Healthy Aging Column – Selecting the Best Retirement Housing

When asked about their preference for housing, most older Coloradoans today say they’d like to stay just where they are. Research suggests that when baby boomers reach their senior years, remaining in their current homes will be their favorite option as well.

A survey by the National Association of Home Builders found more than 50 percent of those age 55 or older have lived in their homes longer than 10 years and are reluctant to pack up and move. This translates into a need to remodel homes to meet changing abilities and circumstances as adults grow older. "Getting around" is the key idea of remodeling. More lighting, removing thresholds, adding railings or grab bars to prevent falls and changing floor coverings to add traction all are desired modifications. In a survey by "Remodeling," remodelers reported that the most common projects for their age 65-plus clients were making handicapped accommodations, installing brighter lighting, widening doors and hallways and installing easy-to-reach cabinets and countertops.

To live at home without help, a person must at a minimum be able to drive, go shopping and complete household chores. Many older adults will lose one or more of these abilities as they grow older. One option is to remain in your home and purchase in-home services. For a price, you can obtain services to cut your grass, wash windows, cook meals, do the shopping and provide personal care. Meals-on-wheels and community-funded transportation services are two examples or purchased services. Even skilled nursing care at home is possible. This may be the best option for you, depending on the help you need and your finances.

For those willing to relocate, there are a variety of options available according to the National Eldercare Institute on Long Term Care and Alzheimer’s Disease at the Suncoast Gerontology Center at the University of South Florida.

First, there is independent retirement housing. This option provides meals, activities, transportation, security and housekeeping for relatively active older people. These complexes are for those able to live on their own but who want the convenience of a comprehensive service package.

A second option is assisted living. This provides housing along with supportive services for seniors needing assistance with personal care (such as bathing, grooming and dressing) and managing medications. Assisted living facilities have many different formats. They can range from three or more older people in a homelike setting to dozens of residents in an institutional environment.

The final option is nursing care services for those who are temporarily ill or who require long-term health care. Nursing homes provide comprehensive care services in a single setting. While most older adults and their families see nursing home care only as a last resort, it may in fact be the best choice for disabled people with multiple problems who require different types of services.

All three housing options may be found in continuing-care retirement communities. Independent housing, assisted living and nursing home care all are located in a single setting. Some of these communities require a sizeable entry fee plus monthly maintenance fees in exchange for a living unit, meals and eventual health-care coverage. Other communities make their services available on a rental basis. Generally, continuing-care retirement communities provide residents with the independence of retirement home living and the security of long-term care.

Other housing options for aging adults are group homes, shared housing and adult foster-care homes. Group homes provide independent, private living in a house shared by several older people who split the cost of rent, housekeeping services, utilities and meals. Shared housing is offered by homeowners who are willing to share their homes with others. Service provision is negotiated on a case-by-case basis. Adult foster care involves a family caring for a dependent person in their home. Meals, housekeeping and help with personal care are provided. Social Services will know whether adult foster care is available in your area.

The main advantage of living retirement housing is security. The presence of others provides continued monitoring of health care. Another draw for such facilities is the built-in social contacts and activities. Experts agree that social contacts increase quality of life.

Weighing the advantages of service-oriented housing against the independence offered by a single family home is a complicated task. Timing is all-important. The most useful way to approach such decisions is to begin early by getting all the information possible on your options. For information on services provided to older people by Eldercare Locator, call 1-800- 677-1116.

For additional information on retirement housing, contact the Colorado State University Extension office in your county. You can access additional information on topics for Healthy Aging by going to, clicking on publications and then going to Healthy Aging.