Which Retirement Community Is the Right Choice for an Aging Parent?

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As older adults turn to their children for advice about housing options, the phrase “retirement home” often conjures images of living in a small room in a dismal building filled with inactive men and women who spend their days knitting or watching television or starring. The stigma associated with retirement homes makes older adults fear that they will be pitied by friends and family members if they move out of their family home and into a retirement facility.

Senior housing providers have tried to combat that negative image by rebranding their products as “retirement communities” or “retirement villages.” In addition to relabeling senior housing, most providers have made a strong effort to give residents a living experience that defies stereotypes associated with retirement homes.

Finding the Right Fit

Business Insider recently spotlighted the experience of Deepa Andleigh, a 73-year-old woman who lives in California’s Bay Area. Although Ms. Andleigh maintains close ties to her family in India, she has lived in the United States for most of her life.

After she divorced, Ms. Andleigh was living with her son. During the pandemic, her son worked from home and her grandchildren used the guest room as a classroom. Ms. Andleigh realized that she needed a place of her own.

Ms. Andleigh had the same fears that many older adults share when they contemplate retirement living. Although she was skeptical about senior living arrangements, her son and daughter-in-law helped her find a community that is grounded in Indian heritage. While it is open to people of all races, ethnicities, and religions, the abundance of residents who share her culture made Ms. Andleigh feel at home.

Ms. Andleigh pays a monthly fee for a one-bedroom unit. The community encourages residents to socialize by offering dance classes, scheduling yoga and meditation sessions, showing Bollywood movies, and inviting singers and musicians to perform. A staff member offers transportation services to residents who don’t drive.

Ms. Andleigh enjoys spending time in the sunny courtyard, drinking tea and chatting with adults in her age group who share her interests. Since she is not far from her son’s residence, she can maintain relationships with the friends she made while she was living with her family.

Ms. Andleigh encourages older adults to keep an open mind about retirement living. Spending some time researching options may help retirees find a community that is a perfect fit for the post-retirement lifestyle they want to develop.

Factors to Consider in Choosing a Retirement Community

In some cases, a retirement community might be such a good fit that retirees will feel no need to consider alternatives. In most cases, however, older adults (perhaps with help from their children) should research their options, taking several factors into account.

  • Future needs. Healthy individuals who have recently retired might focus their search on a traditional retirement community. Older retirees and those whose ability to live independently is declining might want to investigate assisted-living facilities or continuing care communities that allow residents to transition from independent living to assisted living as their need for help increases.
  • Location. Some retirees want to stay close to family and friends. Others want to be close to children who have moved away from their hometown. Some prefer the cultural advantages of urban living while others enjoy the peaceful environment of small towns. Weather may be a decisive factor for retirees who want to get away from snowy winters or oppressively hot summers. Retirees might also choose to save money by moving out of cities where housing costs are high.
  • Amenities. The expense of investing in retirement community housing may vary by the amenities the community offers its residents. Golf courses and swimming pools fit the lifestyles of some seniors, while others prefer walking paths that offer tranquil views of streams or mountains. Some retirees want communities that offer meal plans while others prefer to make their own meals. Finding the right balance of amenities and cost is often the key to choosing the right retirement community.
  • Reputation. Most retirement communities use dues collected from residents to maintain the property. Dues are typically set by board members who are elected by residents. Residents in some communities are reluctant to pay for property improvements. If a community seems “run down” or residents are complaining about unmet concerns, it might be wise to search for a community that places a higher value on maintaining its property.
  • Access to healthcare. Seniors who suffer from significant health concerns may want to find a retirement community that is near a clinic that can meet their health emergencies. Retirees who are part of a Medicare Advantage plan that restricts healthcare to HMO doctors might want to find a community that is near doctors who are covered by their plan.
  • Cost. The cost of purchasing or renting a unit in a retirement community is often a function of location and available amenities. Prospective buyers should investigate the additional costs associated with the communities they are considering. Ask for a history of dues assessments to determine how dues fit within a retiree’s budget and how often they are increased. Investigate the average cost of utilities and charges for cable TV and internet access. Determine whether the community charges extra for providing transportation or other services. All costs a retiree will likely incur should be included in a budget to assure that the housing option is affordable.

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