Retirement Communities and Senior Homes: Your Complete Guide to Retirement Housing

Nicolas Cesare  | 

One of the biggest challenges facing seniors in retirement is housing. Finding and maintaining a home in retirement is quite a lot different compared to doing the same during the course of your career. The income from a steady job helps to pay your mortgage and cover unforeseen expenses on a home. However, once you enter retirement and this income vanishes, your living situation might have to change drastically. This is why it’s so important to pay your mortgage off faster if you’re approaching retirement.

In addition to the financial changes that affect homeownership for retirees, the needs of seniors can change with age, and these needs can’t always be met in a standard housing situation. This is when it’s time to consider a retirement home or other senior living facility. This article will answer all of your questions about the many kinds of senior living arrangements and help you understand how they can work for you or your loved ones.

Retirement Communities

Retirement communities are housing communities with an age restriction. Usually this is around age 55+ in order to allow both seniors and early retirees to use the space. Retirement communities are unique in that they often offer independent living spaces right next to assisted living care. This allows retired couples to stay together when they have different housing needs.

Retirement communities can take several forms, including gated communities and apartment-style living facilities.

Active Senior Communities

It’s well-known that physical activity helps to keep seniors healthy. An active lifestyle is an important factor in staving off disease and keeping a healthy mind and body. To this end, some senior communities will help enable an active lifestyle for their members, with special classes geared towards senior fitness, on-site facilities, and instructors to help members achieve their fitness goals.

Independent Living Communities

Many seniors are wary of retirement within senior communities, as these situations can quickly begin to resemble hand-holding. For this reason, independent living communities exist to help seniors gather with other people in their age group, with similar interests and experiences.

Senior Co-Op

Many seniors who are considering a retirement community are coming from homes of their own. They have grown used to the advantages and responsibilities that come with homeownership, so it can be jarring to be forced back into an apartment or even dormitory-style living situation. Senior co-ops give retirees a chance to own the property that they’re living on without taking on the financial challenges of owning another house, while maintaining the benefits of property ownership.

Senior Apartments

Owning a home comes with many benefits, such as complete control over your property, freedom from distracting neighbors, and space. However, homeownership can also get expensive and stressful. Apartments for seniors exist so that retirees can maintain an independent lifestyle without having to worry about who’s going to mow the lawn or how they’re going to pay for home repairs. Senior apartments can also coincide with active senior (or other lifestyle) communities, making it easier to stay social and engage with a community.

Lifestyle Communities

Age isn’t always the unifying factor that people may believe it to be. Just because two couples are both in their 60s doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll have similar life experiences, or be able to get along with one another. For this reason, senior living communities based around lifestyle exist so that retirees can socialize with other people who are both in their age group and share some of their core beliefs and experiences.

Faith-Based Retirement Communities

Religious beliefs and experiences play a big part in informing your values. When you’re thinking about where you want to live out the rest of your life, it’s important to find a community that shares those values. To that end, faith-based retirement communities provide seniors of similar religious backgrounds with a gathering place where they can build new relationships with others who share their beliefs.

Recreational Retirement Communities

Sometimes it’s our hobbies that unify us. Remember that boredom in retirement is a major factor affecting the mental health of seniors, so it’s important to keep up old hobbies after retiring or take on new ones. Recreational retirement communities are built to provide members with access to a number of activities, such as golf, tennis, boating, art, or travel, in the case of RV communities. Finding the right recreational retirement community can help to keep seniors active and happy throughout retirement.

University and College-Based Retirement Communities

Living in a retirement community doesn’t always mean living with other seniors. College-based retirement communities give retirees the opportunity to live on campus, taking classes that they are passionate about and living alongside college students, many of whom are in need of mentors and an experienced ear from time to time. It has become increasingly common to see colleges and universities offering free or discounted classes and non-degree programming just for seniors, or “life-long learners” as they are often classified. Life-long learner communities on campus can provide access to such opportunities and the other people most interested in pursuing them.

Assisted Living Communities

Retirement often comes with a newfound freedom as seniors are free from their jobs for the first time in decades. Unfortunately, age can also come with a number of medical conditions that make it harder to enjoy this freedom. Assisted living communities exist to help seniors with certain medical needs get the most out of their retirement and continue to be as independent as possible.

Personal Home Care

You don’t always need to leave your current living arrangement in order to receive care. Some services will come to you to provide assistance, whether that’s mobility assistance, dietary aid, or whatever else you may need, provided that those services can be performed by an assistant on a reasonable schedule.

Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Facilities

Memory care is one of the more known needs among older retirees. It can be difficult to maintain an ordinary lifestyle when your memory begins to fail you. Fortunately, memory care facilities can help seniors with Alzheimer’s or Dementia to continue to lead happy and fulfilling lives in spite of memory problems.

Specialty Care Facilities

Sometimes age comes with chronic conditions that can be difficult to manage on your own. Whatever a senior’s assisted care needs are, there is probably a facility that can meet them. Many facilities exist with a staff who are specially trained to help manage a wide variety of conditions.

Nursing Homes

For some chronic health conditions, assisted living care isn’t always enough. Depending on a senior’s needs and medical challenges, a nursing home might be a better fit. Nursing homes will leave seniors with a 24-hour staff of nurses, each of whom is trained to provide treatment for a number of medical conditions that seniors can suffer from. Depending on the patient’s condition and prospects for treatment, a stay in a nursing home can last anywhere from a few weeks to many years. This is a discussion that a patient will have to have with their doctor.

Staying in a nursing home will cost a patient some of their autonomy, but ultimately it will be for their own benefit as they receive treatment for persistent and debilitating medical conditions.

Hospice and Palliative Care

Unfortunately, there comes a time when many of us will have to call an end to medical care for chronic health conditions. Some seniors choose to make the best of the time that they have left. For these people, hospice homes are a way to minimize suffering towards the end of a life, giving them a chance to revisit their hobbies one last time and say goodbye to their loved ones with dignity and agency.

Housing becomes much more complicated after retirement. New medical and care needs should be balanced with financial responsibility and independence in order to find the right living situation for seniors.


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Nick Cesare is a writer from Boise, ID. In his free time he enjoys rock climbing and making avocado toast.

This post was updated May 15, 2018. It was originally published May 15, 2018.