Retirement Communities and the Alternatives

Retirement Communities and the Alternatives

Whether you are on the verge of retirement or it is years away, many of your current financial decisions are shaped by the questions of where you will live in the future and how your financial and social needs will be met. In addition to decisions about your own future, you may have aging parents who need help working through the complexities of choosing their own retirement housing within a variety of retirement communities.

Changing Needs

Your housing needs can be affected by any number of life changes, including seeing your children move out of the family home, experiencing changes to your health, or facing the loss of a spouse. Each of these life changes can raise questions regarding the physical layout of your home, the maintenance required to take care of it, and the location of necessary resources, as well as the need for continued social interaction.

If you have lived in the same neighborhood for many years, the thought of moving can be both difficult and emotional. In addition to a lifetime of memories, your family home offers the comfort of familiarity and an important sense of community. It also may be completely paid off by the time you retire. However, its size and maintenance requirements may become increasingly difficult to manage. The family home could also become isolating, especially after lifelong friends have moved away, or if located in an area with little or no access to social support systems.


Retirement communities are enjoying increased popularity as an alternative means to meet the housing needs of older adults. Many retirement communities offer an array of services, with costs directly related to the level of direct care provided. A complete community may have independent living options with condominiums and apartments; supervised assisted living for those who need help with basic daily activities, but not full-time skilled nursing care; and a nursing home wing for those individuals requiring more intensive medical care, all conveniently situated on one campus.

There are a number of advantages to such living arrangements. The security of knowing that medical care and support services are readily available and a resident can shift from independent living to a nursing home level of care without having to make difficult moving decisions is the main attraction of retirement communities. Financial concerns may also be alleviated in a total life care community, particularly if providing for later health care has been done before the need arises. In addition, most retirement communities offer planned activities and transportation to meet a variety of recreational and social needs. Many active older adults enjoy the socialization among peers that a retirement community provides.

Periods of Adjustment

Although these communities are designed to meet the needs of older adults, isolation from family and prior friends may involve an adjustment period for some people. For example, structured group activities to interact with others may impose on some people’s sense of privacy, while others may dislike the idea of being confined to living solely among people their own age.

One of the most important questions to ask when visiting a community is who decides when the resident needs a higher level of care. This issue alone can affect an individual’s sense of self-esteem and independence, as well as the cost of care. When couples move into a retirement community, it is important to consider how the necessity for an increased level of care for one spouse may affect the independence of the other spouse.

The decision to enter a retirement community involves a lot of thoughtful planning. Knowing in advance some of the factors involved may help facilitate the decision-making process for you and your loved ones. You may want to contact a financial professional for some advice!

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