“Retirement Home” Doesn’t Mean What it Used To

Housing

“Retirement Home” Doesn’t Mean What it Used To

When it comes to senior housing, today’s retirees are refusing to settle for the tried and true.

November 18, 2014

When it comes to senior housing, today’s retirees are refusing to settle for the tried and true. Along with traditional independent living communities, assisted living facilities and the like, there are also other options to consider. Advances in technology are constantly providing new ways to live at home longer, and there are also innovative continuing care retirement communities that are able to transition with you as your housing and care needs change.

Boomers by the millions are starting to think about housing options and are driving changes in the real estate and renovation market to better reflect their desired retirement lifestyle – one replete with options, amenities, social structure and true independence. This generation wants well-designed homes, technology to make staying at home easier and retirement communities with plenty of fitness, cultural, social and educational opportunities. And they’re getting it.

Staying put
The vast majority of near-retirees say they want to stay in their own homes as long as possible. Surveys show this demographic prefers to be near family and friends in familiar territory. You may love the organic grocer down the street, hanging out at a nearby coffee shop or having Sunday dinner with the grandkids. If this is you, consider whether you are truly capable – financially and physically – to maintain your home and routine. There may come a time when you’ll need help with small repairs, lawn maintenance, cleaning, even changing light bulbs. Or when you’ll no longer be able to navigate your home, especially if there are steep hills, stairs or narrow doorways that make getting around a little more difficult.

Renovating
To better prepare, consider renovations that could make it easier for you to live comfortably at home for many more years or perhaps in a home shared by your adult children. This could mean converting first-floor dens into bedrooms or adding a full bathroom downstairs. It’s not only about institutional details like grab rails and ramps; today’s universal designs are more subtle and appeal to a wide range of homeowners. Simple things like door handles (instead of knobs), raised dishwashers, windows that open easily, and lowered light switches and thermostats can make daily life much more comfortable. Nearly a quarter of remodelers surveyed last year were undertaking this kind of work so that they could stay put, and builders understand the changing needs, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). Your advisor can help you crunch the number to determine if remodeling makes sense when compared to the costs of an independent living community or assisted living facility.

Keep in mind, though, that there may still come a time when it’s no longer feasible to be at home, say in the case of mobility limitations or chronic illness, so be sure to establish a contingency plan with your family and advisors so you won’t be ambushed by costs you hadn’t accounted for.

“Golden Girls” housing
Like the sitcom, unrelated retirees or good friends are living together to share expenses and company. Often, they’re single women who are growing older and realizing they’re paying for a lot of expenses out of pocket and who prefer the safety and comfort of having roommates.

There are also co-housing communities with clusters of about 20 to 60 single-family houses gathered near a central home or building. Or smaller, dorm-style housing, where each person has a room and bathrooms, but the group shares common areas like kitchen and dining spaces. Each person pays monthly dues for amenities, dining, landscaping, healthcare and other services.

More than 1 million single women 45 and older live with a roommate who isn’t a relative, according to Census data.

Full-spectrum care
Assisted living options are evolving, too; some encompass continuing care retirement communities, where residents can transition as needed from fully independent housing to other units within the same community that offer increasing levels of care as mobility and health needs change. The properties are designed with lots of outdoor space, walking trails, on-site staff, dining and planned social events.

Alternative solutions
“The new face of retirement planning must go beyond money, and adopt an integrated and holistic approach to helping people live longer and well.” – Dr. Joe Coughlin, Director, MIT AgeLab

Researchers, scientists and designers at “living labs,” like MIT’s AgeLab (among the first to pioneer this type of research), are developing affordable alternatives to traditional long-term care to help Americans live independently longer. The convergence of old age and new technology will make the future of housing very different for boomers and those that follow. Devices and systems that seek to manage our health are everywhere, according to AgeLab’s Dr. Joseph Coughlin. We’re talking everything from cameras to sensors, from robots that help far-flung family interact with loved ones to tracking devices that measure changes in walking speed and mobility.

According to a 2011 AARP report, even though 90 percent of people age 65 and over want to age where they are, less than 10 percent are taking advantage of personal and safety technology designed to help them do just that. So researchers are finding ways to make the technology more appealing and efficient. These advancements include sensors throughout the home and the Internet-of-Things, which allows appliances and people to communicate digitally and unobtrusively. Imagine systems that routinely and seamlessly monitor chronic conditions such as congestive heart failure or diabetes, explains Coughlin, and can assess patterns and intervene if necessary. Or apps that transform your phone into an EKG machine, or connect you with Uber or Lyft drivers who can serve as personal chauffeurs on a moment’s notice. Don’t forget the latest wearable technologies, like FitBit, that make it possible to manage, monitor and motivate healthy behaviors, as well as keep you connected with family and caregivers.

Finding the right fit
No matter what you’re looking for, there’s an option for every lifestyle and budget. The costs will vary depending on the amenities offered and how much care you’ll need. Families who talk about housing options beforehand can better understand their appeal and plan accordingly. Keep in mind, that unless it is subsidized, you’ll pay out of pocket for housing in retirement. Medicare and insurance generally don’t contribute to these expenses. Your advisor can help you work through the decision and set aside the funds needed to fulfill your wishes.



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