During the pandemic, many seniors postponed making decisions about their future living environment. For a time, retirement communities and assisted living facilities were in a state of lockdown. Even as restrictions eased, communal areas (including dining facilities, activity rooms, and recreational areas) often remained closed. Seniors had little incentive to move to facilities that could no longer offer the amenities that make them attractive.
Vaccines have been widely distributed in the population of older Americans. Current CDC guidance suggests that fully vaccinated people of all ages can resume their usual activities, both indoors and outdoors, without undue concern about acquiring COVID-19.
At the same time, the CDC is urging retirement communities and assisted living facilities to continue taking precautions to protect residents. Unless every resident, employee, and visitor has been vaccinated, the risk of spreading the virus remains. That risk is higher when:
- residents often visit each other’s living areas;
- residents often engage in communal activities;
- residents travel together to social activities;
- non-essential volunteers and visitors are not restricted; and
- residents, employees, or visitors do not wear masks or practice social distancing.
As vaccination rates increase and community infection rates drop, the risks associated with community living will continue to decrease. Unfortunately, different states and counties have different vaccination rates. Deciding when the time is right to move to a retirement community or assisted-living facility may be a day-to-day decision.
The pandemic had a disproportionate impact on America’s older workers. As AARP reports, many Americans who lost their jobs are retiring earlier than they had expected. One study suggests that a quarter of all workers are planning to move up their retirement dates because of the pandemic. Another study found that 2 million older American workers have left the workforce for good since the pandemic started.
As older Americans struggle with early retirement, they look for ways to meet their basic needs. Selling a home and downsizing might be a way to reduce a mortgage payment, lower a property tax bill, or add a cushion to savings. Some early retirees may be able to lower their expenses by purchasing a small home or condo in a retirement community.
Downsizing has always been part of the plan for some aging couples. As the nest empties, a large house may become too large to manage comfortably. When commuting to work is no longer a necessity, the ability to live in a community that encourages walking rather than driving may be an attractive option.
Choosing the Right Retirement Community
Aging individuals who need help preparing meals or taking care of other daily needs might be best served by an assisted living facility. Assisted living fills a gap for seniors who need help but do not require the kind of medical care provided by a nursing home.
Retirement communities, also known as independent living communities, are well suited to active seniors who want to free themselves of the daily grind of mowing lawns and maintaining a home. Although some seniors will choose to downsize to a small house or condo in their former neighborhood, others prefer the amenities and sense of community that comes from living with other seniors in a planned development.
Choosing the right place to live begins by making a budget. After a senior understands the amount of retirement income and/or savings that can be devoted to housing costs, decisions can be made about buying or renting affordable housing. As a general rule, the more amenities a community offers — including activity rooms, dining options, laundry service, swimming pools, golf courses, fitness centers, and other recreational opportunities — the greater will be the purchase or rental cost. Seniors also need to budget for the entrance or monthly membership fees that cover those amenities.
Seniors should then do some research, including on-site visits to the most promising communities. That research usually starts by looking for communities in the geographical area where the retiree would like to live. Matching the communities against the budge narrows that list to options that the retiree can afford.
Visiting each affordable community will allow retirees to compare the environments offered by each potential choice. A community that seems attractive on a website might turn out to be a poor fit during a visit. Taking a moment to chat with residents (including potential neighbors) can provide more candid insights than a realtor is likely to offer.
The decision to move or to age in place can be difficult to make. Careful thought, a meeting with a trusted financial advisor, and input from family members can all help an early retiree decide whether the time has come to find a new living environment.