How to Support a Parent’s Goal of an Active Retirement


Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

Supporting a parent’s goals, whatever they are, in retirement and beyond is part of empowering your parents to make their own decisions. Involving you in those decisions may not come easily or readily, so plan on having open and honest discussions about their needs, wants, and, importantly, the ability to pay for them.

Talking with your parents about their future can be awkward and uncomfortable, but in the end, creating a plan will ease the transition to whatever senior living option they choose.

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If your parents are considering an active retirement in a retirement community that supports that preferred lifestyle there should be some discussion about how and when to make that happen. Part of that process should involve advance care planning since no matter how enthusiastic one is about their aging process, things can change due to medical and cognitive conditions. 

What’s Considered an Active Retirement?

If you ask most people and senior care professionals what active retirement is, they would probably think of a senior community that focuses on activities. However, it is possible to have an active retirement at home. It just takes a bit more planning, organization, and effort. 

Active retirement generally has characteristics and is marketed towards a particular demographic. Most active retirement communities have homes that you can buy and add custom features if you want.

After purchasing your home, there are monthly fees for basic home maintenance and yard care, but there might be additional fees for specific activities. Most of these retirement communities are on multiple acres of land to accommodate space for courts, golf, and swimming. 

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Active retirement is not assisted living

Assisted living is intended to help people who need support and care in their daily functioning. Active retirement communities do not offer assistance as part of their programming or menu of services. They focus on active and engaging activities. If you need support in your residence, you have to arrange for that yourself and pay for it. 

Depending on the community, assisted living may offer a full and diverse range of activities, but they will be limited by the space and demographics of their residents. Most people go to assisted living when they need help with their activities of daily living which means they are limited in terms of how active they can be.

Assisted living communities continue to offer levels of care to accommodate increasing care needs. Active retirement communities do not focus on care needs and levels of care. 

Active retirement is independent

Most active retirement communities market their properties to active and healthy 55+ seniors. The implication is that people who gravitate towards active retirement communities do so because they don’t need help and are independent in their activities of daily living. Most active retirement senior living is actual communities that can have hundreds of individual homes with extensive grounds.

Active retirement offers a wide variety of activities

Active retirement communities have so many options for activities it is hard to list them all. Many of these activities are focused on exercise and movement. Some of the offerings are golf, pickleball, swimming, tennis, bike clubs, running and walking clubs, and more. Traditional choices such as crafts, cooking classes, painting, entertainment, and cultural events are also available. 

Active retirement communities emphasize social engagement

Assisted living and other senior living options have social events to encourage social engagement. Active retirement communities are no different and have events like cocktail mixers, movies, and special holiday events that bring people together. Most of the recreational activities are structured like clubs, for example, pickleball groups or tennis clubs, that bring people together. 

Active retirement is a commitment to a vibrant and diverse retirement experience

You probably know of someone who retired and did not plan out what they would do without work to keep them occupied. In many of these cases, seniors become depressed and isolated. People who have the best active retirement plan know what they will do when they no longer work.

If your parents are at home, they can access many of the activities that communities offer, but it will require more planning and transportation to get there. In an active retirement community, the menu of options is there for the taking, and it is as simple as signing up or showing up. 

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How to Talk to Your Parents About Their Active Retirement

How to Talk with your aging parents about active retirement depends on several factors. One is whether you think this idea would benefit them or whether they think active retirement is a good idea.  As the child of an aging adult, you want what is best for your parents even if they may not share your point of view. We have some suggestions on how to talk with your parents about their active retirement and how to reinforce the concept.

Talk about preferred activities

Your parents may have engaged in some activities before retirement that they can now pursue with more time and focus. But additional ideas will help to enrich their retirement years. Suggest that they write out all of the activities they want to try but never have. 

For example, they may have always wanted to try pickleball and can now play with other seniors at senior centers. Talk with your parents in an open and accepting way that invites them to get their creative juices flowing and come up with retirement hobby ideas.

Encourage activity

You may have heard some older adults say, “now that I am retired, I can rest!” Resting is not always the best idea when retiring because it is easy to fall into complacency and inactivity. As people age, they need to retain endurance, strength, flexibility, and balance.

The best way to do this is to stay physically active. And the best way to stay mentally engaged is to stay mentally active by socializing and learning new things. We now know that challenging the brain is beneficial for memory and cognition. 

Talk about the best living options

If your parent is interested in one of the 55+ communities, sit down and talk about costs. Also, broach the subject of possible future care needs and factor in those costs and yearly increases in monthly maintenance fees. If your parents can’t afford to move to an active retirement community, look closely at how you can support their choices at home and in their current community.

How to Support Your Parent’s Goal of an Active Retirement

Supporting your parent’s goal of an active retirement is worthy of your effort and attention. An active retirement is preferable to a passive one where your parents lapse into complacency. As people age, the loss of friends, employment, or family can negatively affect physical and mental well-being. Regardless of your parent’s physical or mental health condition, reinforcing a positive and active retirement will be beneficial. 

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Do some of the homework

One way you can help a parent who is at home and wants an active retirement is to do some of the investigating for them. For example, if your parents are interested in a social club, you can call senior or recreation centers to find out what is available. You can sit down with your parents, go over all of their ideas for preferred activities and offer to compile your results. As part of the planning, you may also need to prepare to help with transportation.

Spell out the benefits of an active retirement

If your parents are reluctant or unsure how to plan for an active retirement, start by talking about the benefits. Here are some suggestions on what to emphasize.

  • Physical activity improves cardiovascular function, strength, and balance. All activities of daily living, from bathing to dressing, require some level of physical ability. As people age, they start to lose muscle mass and flexibility. Activities such as walking, weights, yoga, and pickleball are all excellent activities for maintaining physical function. Fall prevention also starts with increasing balance and strength. Always talk with your parent’s doctor before starting a new activity.
  • Social engagement is part of active retirement. Being with other people improves mood and cognition and helps to prevent loneliness. Not every activity will be physical, but even the emotional component of social engagement has excellent benefits. Card games, book clubs, and craft groups are just a few examples.

Encourage use of technology

If your parents are not technologically savvy, do what you can to get them up to speed. Ask a grandchild to teach them how to maximize the internet and video calling. Learning how to use technology will open up a whole new world of possibilities and allow them to access information on what is available.

If a family member isn’t available, see what classes are offered in your community for seniors. AARP often has local courses on technology. 

Be supportive but not demanding

Being supportive of an active retirement for your parents means allowing them to decide for themselves without being demanding. Continue to talk about the benefits of an active retirement and offer to help in whatever way you can to make it possible.

Pushing them into an active retirement might have the opposite effect of increasing their opposition. Some people are naturally more reserved and introverted, so your idea might be different than theirs. Try and meet them where they are and support their decisions. 

My Parents are Planning an Active Retirement

Planning for an active retirement takes some work, but the effort will be well worth it. Take steps to encourage and reinforce your parents' idea of what an active retirement means to them.  Everyone will benefit in the end. 


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