NAVIGATING THE ART & SCIENCE OF BEING HUMAN

BY SHELLEY WHIZIN

retirement community

“Retirement at sixty-five is ridiculous.

When I was sixty-five, I still had pimples.”

-George Burns

Life is not over when you retire. It’s just the beginning of a new chapter with a new set of circumstances.  Thinking about living in a retirement community can become the catalyst for dreaming up that new chapter in your life as you decide how and where you want to spend the remainder of your years.  If you are looking into a retirement community, either for yourself or a loved one, then this article will provide you with some brief overviews of retirement living, what retirement communities consist of, what needs they fulfill, what kind of care they offer, what kind of residences exist, what to look for, and what amenities are available.  

A Retirement Community – Our Forever Neighborhood

The truth about having reached a more advanced retirement age is that we would do well to look for an alternative lifestyle where we can still be active with an independence level of our own choosing, but with help and assistance should we need it.  Each one has its own particular mix of personal and individual considerations to keep in mind. And so each particular type of retirement community will respond to those needs. Some of which could be health challenges, financial limitations, personal interests, desires, needs, and the ability to sustain a retired lifestyle.  

The Desire for Independence & Quality of Life

As humans, we all have an innate need/desire to be as independent as we can for as long as possible.  We want to experience a quality of life that is fulfilling and meaningful until the very end. And because we are not meant to be islands unto ourselves, having a community of people around us that share similar interests and values is an important part of the equation. Basically, we want to feel as much at home as possible in our “last home” with a great neighborhood.  If we feel comfortable, trusting, and we’re sincerely respected in our chosen environment, then we’ll feel a little readier to willingly accept help, care and support for our physical, mental, emotional and/or spiritual well-being. In keeping with any particular ailments or disabilities, we can help ourselves by choosing a place to live that also can provide for all future possibilities.  

There is something in our society that doesn’t always seem to look favorably upon us older individuals when we become ill or unable to fully care for ourselves.  It is up to us to stay in conscious awareness of bringing honor, dignity and regard into the last quarter of our lives regardless of whether we need to depend on help and assistance from others or not… It is a deeply mental choice, and we must hold this standard. Coming from this awareness, we want to give ourselves the best opportunity to live in a community where we can maintain our level of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being through a myriad of activities that we choose to keep us engaged with life.  No matter what our physical disability may be, we deserve to feel genuinely respected, and be treated with the highest regard simply because we are still living.                               

Location, Location, Location is All About You!

In speaking of countries and cities, one of the first questions to begin with finding a community might well be “Where do I want to live?”  Do you want to live in the United States, in another country?  Your health and financial status may also be reliant on where you will live, depending on your health, economic status, and interests.  You may be drawn to a more action-oriented/outdoorsy environment. Or maybe you’d prefer living in a quieter atmosphere with milder weather conditions, so you don’t spend the time you have struggling with the cold/outdoors and all that goes with it.  

Top 10 US Cities Retired People Want To Live In

Here are ten top US cities retired people want to live based on weather, economy, healthcare, safety, crime, etc., and some offer really “cool” places to retire.  When you go to the website, you will find other advantages besides geographical and attributes.  

  • Prescott, Arizona offers milder climates and a booming economy with a median age of 55.6. 
  • Venice, Florida, located on the gulf of Florida, has canals and rivers, parks, beaches, tennis and proximity to beaches and Sarasota, with a median age of 66.7.
  • St. Augustine, Florida’s local economy is based on tourism, and is located on the coast of Florida. The place experiences cooler temperatures, with a median age of 60.
  • Beaufort, South Carolina is a prime retirement spot with golfing and fishing, with a median age of 68.
  • Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, has sandy beaches with a low cost of living, excellent medical care and golf courses. It has a median age of 65.
  • Abilene, Texas’ cost of living is below the national average. The place experiences year-round warm weather and has lots of activities, with a median age of 31.
  • Austin, Texas offers energetic retirees plenty of activities with a great economy, university, museums, low crime. It is known as the “live music capital of the world”, with a median age of 31.8.
  • Boise, Idaho is rated one of the best cities for daredevil retirees with lots of cultural opportunities and low crime. It has a median age of 36.
  • Palm Springs, California has breathtaking landscapes, enjoying 350 days of sunshine/year, with a median age of 54.
  • Salt Lake City, Utah is perfect for active adults. It offers clean air, a booming economy, with cold winters and dry summers, with a median age of 31.4.

Types of Retirement Communities

When we talk about retirement communities, we can break it down into 3 categories/types:  

  • Independent Senior Living Communities, for people 55 and over who are healthy, active and able to live on their own.  
  • Assisted Living Communities, for people who need any kind of assistance with living.
  • Skilled Nursing Communities, for people who need daily nursing care.

Being Prepared

Paying for your independent living requires a plan. Personal income is the most common source of payment. Active adult communities generally do not accept the same payment sources that assisted living and skilled nursing homes do (like Medicare, Medicaid and long-term care insurance).  Social Security, pension payments, savings, annuity policies, cashed out investments, retirement accounts, loans and lines of credit are all used for independent retirement living. What’s essential here is to consult a trusted financial planner before you do anything!

Independent Senior Living Communities

If you are 55+, an active, healthy senior, still able to live on your own in a home, townhouse, condo, mobile home or motor home, without the need for skilled nursing or personal assistance/care support, then you are a candidate for an independent living community. You can either own or rent your home as part of the community/cooperative.  Some benefits in a retirement/senior community environment include amenities like maintenance, having a healthcare center on site, laundry service, security guards, hairdressers, barbers, manicurists, chiropractor, transportation, restaurant-style dining halls, and a variety of community activities, all on the same property. And if you are living in an independent retirement community and your health declines, and you are able to hire private caregivers. You can avoid moving. 

Aging in Place

Many independent retirement communities also offer a full-service plan, known as, “aging in place.” It offers different levels of healthcare services included on the premises that you might need at some point in your life. This is so that you never have to move, even if/when you may lose your independence.  These are called Continuing Care Retirement Communities  (CCRC’S), or Active Adult Community Homes or Lifetime Communities.  They vary by state. A Place for Mom, the largest senior living referral service in both the US and Canada, is a great place to find the perfect fit for you.

It is important to look at the services that each community offers, the possible benefits and disadvantages, the costs and the contractual obligations.  Caregivers are already there and payments for assisted living or skilled nursing are built into the cost.  Be aware that payment for continuing care services is paid up front and can be a hefty amount to cover what the elderly needs until the end of life.  If you are a low-income senior, you could possibly find some continuing care retirement communities affiliated with nonprofit groups and lower the cost if you have financial need.  These facilities exist within the independent senior community, for continuing care and senior cohousing.  

Top Cities for Continuing Care Retirement Communities

I found a website that shows you where the top cities for Continuing Care Retirement Communities are. Check out https://www.caring.com/senior-living/continuing-care-retirement-communities/california/carmichael.  You can check each city to find out what they have to offer.  Here are several:

Senior Co-Housing

There is something new on the horizon and it is called, Senior Cohousing. It is where a group of friends or people together manage a common property (similar to a Kibbutz). Together they socialize and address community needs.  The Co-Housing Association of United States promotes age-friendly communities and some level of co-care for aging members.  Continuing care takes place in these co-housing communities, letting people “age in place” as well, so they won’t need to move to assisted living or nursing homes elsewhere. 

It could also be that the group shares a home. The group might use a common house for cooking, dining, laundry, recreation and hosting guests, when need be.  And, this could be a great money-saving move by sharing groceries, supplies, cutting energy costs. Speaking of energy costs, some electric companies offer rebates for pooling resources to invest in solar panels.  Think of all the benefits to share: carpooling, maid service, eldercare, flower gardens, lawn mower, vegetable gardens, jacuzzi, fitness room, bicycles, tool shed. Everyone shares in the cost, like Home Owner’s Association fees.

There are also senior apartments on the private market.  Some are federally funded, and others are private, offering meal service, transportation and social calendars.  These types of senior apartments can be either humble, offering modest services or high end, with computer labs, fitness centers, gardens, libraries, salons and other amenities.  Senior apartments can cost anywhere from under $1,000 to more than $10,000 per month.  There are even apartments for low-income seniors receiving Section 8 subsidies, which we’ll talk about a little later.  I believe the current voucher maximum is $2,000 per month.

Examples of Independent Retirement Communities

Out of the Ordinary Community

For those who want something out of the ordinary, singer, songwriter and best-selling author Jimmy Buffet, has created a billion-dollar retirement community, called Latitude Margarittaville in Daytona Beach, Florida, Hilton Head, South Carolina and Watersound, Florida. It is not only a state of mind, but it’s also a place to live. The community features exciting recreation, dining and live entertainment with quality homes for over 25,000 families.  

Gearhead Communities

There are “Gearhead Communities” for bikers, campers, and RV’rs at Lakewood Preserve in Sutter County, Florida, along with Wesley Manor in Louisville, Kentucky.  These independent retirement communities are for people who still want to ride and be able to park their motorcycles, campers, boats and RV’s in their special community.  

University Retirement Communities

There are university retirement communities, like Stanford, Dartmouth, Penn State, and many others, for those who are looking to keep their minds stimulate by engaging with the students.  (Here’s a wild project I found in the Netherlands, where a nursing home allows university students to live rent free alongside the elderly residents as part of a project aimed at warding off the negative effects of aging.   The project requires students to spend at least 30 hours/month as “good neighbors” helping the residents with whatever they need.)  Hmm, definitely something to think about!

Special Interest Retirement Communities 

There are also special interest retirement communities too, like the Masonic Villages throughout Pennsylvania. In these communities, you will find peace of mind and security. You can also benefit from the full gamut of services available, including personal care and nursing care services. 

Community for MPTF Members

The Motion Picture and Television Fund (MPTF) has created a 48-acre campus in Woodland Hills, California. The industry has been taking care of its members for decades.  Its grounds include gardens, fountains, cottages and apartments for independent residents. It also has assisted living facilities with skilled nurses and dementia care.  

Jewish Home for the Aging

My dad lived at the Jewish Home for the Aging  in Reseda, California, where he began in assisted living, since he had dementia. Then he moved into the Alzheimer’s unit when he was unable to care for himself at all.  We knew he was safe, surrounded by loving and caring people, and that was the most important part. 

As you can see, there are numerous places to discover. And I’m sure you will do your own research when the time comes. The scope of this article was to give you some brief perspectives on retirement communities. I do hope that the basic information I’ve given gives you a better understanding.  These retirement living communities are all quite varied. And there is a wide range of services, activities, and amenities each offer.

Some Things to Look for In Independent Retirement Communities

You’d think that a retirement community would be age appropriate, but some have different policies, so be aware of the ages of the population.  There could be two generations of people living in a community with age requirements being 50 and some even allowing children.  Make sure you inquire about their policies.  If you have grandchildren who visit, you may want to assure yourself that they are allowed to use the facilities, or at least some of the facilities.  Some have a “no children” policy altogether.  If you have a pet, make sure the community allows pets, whether it’s a cat or a dog, fish/aquariums, and other pet-related restrictions.

Then among your prime concerns would be to know what are the shared interests/activities of your co-retirees and see if they align with what you want?  A good place to start is to read the activities calendar.  Do check the meals and the menus – those on restricted diets and for those who are not.  Most communities offer shuttles to pre-set destinations. So see if you need to wait around for each person’s errand is done before going to another. You might also like to know if they have nicely accommodating field trips to museums, parks, universities and other attractions. How close is the facility to the city? 

Ask about any annual /monthly fees and what these fees cover. Last but not least is to find out about what security and emergency measures are in place, and if this would include monitored security provided 24/7 with security guards as well, and how are quickly are medical emergencies handled, ambulance arrival, and the distance to the nearest hospital.  Do they have an “age in place” plan?

Different Income Levels 

retirement community

Because there are a wide variety of retirement communities that exist all over the United States, costs vary, depending on the level of services, amenities and location.  Many Baby Boomers have been known to have a high standard of living. They desire amenities that help them relax, unwind or get more involved/active with other like-minded people/activities.  

For the Active Senior

The types of retirement communities that draw the more actively-engaged retiree, want amenities that reflect his/her requirements/desires, with gated entries, golf courses, tennis courts, use of golf carts, fitness centers, community pools, community centers, arts & crafts rooms, game rooms, home cinemas, book groups, dog parks, playgrounds and a location that may be ideal for when grandchildren come to visit. 

Other retirement communities offer residential options with wellness centers, health care services and a range of dining options.  One such retirement community is Del Webb at Lake Oconee,  Greensboro, Georgia, located in a beautiful and tranquil part of the country.  It was designed for outdoor-activity-oriented lovers, offering a wide range of watersports, fishing, sailing, horseback riding, skiing in winter with an array of restaurants and shopping opportunities. At Covenant Shores in Mercer Island,  Washington, you can have a chef’s kitchen, decorate and furnish your residence any way you want. (Average cost for a one-bedroom is $3,330/month, assuming you have a level of independence with no major health requirements). 

For the Cosmopolitan-Oriented Senior

Chicago Illinois USA. Landscape of downtown

If you are a city dweller, and are drawn to city living, the state of the art, 53-story Clare, in Chicago, Illinois sounds like the perfect place for you.  It’s definitely for the cosmopolitan-oriented senior, with easy access to the city’s cultural, culinary and retail hot spots, along with building amenities, such as, communal spaces, outdoor zones, fantastic views three restaurants and two bars. Rents aren’t as pricey, ranging from $2,449/month for a small one-bedroom to around $5,600/month for a large two-bedroom.  

For the Fun-loving Senior

The Villages  in Sumter County, Florida has been described as Disney World for the retired in the friendliest hometown in a community that’s all about fun. It has 118,000 like-minded residents who use 50,000 golf carts to get between residences and amenities, numerous dining options, dancing, drinking and live entertainment every night of the year!   And, it’s children/grandchildren friendly with summer camps for both.  Imagine that!  There is a hitch, however, a 30-day limit is placed on how long the child can stay. Sorry children/grandchildren. I know it’s a fun place to be, but you have to be 55 or older to live there!  Homes average $412,900.  So, if you like a choice between 48 golf courses and 80 pools with more than 2,000 activities each month, then this would be the place for you. 

Of course, every amenity has a cost.  Things to take into consideration are:  laundry, meals, cable TV, utilities, transportation, internet access, parking field trips, wellness program, waiting list deposit, move-in fee, initial assessment fee, and other costs you may not be aware of.  What’s important to remember is to ask about the costs, so that you are perfectly clear as to the services they provide.  

Styles and age of housing differ from place to place, along with management policies, depending on who owns it, whether the policies are set by private companies, nonprofit organizations, government agencies or residents themselves. Shared costs may also incur like utilities, taxes and community services, somewhat like Home Owners Association (HOA) fees.  If you desire housekeeping services, that is usually a separate cost.  Everything adds up.  Make sure you are prepared the best you can.  

55+ Affordable Retirement Communities

Who said that just because you get old means that your environment needs to be that way.  Why can’t we decide to create housing for people, even when they are unable to care for themselves?  Yes, there will be those who take advantage of the system, but the majority of people will be cared for with dignity.  Affordable retirement community options are available. It takes some thought and creativity.  If you purchased a unit for up to $200,000, that would be considered affordable. But this is not necessarily the case for senior low-income housing. Senior low-income housing requires some income restrictions, depending on what county you live in and the age requirement is usually 62+. 

I learned a great deal doing the research for this article and this has definitely planted some seeds in me.  I am not able to give you that many. What we are exploring here are a few options to consider.  

Senior Low-Income Housing Options

Downsizing

You could downsize and buy a smaller home, condominium or co-op. This decreases your costs while having access to the same amenities as the larger and more expensive units within the community. 

Co-op Apartments & Affordable Areas

You could choose a more affordable area by checking with the National Association of Realtors  to see the “affordability index of an area”.  You can also check out co-ops, like Leisure World communities. They have a co-op section comprised of co-op apartments, townhomes and duplex homes, finding studios and one-bedroom apartments.

Manufactured, Modular & Mobile Homes & Land Leased Properties

Manufactured homes are another option and are becoming quite popular, saving from 20-50% over site-built homes.  There are also communities with land-leased properties, where you purchase just the home and the land is leased. Modular homes are another good option, but a bit more expensive than manufactured homes.  Mobile homes are another option where you can purchase an RV park model for as low as $10,000 with the space being leased at very reasonable rates.  

Take a look in Arizona, Florida, California and South Carolina. Mobile home communities for adults 55 are often neat and quiet and many in prime locations. A friend of mine lives in a mobile home park in Carpentaria and pays only $500/month in rent.  There may be a fee on the land, but it can be minimal. 

Rental and Religious-Based Communities

There are also rental communities in many price ranges depending on area and amenities. Some adult apartment communities provide housekeeping and maintenance and may even include a meal in your fee.  Another option are religious-based communities that can be quite affordable and open to all persons. 

RV Communities, Low-Cost Condos & Foreclosures

If you have an RV, you can purchase a space and have a permanent home using your RV.  Then, there are always resale low-cost condominiums. But you need to check with your local realtors and be aware that the condition could be poor.  And, don’t forget about foreclosures, as well as resale homes.  Enjoy the hunt!

Independent Seniors with Low Income are Eligible for Subsidized Housing

I found out something else. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development offers low income senior subsidized programs through Section 202 program Supportive Housing for the Elderly.  Eligible residents pay no more than 30 percent of their monthly income for rent.  Nonprofit groups own and operate these subsidized senior apartments. They coordinate with USDA’S Rural Housing Service and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that HUD and USDA senior apartments can’t service all eligible applicants. Many seniors wait more than 12 months before a unit becomes available.

Assisted Living Communities

If you need an assisted living community, it can provide different levels of care for residents. Also, it is sometimes more cost effective in delivering many of the same services than skilled nursing facilities do.  A Place for Mom, is a national organization that offers different types of care. These depend on the individual need and the community’s licensing, from independent living to memory care to full-time assistance.  Some communities are housed in apartment building type complexes in city centers. While others are sprawling complexes in the suburbs or more intimate settings catering to a small number of residents. 

Assisted living communities are licensed to care for at least 20 people but could also have hundreds of residents.  Some assisted living facilities allow pets under 20 pounds.  A friend of mine’s mom lived in an assisted living place in San Diego. And she had brought her 10-year old cat to live there with her.  It’s comforting to know that her loving pet was allowed to stay with her until she died not too long ago.

Costs

The costs of assisted living facilities can often be lower than home health care or nursing home care. Wherever you are investigating, you can compare the costs, but they still can be expensive. So make sure you check out all the costs.  Sometimes, long term care insurance policies help finance long-term care needs. Wartime veterans and their spouses may be eligible for VA benefits.  All of these details you must check out for yourself, for each situation is different.  Those with low income may need to use Medicaid to pay for senior care. So check into your local Area Agency on Aging Office for more information.

Assisted Living vs. Nursing Homes

It’s important to define what you or your loved one needs.  Assisted living residents are mainly independent but may need help with daily living personal care tasks, such as bathing and dressing.  Nursing home residents tend to need 24-hour assistance with every activity of daily living.  Assisted living residents usually live in a studio or one-bedroom apartment and are mobile. While nursing home residents are generally bed-ridden, living in a single or semi-private room, requiring skilled nursing medical attention on a daily basis.  There are an increasing number of assisted living communities based on cultural, dietary, lingual and religious based needs, as well as LGBT oriented communities.  And, if you are a couple, many communities will work to accommodate couples in assisted living by placing them into double occupancy apartments, but the cost could be high.

Many Assisted Living Communities allow you to bring your own furniture that will fit in the room.  In full care communities/skilled nursing homes, no furniture is necessary because oftentimes a hospital bed is supplied for ease of getting in and out of bed.  In that case, you/your loved one only need to bring your clothes.  

Skilled Nursing Communities

According to the National Institute on Aging,  when you, or a loved one, is at a point where you require help full time, a residential facility offers many or all of the long-term care services you/they need. These services are called: “facility-based long-term care services.” Such services include board and care homes, assisted living facilities, nursing homes and continuing care retirement communities. Some facilities have only housing and housekeeping, but many also provide personal care and medical services.   

Choosing What is Most Appropriate for You/Your Loved One

retirement community

As you can see, you have a lot of options, as there are about 250,000 housing units in communities for senior independent living.   As you get an idea of what different retirement communities offer, you can determine for yourself what the best situation will be for you. 

If you are looking into Assisted Living and/or Skilled Nursing facilities, make sure you notice the care of the facility, the staff and the residents.  Here are some suggested questions you might take into consideration:

Care of the Facility:

  • Visit the facility you are considering at different times to determine the care of the facility.  
  • What is it like for breakfast, lunch & dinner?  How is the quality of the food?  Is it organic, fresh, wild, frozen, canned?  
  • Is the bathroom/shower in the same room or do you need to go down the hall?  

Care from the Staff

  • Is the personnel loving, caring, professional & compassionate?  
  • Are they respectful and attentive, talking to residents as adults and not children?
  • How is their demeanor, their voice, their attitude?
  • If residents need a diaper, do the staff change it often? 
  • Do they medicate the residents to keep them sleepy?
  • Does the staff encourage them to move around?
  • How do they handle residents when they are in pain?

Behavior/Demeanor of the Residents

  • Interview the residents to see what their experience is.
  • How is the behavior of the residents?
  • Do they seem happy overall?

How is their attitude?

Activities

  • What indoor activities are offered?
  • What outdoor activities are offered?  Field trips?  Shopping? Theatre?
  • Community trips?

Conclusion

Before you decide to move anywhere, it’s important for you to be informed, so you can make an informed decision.  That makes sense.  Check in with yourself to see what it is that you truly want/need/desire. And be honest with yourself regarding your physical and mental abilities/limitations.  Ask yourself how you manage your personal desires, and how free you want to be.  This is soul searching time.  It’s not a fly by night whim.  This is the next chapter of the last quarter of your life.  It’s a HUGE deal.  This is a time for you to live without duty and obligation.  You’ve earned it.  Time is the greatest gift you have. And it’s up to you to spend it any way that you desire/can/are able. 

Find out all that you can about the places you want to live, what the advantages/pros are and what the disadvantages/cons are.  Be realistic with your finances and your health, because you would never want to put yourself in a situation where you would be forced to move, if you didn’t want to.  When you research communities, see if they fit into what YOU want.  It’s important to have a certain level of independence and maintain honor, dignity and regard throughout each and every chapter.

It’s your life.  Enjoy the journey.  And, remember to bring love into everything you do.