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Retirement Living Options

When it comes to retirement living, choices abound.

Whether you’re planning for your future, have just retired and are wondering what the future holds, or are curious about the needs of an aging family member or friend, there is much to consider. You might have even been told—or have the assumption—that once you reach a certain age, it’s unwise for you to stay in your own home.

The truth is, you don’t have to leave your home unless you want to. So, how do you make the right choice of you? First, let’s take a look at the retirement living choices available.

What Are My Retirement Living Options?

Age-Restricted Communities

These communities have, as the name suggests, place restrictions on who can and cannot live there. They are specifically aimed at adults 55 and over and prohibit anyone under the age of 19 from having a permanent residence. This retirement living option is for those who are independent and want to take advantage of amenities like a clubhouse, golf course, or planned activities, for example. These communities do not provide and are not equipped for health-related care.

Age-Targeted Communities

While these communities target those who are 55 and older, they do not restrict the age of residents. They have many of the same amenities as age-restricted communities, and also do not provide health-related care.

Leisure Communities

This retirement living choice features resort-style living. While age-restricted and age-targeted communities can feature apartments, townhomes and houses, leisure communities primarily feature well-appointed houses with the amenities of resort living. These communities don’t have age restrictions, but are primarily marketed to empty nesters and are located in warmer climates.

Independent Living Communities

These communities are age-restricted and are primarily rental options like apartments or townhomes. Unlike the previous community options, these facilities offer central dining facilities that provide meals for residents. They may also offer housekeeping services, transportation and social activities.

Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC)

 CCRCs differ from the above options in that they provide longer term housing and care options that can change as your needs do. CCRCs require a contract to join and are often significantly more expensive than other retirement living choices.

Assisted Living

Assisted living communities are licensed by the state and are designed for older adults who need help with activities of daily living like bathing, dressing, toileting and walking. This would be a good retirement living choice if you need care, but not the level of care a nursing home provides.

Your Own Home

Commonly known as aging in place, this concept promotes you staying in your home for as long as safely possible as you age. To age in place successfully, though, you have to have a plan in place.

A Note About Nursing Homes

You might think that once you reach a certain age, you must go to a nursing home. Or that your mother, father, spouse or friend went to a nursing home, so you must too. The truth is, most older adults don’t—and won’t—need to go into a nursing home. In fact, several of the issues that result in a nursing home stay, like forgetfulness or medication mismanagement, can be managed with a few modifications at home.

Nursing homes provide either intermediate care or skilled nursing care and are licensed by state and local health agencies. A skilled nursing facility is equipped to provide the highest level of care outside of a hospital and provides 24-hour nursing care under the supervision of a physician. An intermediate facility provides 24-hour basic medical care, which includes rehabilitative and recuperative care.

How to Choose the Right Retirement Living Option for You

Where you live in retirement depends on several factors:

  • Your current health status
  • If you require assistance with the activities of daily living
  • Your desire to remain in your current home
  • Whether or not you want to relocate, but remain independent
  • Your financial status

Before you make a choice, you’ll want to plan ahead. Consider these questions:

  • Do you have any health conditions that could affect your ability to live as you would like?
  • How will you manage them?
  • What will you do if you need care?
  • Do you have a spouse or partner living with you that would also need care?
  • Is the place where you would like to live close to activities and shopping you enjoy?
  • Do you need or will you need transportation?

Independent Living Communities:What to Consider

Whether you choose an independent living community, a leisure community or an age-restricted or targeted community as a retirement living option, you likely want to leave your current home behind. Before you pick your dream community though, ask yourself these questions:

While these communities target those who are 55 and older, they do not restrict the age of residents. They have many of the same amenities as age-restricted communities, and also do not provide health-related care.

How old are the residents?

These communities can have residents ranging from the lower 50s on up. Some may even have children as residents if you choose a non-age restricted option.

What are the policies about children?

Some communities may not allow children as guests, have age restrictions on child guests or have restrictions on child residents, if you care for a child.

What are the policies about pets?

Pets can have several benefits for older adults, and if you have one or would like to get one, you don’t want to choose a retirement living option that doesn’t allow them.

What are residents’ activities/interests?

Staying social as you age can help improve your physical and mental health. It’s for this reason many retirement communities are interest-based. If a retirement living option is not interest-based, you’ll want to check its activity calendar to ensure they provide activities you enjoy.

What do the monthly/annual fees cover?

Make sure to find out what your monthly or annual fees cover. Also be sure to find out if there are any additional fees you might not be aware of, like taking fitness classes or yard maintenance, for example.


CCRCs: What to Consider

Choosing a CCRC as a retirement living option can be a large financial investment. You’ll need to pay an entrance fee and a monthly fee, which may increase over time. And unlike nursing homes, CCRCs are not governed by a regulatory body.

Though the private nonprofit CCAC-CARF has accreditation standards for CCRCs, the process is voluntary; so if a CCRC isn’t included on the accreditation list, that isn’t necessarily a bad sign.

When examining a CCRC, you’ll want to keep the above points in mind as well as these:

What is the occupancy rate?

Anything with less than an 85 percent occupancy rate should raise a red flag, unless it’s a new community.

Is the CCRC financially sound?

You should be able to look at the CCRC’s financial records. You don’t want to see  a large amount of debt or an indication that liabilities exceed assets.

How much is the entrance fee, and is it refundable?

You’ll want to find out how much of the entrance fee is refundable and under what conditions.


Assisted Living: What to Consider

Unlike CCRCs, assisted living facilities are regulated in all 50 states. The facility should display the license in its community, and it should also post a resident’s bill of rights. You’ll also want to request a copy of the facility’s inspection record from the state agency that inspects it. Also consider:

The monthly fees.

Ask how the monthly fees change over time
Look at the residents.

Are they happy?

Does it look like they enjoy being there? If they don’t, that could be a red flag.

The staff.

Interact with staff as much as possible. Are they warm and friendly?


Your Own Home: What to Consider

Around 90 percent of those 65 and older want to stay in their homes as they age, but doing so in your current home could pose challenges. Planning ahead can help you stay in your home. Here’s how to determine if this option is right for you and how to make your home safer:

Do you have any existing health challenges?

Ask your doctor about any illnesses that could progress or if they come with any symptoms that might make it hard for someone to get around or do basic household tasks. It’s important to remember that even if you do eventually need care or assistance, you can receive the help you need in your own home.

What is the current state of your home?

A few simple changes can make your home safer. The National Institute on Aging recommends thinking about things like navigating stairs, adding grab bars to your shower or tub, installing non-skid floors or using more comfortable hardware on faucets.

Do you have the support to remain in your home?

Support comes in the form of family, friends, physicians or the services of an organization dedicated to helping older adults age in place.


Evaluating retirement living options can seem like a daunting task, but selecting where you will live in retirement doesn’t have to be overwhelming. It’s one of the most important things to consider as you plan for your future, and making a rushed or uninformed decision can have poor consequences for your financial and physical health. Whether you want to remain in your home or you want to live somewhere new, do your research, establish your support networks and plan ahead to find the right option that fits your needs.
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