With about 8,000 baby boomers in the United States reaching the age of 65 every day, you or someone you love is almost certainly nearing a stage of life when a retirement community is an appropriate option for maintaining your independence while receiving beneficial support.
What retirement looks like has changed drastically over the past 35 years in light of increased life expectancy and rising expectations about active retirement. It will no doubt continue to change as the retirement industry evolves to meet new demands and expectations.
The ability to plan for a different type of retirement that combines independence with safety and support is a relatively new option for most people. While choice is a positive thing, it can also be overwhelming. Here is a look at what questions to ask and the key factors to consider when choosing a retirement community.
Establish What You Need: Level of Care
Before you can even begin searching for a retirement community to call home, you must determine the level of care required. Elder care communities often fall into one of the following categories: assisted living, independent living, skilled nursing facility, and continuous care retirement communities (CCRC).
Assisted living and independent living facilities are similar, but have some key differences. Assisted living communities, also known as assisted care communities, are designed for seniors needing daily assistance with personal care. Residents get help with medication management and have 24-hour access to caregivers.
Independent living facilities, on the other hand, are meant for individuals seeking a sense of community and social support. You can receive some care at your home within the community, but they are not structured or staffed to provide medical services. Rather, they give you access to amenities like transportation services, meals, social activities, outings, and regular housekeeping.
Comparing the Best Retirement Communities: A Checklist
Once you’ve narrowed down the type of retirement community that offers the appropriate level of care for your situation, you can start researching specific facilities. While you may have individual concerns that factor into your decision, these are 10 important things to consider when looking for the best community for you.
Most retirement communities offer up to three meals per day, and the quality of a community’s food services is an important factor. Certain elements within a senior’s diet can help improve their health and well-being and prevent common ailments. A nutritious diet should be rich in fibers, complex carbs, proteins, vitamin D, calcium and iron. However, a top-notch facility will also serve high-quality food that appeals to the diverse tastes of their residents.
2. The City
Another consideration to make is the retirement community's location. You want to choose a city with a variety of attractions and events that are easily accessible, yet where you can still get away from the noise and chaos of urban life. According to Forbes, some of the best places to retire in 2019, based on affordability and a high quality of life, include Athens, Georgia; Bella Vista, Arkansas; Boise, Idaho; Brevard, North Carolina; and Charlotte, North Carolina. The Seattle, Washington, metropolitan area also ranks high on the list of places conducive to senior living because of its low violent crime rate; exemplary health care and transportation services; and high life expectancy.
3. The Community Social Life
One of the primary benefits of joining a retirement community is to be socially engaged and have easy access to interesting activities, events, and outings. Your golden years are an ideal time to focus on the hobbies and pastimes you enjoy, along with trying some new ones. You should look for a community that offers a wide range of activities encompassing various interests, including history, gardening, art, crafting, and culture. You can also develop new computer skills, enjoy lectures by guest speakers, and take trips to regional attractions.
Amenities (and other fun things to do) are an equally important benefit of senior living communities. You can find places with indoor amenities that include communal parlors, dayrooms, recreation rooms, libraries, dining rooms, team rooms, atriums and even on-site salons and barbershops. For outdoor amenities, look for a community with gardens and walking trails to enjoy on sunny days. Transportation services also are important for running errands and going on trips.
5. Lifestyle Goals and Health
Maintaining good health in old age is a priority for many seniors. Providing opportunities for you to stay active and fit should be a goal of your retirement community. You want to select one that offers regular fitness classes, recreation areas, and activities that help you work on endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility, such as tai chi, swimming, balloon volleyball, and walking.
6. Pet Policies
Pets can make ideal companions for seniors, especially if you find the right one. They can help relieve stress and anxiety, offer companionship, motivate you to exercise, and provide a sense of purpose. If having a pet is meaningful and important, you must find a retirement community, like Daystar, that allows them on site. If you don’t necessarily want the responsibility of caring for a pet, but enjoy their company, you can also look for a community that hosts an animal-assisted therapy program.
Cost is another significant factor in selecting a retirement community. In 2018, the average annual cost of assisted living in the Seattle area was $69,000, and independent living is typically lower. While you should expect to pay for what you get – such as amenities, activities, meals and other services – make sure to shop around when looking for a retirement community to find one that aligns with your budget, as well as your needs.
Seniors who have living family members often enjoy being close enough for visits between both residences. Most 55 and older communities allow children and other family members to visit, although they are often not welcome to spend the night under the Housing for Older Persons Act. HOPA does not provide restrictions or guidelines for children under 18 visiting their grandparents or other residents, so that is generally left to the discretion of management. You should check out specific policies for individual retirement homes to ensure they allow family visitation and during what times. Daystar’s policies allow overnight residents as long as they are checked in.
Residents at senior living facilities are subject to both internal and external risks and dangers, including visitor incidents, natural disasters, and negligent employees. As people age, they often become more vulnerable, which is why it is important to find a retirement community that emphasizes campus safety. Your community should provide security cameras, wander management and nurse call systems, staff on call 24/7, evacuation plans, and other policies and practices that promote safety and security in common areas and senior apartments alike.
10. Home Options
Even within assisted and independent living facilities, there are different housing options to choose from, such as cottages, condos, and apartment-style units. Among apartments, you can find different floor plans for studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom units. Consider what type of home you want to live in and find a community that offers it.
If you are looking for a quality retirement community in West Seattle, consider Daystar Retirement Village, which provides an array of activities, amenities, fitness programs, opportunities for social interaction, and lifestyle choices. Daystar offers independent living facilities with the ability to easily transition to assisted living later down the road if or when the time comes.
“Elderly Nutrition Tips: Best Foods for Seniors in West Seattle.” Daystar Retirement Village blog. Accessed online at https://www.aplaceformom.com/planning-and-advice/senior-housing-101
“The 25 Best Places to Retire in 2019.” Forbes.com. Accessed online at https://www.forbes.com/sites/williampbarrett/2019/04/23/the-best-places-to-retire-in-2019/#436abe295c5a
“Best Cities for Seniors - complete list.” BestPlaces. Accessed online at https://www.bestplaces.net/docs/studies/seniorcities_list.aspx
“Seniors and Pets.” AgingInPlace.org. Accessed online at www.aginginplace.org/seniors-and-pets/amp/