Retirement Communities

What Is a Retirement Community?

As people get older and retire, the question of where to live arises. Although some seniors choose to age in place in the home that they already own, many others prefer to move to a retirement community. But choosing a retirement community can be confusing. How do you pick the best place to live once you are a senior?

What Are the Types of Retirement Communities?

Retirement communities come in several types, with different communities being suitable for seniors with different needs.  The type of retirement community that many people may wish to explore on first becoming a senior is the 55+ community or active senior community.

55+ Communities

A 55+ community is a community designed around the needs of people who are 55 years old and up. In these communities, at least 60% to 80% of the residents must be aged 55 and older. Residents younger than 19 are not allowed. In the 55+ community, houses or apartments are often smaller and designed to allow the residents to age in place. Features such as grab bars in bathtubs and wider hallways are often built right into the homes in these communities. If the community is composed of houses, lawn care is often included in the monthly fees. Many 55+ communities also have planned activities, such as dancing, exercise classes, or outings to restaurants. Other amenities might include walking trails, exercise rooms, or media centers. These communities are often designed to be convenient to doctors, restaurants, and shopping.  

Congregate Housing

However, 55+ communities are designed for people who don’t need help with day-to-day activities. For seniors who want social support as well as some help with daily activities, congregate housing is an option. Congregate housing, also called independent living, is a type of community where each person still has his own living space, such as an apartment. Additionally, there is a central area where communal activities, such as shared meals or social events, can take place. Congregate housing may provide services such as transportation. Some congregate living communities may have additional amenities such as guest rooms for family or caregivers, exercise rooms, and arts and crafts rooms. Residents are able to check in on each other, which eliminates the social isolation that may occur with living outside a congregate living community.  

Continuing Care Communities

Continuing care communities are designed for seniors who want to be able to live in one community as they age and still receive any level of care they might need. In continuing care communities, seniors may still have their own living space and may live independently as long as possible. Continuing care communities, like 55+ and congregate housing communities, also provide social activities and amenities. However, for seniors who need it, additional services such as transportation, housekeeping, meals, and even personal care are available. Additionally, in continuing care communities, seniors have the option to receive skilled nursing in their own home if they have health issues making this necessary. Finally, in continuing care communities, seniors who need the highest level of care are able to move into assisted living within the same community. Although these seniors are no longer living independently, they do not have to give up the community where they feel at home. 

Assisted Living

Assisted living is a type of senior housing that provides care for seniors who can no longer live on their own. Seniors have their own apartment but share meals and common areas such as libraries and recreation rooms. Housekeeping, transportation, and 24-hour assistance are provided as well. Personal care, such as assistance in bathing and dressing, is another service provided in assisted living. However, skilled nursing is not always available through the assisted living community, so if you need this service you might need to move out of the facility.

How Do You Choose the Right Retirement Community?

So how do you choose a retirement community? The right community for you will depend on many factors. One important factor is how much care you need or anticipate needing in the future. Another important factor is cost.

For Active Adults

Active adults will probably prefer a 55+ or active senior retirement community. The range of social activities and amenities is attractive to younger seniors who are enjoying their retirement or who will be transitioning to retirement soon. With smaller living spaces and no responsibility for lawn care, active adults can spend their time enjoying the many social opportunities available at 55+ or active senior retirement communities. In addition to the social activities already mentioned, some active senior communities have trips to local attractions and events, as well as access to sports activities such as golf and tennis.

For Those Who Need More Help

Seniors who need some help with daily activities such as driving, and who prefer close social ties, might prefer congregate housing. Although services, social activities, and recreation are available, the focus is more on the community. Congregate housing might be best for less active seniors who have no family living close to them. This type of housing is a good middle step between an active senior retirement community and assisted living.

Assisted living is probably best for seniors who need a lot of help with their daily activities and realistically cannot live independently any longer. Assisted living allows these seniors to be monitored and aided at all times yet allows them to have the privacy of their own apartment as well as a social life. However, if you think you might need skilled nursing care in the future, you will want to pick an assisted living community that provides that service.

Continuing care communities can be a good choice if you wish to stay in the same community throughout your senior years. As an active senior, you can enjoy the independent living phase of the community. As you age and need more services, you can move into the assisted living portion of the community. Then, if you need skilled nursing, you can receive that care in the same community instead of having to move elsewhere. However, this continuum of care does come at a price.

How Much Does It Cost to Live in a Retirement Community?

Retirement community costs vary a great deal. Costs depend on the area where you live, as well as on the type and amount of services you need. The more services you need, the more expensive the community will be.

Costs for 55+ and Active Seniors

The least expensive retirement communities are probably the 55+ communities made up of apartments with few or no social activities or extra benefits. Apartments in those communities may cost the same as conventional apartments. Sometimes subsidized senior housing is available at below-market rents for low-income seniors. If you are a senior on a budget, this might be a good option.

Communities for active seniors that include lots of amenities and social activities, and possibly stand-alone housing, will be more expensive. Although the cost will vary with the number and type of services offered, as well as the local real estate market, you can estimate $1,500 to $10,000 per month for this option.

Costs for Those Who Need More Help

Costs for congregate living can be more difficult to estimate, as they vary greatly with the community, the type of housing, and any services offered. For seniors in subsidized housing, a small studio apartment shared with a roommate may be $500 per month. In unsubsidized units the rent increases with the size of the rental unit increases. Rents may range from $1,400 for a studio apartment to over $4,000 per month for a full-sized apartment.

Assisted living costs will vary with the location, but you can expect an average of $3,600 a month. Although many of the services are included in the basic monthly fee, some may cost extra. Be sure to check the contract carefully to understand the fee schedule.

Continuing care communities are the most expensive options. These communities have an entrance fee of $20,000 up to around $200,000. Along with the entrance fee, a monthly fee of $1,000 to $6,000 is charged. Depending on the kind of contract you have with the continuing care facility, you may pay a smaller entrance fee in exchange for paying more for medical care later. However, for seniors with the financial means to pay the entrance and monthly fees, the assurance that they can stay in one community and receive care might be worth the price.