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Advice & More May 2012

Age-Full Living

Moving Forward for the Next Phase of Life: What are Your Housing Options?

By Sue Ronnenkamp

Most people still think of the old traditional nursing home when senior housing is mentioned or discussed. They don't understand that nursing care facilities are now an option the vast majority of older adults may never even need to consider, because of all the new types of housing that's available.

The most effective way to cope with change is to help create it. – L.W. Lynett

Just as we change throughout our lives, our lifestyle and housing needs also change. Different spaces fit different phases. Moving forward in later life should take you to a setting that's smaller and more manageable, with less (or no) responsibility for maintenance and upkeep.

You're also wise to seek out housing options that afford you some available support and assistance, along with plentiful opportunities for engagement and interaction with others. Why? Because these factors will contribute to your health and well-being, will help you retain your freedom and autonomy, and can provide security and peace of mind for you and your family. By making the right choice about your next home, you can also free up time and space to devote to your favorite people and activities so you can live each day to the fullest, and make the most of the coming years.

Does this give you a new perspective on the beneficial aspects of moving forward and right-sizing your lifestyle? If so, then it's time to start researching your available housing options.

Unlike the not-so-distant past when the only housing options for older adults were "aging in place" in their homes or moving into a nursing home, options today cover a broad spectrum. Due to the substantial growth of our aging population, senior housing has emerged as a major focus for new construction, along with the development of new concepts and ideas. These include 55+ active adult communities, senior apartments, elder co-housing arrangements, and retirement communities. Senior housing also includes assisted living communities, nursing care/rehab facilities, and memory care units for older adults.

Unfortunately, the general public's understanding of these options has not kept pace with the changes within the senior housing industry. Most people still think of the old traditional nursing home when senior housing is mentioned or discussed. They don't understand that nursing care facilities are now an option the vast majority of older adults may never even need to consider, because of all the new types of housing that's available.

The best way to overcome any misconceptions you may have about senior housing is to schedule a visit to some in your area. Ask people you know for suggestions, or check those listed in the Yellow Pages. Your local AARP chapter should have information about housing options for seniors, as will your Area Agency on Aging. Call a variety of places that look like a possible fit for you and your situation, request a tour, meet the staff, talk to some of the residents, and ask lots of questions. And don't let anyone pressure you into making a commitment or decision until you're ready to do so.

Residential communities designed specifically for seniors offer a wide range of advantages. Most provide in-house dining options, along with housekeeping and maintenance services. Many communities also offer optional services and amenities for residents -- everything from transportation and on-site concierge service to physical and mental fitness programs, art studios, later life learning programs, and sponsored trips to cultural and sports events.

Some also cover the full spectrum of housing types from independent living (in a smaller home or apartment), to assisted living, nursing and rehab care, and memory care units. This type of senior living community, called a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC), provides a one-stop setting that can meet your current and future housing needs. With more married couples growing older together, this type of housing is especially beneficial because it allows spouses to live in the same community, even if they don't age at the same rate or in the same way, and even if they need different services.

You might also want to consider alternative types of housing. For example, you might decide to downsize from your house into an apartment complex where people of all ages are living. This is what my parents did when they sold their house back in 1996. This setting served them well for over a decade until they made their next move to a nearby continuing care retirement community.

Another option might be moving into a smaller house close to a network of family or friends. An older woman I know moved from Pennsylvania to Texas and bought a small house on the same block where her two sons and their families live. She gets to spend a lot of time with her grandchildren, has family close by for support, and is able to help her children with babysitting when needed. She also connected with others her age by getting involved in senior offerings in her area, along with pursuing interests and activities she enjoys.

Moving from a house into a condo is another option. A good friend of mine lived in a condo in San Antonio for many years after she sold her house. She connected with several women who lived in nearby units. These women, like my friend, were all older and without spouses. They went to the theater together, participated in the same book clubs, and most importantly, they watched out for each other. When my friend saw age 90 fast approaching, she sold her condo and moved into a retirement community. Today she has a lovely two-bedroom apartment, and remains active with her book clubs, water volleyball, and volunteer activities.

If you make this move sooner rather than later, and while you are still healthy and active, you'll have lots of options to choose from. By acting now, you can weigh the pros and cons of the best ones for your situation, and make a decision that feels right for you and makes sense for your future. Even if another move is required down the road, the hardest part of your living transition -- the big downsizing move from your house -- will be behind you.


Sue Ronnenkamp is the creator and founder of Age-Full Living, an aging education and consulting firm that focuses on the positive aspects, opportunities, and gifts of growing older. Sue's website is

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