What’s a Retirement Home? Pros, Cons & Cost Explained

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

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All decisions about senior housing should be made in the context of advance planning and long-term care planning. Having a complete picture of current and future options will give you a sense of security and confidence as you navigate housing options. 

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As people age, retirement communities are often the first step as they decide to leave their homes. We will explore the different retirement homes, what they offer, and how to make the decision to move to one.

You might be the kind of person that prefers to take things slowly and make decisions based on current, not future, needs. Or, you are the type of person who likes to plan for the unexpected.

What is a Retirement Home?

A retirement home is an overarching term used to describe several types of senior housing. The term retirement home is not commonly used to describe assisted living, memory care, or a nursing home. However, the alternatives to assisted living are no longer limited to the aforementioned options. 

As one generation gets older, their preferences for retirement change and don’t necessarily reflect the previous generation. Because of the growing aging adult population, there are increasing options for adults to consider when looking at senior housing.

A retirement home can take several forms, with several defining characteristics such as the following:

  • They are for independent adults. Retirement homes are for people that don’t need to rely on medical staff to assist them.
  • They can be for-profit or non-profit. Most retirement communities are for-profit housing developments with investors. But there are also non-profit and faith-based communities as well. Buy-in or monthly costs will vary widely depending upon the amenities offered, the location, and the profit model.
  • Social connection is built-in. Most retirement communities have activities and group outings as part of their offerings.
  • Meals and kitchens are both standard features. Group meal service is available in many retirement homes, but each apartment might have a full kitchen or kitchenette. You have your choice to go to group meals or dine in your apartment.
  • Transportation may be provided. You may be able to get limited access to transportation to medical appointments. 
  • University-Based Retirement Communities. University-Based Retirement Communities (UBRC) are not mainstream yet, but growing in popularity. With colleges and universities facing financial shortages, but with plenty of land, developing for seniors is a win-win. These communities offer housing for seniors with access to classes and cultural events. Entrance fees and monthly rental fees can be very high, so they aren’t for everyone.
  • Age restrictions. Most retirement homes are age-restricted. They may be 55 or 60+ only. That is fine for some people, but others prefer a multi-generational environment. If you want multi-generational, it will be harder to find.
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How Do You Know If You’re Ready to Move to a Retirement Home?

When people decide to move to a retirement home, they do so for a variety of reasons. Some people choose long before they need to, and others may wait until changes occur that require a change. Here are some of the typical reasons why people move to a retirement home.

You want to be near other people

Living in your home is great, except that over time you may become more isolated. With retirement, kids moving out, families spreading out over distances, you may be feeling more lonely. The advantage of retirement living is that you have access to activities and events, but you can also choose to have your privacy.

Loneliness has serious consequences, from a negative impact on health to depression and anxiety. The comfort and security of having other people available to talk to and engage with can be a positive change. 

You are tired of dealing with homeownership

Not only are you tired, but you may have reached a point where maintenance and yard care may take too much of a physical toll. Hiring these tasks out to other people can be complicated and expensive, and living in a retirement community can relieve you of these responsibilities. 

In addition to home maintenance, many retirement communities provide housekeeping and laundry service. 

The opportunity to expand your interests

Depending on the community, there can be a wide variety of opportunities that would be challenging to access in your home.

For one thing, in a retirement community, you don’t need transportation. You may be enticed by crafts or cultural events that you would never have considered before.

You want to move while you are still able

If you are getting older and concerned about your physical abilities, it might be time to consider a retirement community. Many people would rather downsize and make the transition while they have the physical and mental capacity.

Having the mental and physical energy to evaluate different communities before making a move can increase your chances of making a sound decision.

Security

Some will have more security available than others, but at a minimum, there is usually a locked and secure front door.

Others may also have staff available 24 hours a day in case of an emergency.

What’s the Retirement Home Admissions Process Like?

The answer depends on the community, but there are some general admissions processes. If a retirement home is very independent with little support services in place, their admissions standards might be more stringent.

  • Evaluation of your needs. If you clearly need help with bathing, grooming, or transferring, a retirement home may not be for you. The exception to this will be if you have support, such as private caregivers to assist you. A retirement home may discourage you from living there due to safety and liability concerns.
  • Dementia. If you or your loved one has dementia, this could be a problem. Safety concerns such as wandering or agitation might be challenging in a retirement home. 
  • Financial concerns. If you barely have the ability to pay for your residence, you must consider that costs will go up. Some retirement communities will want assurance that you can afford your apartment for the long haul.

How Do You Choose the Best Retirement Home or Community?

Finding the best retirement home can be an arduous process. Much of it depends on how many choices you have. Even if you only have two options, you may want to have your questions and priorities in mind when getting ready to choose.

Visit several times

A first impression is not always the most accurate. You will get the red carpet treatment during your first tour, but stopping by unannounced can help give you a more realistic view.

Take a look at cleanliness, activity level, food service, and general ambiance. Talk to other residents about their experience living there.

Determine ownership

If you can, find out who owns the community and their financial standing. If the owner is on shaky financial ground, you may want to eliminate that particular place.

You don’t want to move only to have the property go under bankruptcy, and you have to move again, possibly with very short notice.

Look at the activity schedule

Even if this isn’t an important consideration now, it might be one later. Are you the type of person who likes crafts and bingo, or do you prefer cultural and music events?

Ask to meet the activities director and get a feel for their approach to these life enrichment activities.

Consider the location

Location may be more important than you think. You might be drawn to a community outside city limits in a more rural area.

That could work out great, but think about what medical services you need to access. If you have to travel a long distance to get to your doctor or a hospital, that could be a significant downside, especially if you are no longer driving. 

Cost

You may not want to sacrifice quality for cost, but you also don’t want to squeeze your budget.

Ask about expected yearly increases, and don’t hesitate to negotiate the price. Also, take a look at amenities. There might be amenities that you have no interest in, but influence the pricing. 

Meet the executive director

The buck stops with the executive director. If you need to go to that person with a problem, you want someone accessible, organized, and proactive.

Ask them about the process for resolving complaints. The executive director should be willing to meet and give you all the time you need to answer your questions.

Ask about amenities

If transportation to doctor’s appointments is crucial to you, make sure it is available. Examine your priorities and make a list of amenities that will enhance your experience or give you a sense of security. 

Pros and Cons of a Retirement Home

No option is perfect. There are pros and cons to every decision. Making your own list can help you decide what is best. Many people have to sell their family home to finance a retirement community, so the decision is a big one.

Some of the common pros and cons of a retirement home include the following:

Pros

  • Fewer household responsibilities.
  • Opportunities for socialization.
  • New and exciting activities.
  • Security features.
  • Single level living with features for aging in place.

Cons

  • The cost may be prohibitive.
  • You may have to downsize, which can be difficult and stressful.
  • Your living space may be significantly smaller than what you are used to.
  • You may not like where you end up, which means making another move.
  • If you end up needing a lot of care, you may have to move.

Deciding on the Right Retirement Home for You

Moving can be stressful, regardless of your age. Deciding where to move adds another layer, especially when considering any options for advance care planning as you age. Moving to a retirement community does not have to be a huge challenge if you are able to prepare.

By making sure you have information and questions ready to ask at any future retirement home, you and your family can feel secure when it comes to making the right choice for you.

If you're looking for more help with long-term care planning, read our guides on hiring a caregiver for in-home help and what successful aging looks like.

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