March 5, 2015

Finding the Ideal Retirement Community

The following is a guest post with a review of some information you may find helpful if you, or a relative, are thinking about moving to a retirement community.

 Finding the Ideal Retirement Community

Rewind back to the time you were searching for your first home. The hunt was exciting—oh, the possibilities! Then, before long, the search became aggravating. Then overwhelming.

Because when we look for a place to lay our heads, we’re looking at more than just the indoor space and style of the home. We’re looking at the neighborhood. We’re looking at our community. We’re looking at the services and amenities in the surrounding area. We’re looking at our neighbors – will we like them?

But as we age, our priorities change. We no longer need (or want) the 5-bed, 2.5-bath house and some land. More rooms mean more cleaning. And more land means more back-aching yard work. Yet, wherever we decide to go, we still want readily available the same services, amenities and friendly neighbors we had with our first homes. Often, our gazes shift to retirement communities.

And the search begins all over again.

With retirement communities, there’s a lot to consider. If you or a relative are beginning the search for a new home, the good news is that there are more retirement lifestyle options available today than ever before. That being said, it’s important to be well-informed, so here are a few key points to keep in mind.

Living La Vida Retirement
What would you choose to do with your spare time? Would you play golf, dine at high-end restaurants, attend plays and concerts, tinker in the garden, socialize with neighbors, read the classics, or paint?

We all want the same thing, and that’s a customizable lifestyle. It’s imperative for all thriving communities (retirement or not) to accommodate hobbies and activities – choices should be the cornerstone of any retirement community worth its salt.

Look for a retirement community that accommodates the lifestyle you want to lead – a place that includes the types of programs and amenities you enjoy now, as well as plan on enjoying in the future now that there is more free time.

Smart Thinking
Opportunities for lifelong learning are critical to maintaining independence as we age. It’s devastating for anyone to watch a spouse, friend, or relative decline into a form of dementia like Alzheimer’s – exercising the brain is just as important as working out the body. Physical exercise has been proven to maintain and even improve our memory by increasing the size of the hippocampus, the area of the brain involved in learning and memory (see study findings here).

The Rush Memory and Aging Project, conducted in 2012 with more than 1,200 elders participating, showed that increased cognitive activity in older adults slowed their decline in brain function and decreased their risk of mild cognitive impairment. The study showed that cognitively active seniors, whose average age was 80, were 2.6 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and dementia than seniors with less cognitive activity.

Thus we can see the overwhelming importance of finding a retirement community that encourages mental activity with dedicating programming and an overall active community lifestyle. Ensure you are in an environment that provides challenges to think critically and actively participate in the community.

Understanding a la Carte Amenities and Monthly Fees
Most retirement communities have some type of monthly fee associated with the overall cost of living. However, all of them tend to be distinctly different. There are retirement communities that rival the grandeur of the Masters PGA Tour, and other communities that resemble Hawaiian spa retreats with the robust amenities and facilities offered.

Whatever the amenities at the community, be sure to determine which of those are included in the monthly fee. Is that exercise class included or is it an additional charge? Then decide what is most attractive.  Make a list of amenities you value; then prioritize that list. Compare the must-haves with the nice-to-haves, and determine how many of each are included in the monthly fee.  Nobody likes hidden fees and additional charges.

Moving On Up
If this will be the last real estate search you hope to conduct, then choose a community that provides healthcare options as you age.

Many retirement communities start residents off in independent living with the option to transition to assisted living as their needs change. Options for increased care as they age are critical to finding a place that sticks.

So be sure to ask the following questions:

·       Are there medical specialists on staff and on site?
·       Are there daily services available for managing medications?
·       Are accommodations made for residents undergoing physical therapy?
·       Is programming available to mitigate or improve existing chronic conditions?
·       Will you have the option of transitioning into increased levels of care within the community?

If the answer to any of these questions is “No,” that retirement community may not be the best fit.

Talking Turkey
You wouldn't buy a home without a careful inspection. And you certainly wouldn't invest in real estate if there were liens on the property. So have that uncomfortable money conversation with the retirement community – and we’re not talking just about your own investment:

·       Ask to see their quarterly financial statements.
·       Inquire about your direct costs: entry fees, monthly fees and health care       services.
·       Find out whether the retirement community is a for-profit or a not-for-profit. Not-for-profit facilities reinvest profits and proceeds into the community to benefit residents. For-profits use those dollars to pay investors.

Happy Home Search!
You want your next chapter to be. So don’t compromise as you  search for the ideal retirement community.  
To summarize: Your best option will 1.) accommodate your lifestyle, 2.) offer lifelong learning opportunities, 3.) provide intellectual and exercise programming, 4.) allow you  to age in place, 5.) and, frankly, won’t break the bank.

Happy hunting!

The author, Rob Lucarelli, is the director of communications for Judson Services, Inc., a not-for-profit organization that has served older adults in Cleveland, Ohio since 1906.

Satisfying Retirement received no compensation for this article.


  1. There are many options here in Arizona. We chose to give mountain living a try, a smaller home, less yard to take care of, and an outdoor lifestyle.I thought at one point I wanted to live in a Planned 55+ Active Adult community but my husband thinks they are too much like "Disneyland!" Still, maybe at a later date (we are youngish retirees.) Remember the old days when "Granma" and /or Granpa moved in with the kids? No more! I agree that staying cognitively active, volunteering, keeping the body moving as much as one can, all contributes to that "Satisfying Retirement!" I can also see that what works at age 60 might need revision again, in maybe 15-20's not over till it's over!!

    1. As we look to downsize again by a little and move from a two story home our timing is probably in line with yours. A three-level retirement community is in our future, but not for another 12-13 years.

  2. Unfortunately the kind of communities with all the amenities that you describe are not so common in the UK (especially in the North) but I'm going to start keeping my eyes peeled and maybe they will have increased in number by the time my husband and I begin to feel the "need."

    1. Interesting. What do retirees usually do in the UK, outside of the big cities? What would a typical retirement arrangement have in terms of amenities, or are retirees more likely to live with family?

    2. They go to the Marigold hotel.

  3. I appreciate information like this!! Never ever would I have thought about asking to look at their financial statements--that's one thing I will definitely need to remember. This post reminded me of how when my parents were at that point where they wanted to be independent, yet they needed occasional help, they discovered a condo where 95% of the residents were retired, with a great maintenance crew, and an organized team of resident caregivers. The condo organization (all unit owners) operated like a finely tuned machine, and they took excellent care of one another. (Of course, the families of the residents also pitched in, as needed.) There's nothing quite like a group of determined senior citizens who have decided to make a plan work.

    1. I get the chance to see the financial statement for the community where my dad lives. It helps me feel more comfortable with where his money goes.

  4. Yep. I see a downsize/move in our Washington State future, but probably not within the next five years. I'd like to be more minimalist but my husband treasures his stuff.

    1. The Park Model in Tucson certainly says you and Art can downsize for several months of each year.

  5. Sounds like some great advice, esp. the part about not being shy in asking some of the difficult questions. I'm filing this for the time when I go shopping for a retirement community --- which I don't see in my immediate future but which will probably come eventually.

    1. It probably is something most of us will face sooner than we'd like to think about.

  6. I have been seriously looking at "Granny Pods".
    I think the industry will change quickly in the next ten years. I am anticipating most of my care will be handled by robots :) I am 57 with a parent who is 84 and going strong.

    1. I am not sure about the robot aspect, but who would have predicted smart phones as the new computer? !!!!

  7. We've been in a 55+ community for 9 years. It's been convenient not having to do outside maintenance since I'm still working. I am, however, turning 70 and we are looking to purchase an in-town house with a small yard. I have no desire to be retired and confined to small living quarters with not enough to do for our remaining years.
    My theory is that retirees need more to do than just hobbies, entertainment and eating out. I think that some stressors such as the responsibility of maintaining a property are essential and healthy. Otherwise one can become complacent and old really fast. Maybe in 10-15 years we'll consider the HOME.

    1. I completely agree that a retirement built around leisure and avoiding all stress is kind of like death while still breathing. I'm not convinced maintaining a home is the best way to do that, but each of us stays motivated in our own ways.