12 Alternatives to Traditional Retirement Communities
Considering whether a retirement community is right for you demands a lot of thought about costs, safety, privacy, and more. But what if you long to settle in a spot that's a little — or a lot — different for your golden years? Today, there are plenty of alternatives to traditional retirement communities or assisted-living facilities. Here are a dozen to consider, from timeworn solutions such as aging in place to more off-beat ideas, such as making a home on the open road.
One of the most obvious alternatives to a retirement community? Staying where you have been for years. Many seniors hope to age in place instead of move, citing reasons including independence, convenience, and familiarity with their surroundings. Of course, home modifications might be necessary to make staying put practical — think grab bars in the bathroom or a first-floor bedroom, for instance. Experts also caution that having family nearby to help out makes aging in place more feasible.
One interesting twist on the idea of aging in place, especially for those who don't have family or friends nearby to rely on: Joining a "village" that can help connect seniors to services such as transportation and household help. Services aren't free, but membership dues are fairly reasonable, an average $600 a year. There are village networks across the country, according to the Village to Village Network, and seniors can search easily for villages near them.
"Multigenerational living" is a fancy term for a common strategy: seniors opting to live with younger family members who can help them save on housing costs, assist with medical needs, and keep them company. According to the Pew Research Center, it's also on the rise in the United States — 32.3 million Americans lived in households with two adult generations in 2016, up from 27.4 million in 2012. The biggest considerations: potential downsides such as whether you'll have enough privacy, and how your new role in the family will work. Will you become a de facto babysitter for grandkids? Are you comfortable ceding your role as head of the household to your kids? Be sure everyone is on the same page before taking the plunge.
If you think getting housemates is just for young adults, think again. Years ago, "The Golden Girls" showed everyone that cohabitating seniors can realize many of the same benefits, including increased companionship and a lower cost of living. Bonus: Your roomies will be there to help tackle household tasks such as grocery shopping, and can provide an extra layer of security in case of emergency. Services including Senior Homeshares and Silvernest specialize in connecting seniors who want to cohabitate on their own terms.
If a lack of control is a turn-off when it comes to retirement communities, consider whether a senior co-op, or cooperative housing, might be a good alternative. Co-ops, run as nonprofits, give each senior residence ownership of their community as well as input regarding how it is run. According to SeniorLiving.org, co-ops take a variety of forms, such as apartments, townhomes, or mobile-home communities. They may have amenities similar to traditional retirement communities, too, paid for with residents' monthly dues. Just be sure you agree with community rules before buying shares in the property.
By now, most people have heard of the tiny-house trend. Put a senior-friendly spin on the concept and you get the granny pod — that is, a small residence on the property of family members that still allows retirees to live independently and privately, but with help and companionship a stone's throw away. Most designs incorporate wide hallways, grab bars, ramps, and other features that make aging as easy as possible. Of course, granny pods aren't cheap: Experts put the cost to build one between $100,000 and $250,000.
Retiring on a cruise ship seems like a pie-in-the-sky fantasy, but life on a big boat may actually be cheaper than the cost of assisted living, according to The Motley Fool, even accounting for on-shore storage of belongings that are too big for a suitcase. Discounts for second passengers, senior price breaks, long-term cruising discounts, and credit card points can all make it even more economical — plus, you get to see the world and enjoy cruise-ship amenities. Of course, there are several potential pitfalls, including the fact that cruise life is incompatible with major medical needs.
So you like the idea of a nomadic lifestyle, but you're more of a landlubber? Consider hitting the open road — permanently — in an RV. Sound crazy? Not really: There are somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 full-time or mostly full-time RVers roaming the country at any given time, and long-term spots at RV parks still don't touch the price of rent (or a slot in a retirement community). But you'll also have to budget for the cost of the RV itself (tip: it probably makes more sense to buy used) and gas, of course. Also consider your health and energy level: Packing up and hitting the road constantly can be stressful and tiring for just about anyone.
Seniors are often able to take college courses for cheap or even free, but how does living on campus sound? No, you probably won't be sharing a dorm room with an 18-year-old, but there are at least 100 university-based retirement communities that offer flexible living arrangements, college classes, and the use of campus amenities — just think about that massive library, shiny new rec center, and easy access to the arts.
Niche communities are still retirement communities, but with a twist: They bring together residents who share some sort of common interest, making them a more appealing option for seniors who dread the thought of endless chats about the weather. Fancy an artists' colony? That's an option. Want to spend time with other veterans? Golfers? Fitness buffs? There are communities for you, too. One big downside: Many of these niche housing options don't come cheap, according to MarketWatch.
Another flavor of niche retirement living for those who want to be with like-minded souls: cultural-specific senior housing. For example, there are Asian senior communities that serve up traditional dishes, employ multilingual caregivers, and feature activities such as tai chi; Indian communities with yoga, Hindu prayer services, and ample vegetarian meal options have also sprouted up. Large, diverse cities such as Toronto are likely to have the most options, but waiting lists may be long due to increasing demand.
The phrase "assisted living" conjures images of a sterile, hospital-like environment, but there are newer options for seniors who want a high level of care in a warmer, more home-like atmosphere. Sometimes known as board and care homes, smaller-scale assisted living means more interaction between staff members and residents in a more relaxed environment. One example, called the Green House Project, designs and builds fully accessible homes for up to a dozen seniors who need around-the-clock care. Of course, one of the major downsides is that residents don't have the many activities and amenities common at larger facilities.
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