owner. Communities might also set specific hours during which younger visitors can use the pool and other amenities.

Supermarkets, barbers and beauty shops, restaurants, and clinics are often located just beyond the community’s walls. Some communities offer transportation services to take residents on scheduled trips to malls, theaters, or casinos. Larger communities usually have an activities director who arranges group outings.

Older adults may enjoy the convenience of living in a place that meets so many of their needs. Retirement communities also give residents a sense of security and tranquility they might not find in residential neighborhoods.

Retirement communities generally have a long list of rules that residents must follow. Restrictions on freedom (such as prohibiting lawn decorations) might make retirement communities unattractive to some older adults. Children of older adults might want to review those restrictions with their parents as they help them decide whether to purchase a unit.

Regulations are made, amended, and enforced by a homeowners’ association. The association typically sets monthly or annual dues that are used to pay for repairs and improvements. When they help their parents budget their expenses, children should include association dues and potential increases to assure that the housing will be affordable.

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