Last Updated: April 2, 2013
Retirement communities are no longer just destinations for those
seniors looking to slow down. In fact, current trends suggest
exactly the opposite to be true. As more than 77 million baby
boomers reach retirement age, people are heading to senior
communities well stocked with outdoor clubs more typical of the
college than the traditional senior campus. People over 60 are also
choosing to move earlier than ever to senior communities for
security, personal safety, transportation, services, and to be
closer to peers who share their passion for life.
"Seniors are more actively engaged in life," says Tim Burris, A
Place For Mom's Market Development Coach for the Southeast region.
"The clubs are responding by supplementing their staffs with
independent activity directors to keep this new wave of seniors
Burris says one activity has enthralled seniors as much as it
has their grandchildren, Nintendo's Wii gaming system. Community
members, some confined to wheelchairs, participate in a variety of
Wii sports, though bowling is clearly the favorite. "Wii bowling is
the way for groups to actively engage in a physical exercise
without worrying about transporting somewhere," he explains. "It
also produces the fellowship that many community members seek. They
are also very competitive."
"This fellowship is very important," Burris says, "because many
people who are moving to independent
living centers have no other family members. The community
becomes their family."
"Mom and dad move in together," asserts Laura Palumbo, A Place
for Mom's Market Development Coach for the Mid-Atlantic region
since 2001. "They make friends together with people who are already
settled. Then, if one member of the couple should become ill or
even die, the surviving individual has an established support
network. It is hard to make new friends at 85 years old so to be in
a community where that is the average age is very
Senior communities have needed to make adjustments to
accommodate the recent surge in couples, Palumbo says.
"Traditionally, single people move into retirement
communities, so there was little design for couples. Now
properties are taking two separate apartments, knocking down a wall
and making a more comfortable two bedroom apartment."
Couples are also arriving earlier in their lives, choosing to
leave the daily hassles of home maintenance for the convenience of
condominium or apartment living. The additional amenities such as
laundry service, grocery shopping and delivery, even meal plans,
further entice the retiree. And these seniors want to get settled
and engage with a new community while they are young enough to
actively enjoy the offerings.
"The whole situation [relocation to senior communities] was once
not a very positive one and the time of transition was much more
rushed and unsettling than it needed to be," Palumbo concludes.
"But the industry has become more competitive to attract more
active, educated seniors who were previously uncomfortable with the
term 'retirement living'."
"People want to feel ownership of their property, to maintain
control of their lives," says Marie Wall, Director of The Gardens
of Wakefield Plantation in Raleigh, North Carolina. "People move
here with the intention to stay. So we market The Gardens as a
gated, planned senior community, because that it is exactly what it
is. Our residents take trips and stay active. Some even prefer to
go out to dinner most nights. Which is fine with us."
Wall cites another recent trend in senior communities: the
increased integration with general society through events and
activities that draw from the general public. The Gardens hosted a
"Spring Fling" last year, a festival celebrating the arts with
music, visual art, and food. Two thousand people showed up for the
inaugural event. Wall expects more guests this year.
"Sure there were a lot of extended families who came," she says,
"But there were also a lot of people in their late fifties who were
considering what their next move might look like. Some of those
people have signed up on our prequalified waiting list. [The
Gardens age limit is 62+, with exceptions made for younger
spouses.] We also assume the children of our residents will tell
their friends who may have aging parents about us.
"We also run the local Parks and Recreation program for seniors,
which brings many visitors from the outside community."
Wall says children are now much more proactive in finding the
right accommodations for their parents. They often take on the
responsibility to alleviate the emotional strain for their parents,
and because so much of the research can be completed via the
Internet, an often confusing and potentially dangerous environment
"We market quite heavily to the children of our demographic,"
she states. "The kids can also get out and visit multiple
properties more easily. Parents even trust their children to make
the final decision and provide a deposit."
Children and parents alike have always considered amenities when
choosing a senior community, but the inclusion of a specific
amenity, a pool or walking trail perhaps, now makes or halts the
Security has become a significant selling point of senior
communities. Even in areas with very low crime rates, residents
take comfort in knowing there are cameras in the parking lots, a
single entrance onto the campus, and that staff members are willing
to ask strangers to identify themselves.
But the boom
in home care agencies may ultimately produce the greatest
impact on senior community development. In-home care professionals
complete tasks ranging from medication administration to bathing to
preparing meals. They greatly reduce the stress on residents and
their families and extend independence.
"Home health agencies are more significant all the time," Burris
states. "There are so many of them and there are so many folks who
are relying on them."
Wall agrees with Burris on the positive impact of in-home care
on senior communities: "The home care professional can come in for
just two hours which allows the senior to live here
Seniors are looking to these communities for the same reasons
many people consider planned, gated communities. They want a
variety of amenities and security in tandem with support for their
continued independence. Ultimately, seniors are selecting their own
community as one might choose a vacation resort, or, as Palumbo
suggests, a college.
"Seniors are moving into a secure, maintenance-free environment,
where they can be more active and healthier without the stress and
unpleasant tasks," she says. "But ultimately they want to be with
peers to go through this period in life, to share the same
histories, and to maintain a very supportive social network of a
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