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Retirement Communities: A Look at Your Options

If you or your loved one is thinking about retiring, the options can be overwhelming. There are many different types of options for living in retirement and each one is designed for a different type of resident with different levels of need. Here's an overview of the most common options for retirement living.

Independent living communities

These communities are designed for residents who are able to care for themselves for the most part. They are designed to provide the maximum amount of independence possible for residents, and may often look like ordinary subdivisions or apartment complexes but with an age restriction. These independent living communities generally offer planned social activities and outings, as well as basic laundry, housekeeping, lawn mowing, and other services. They usually do not offer skilled nursing care or personal care.

Assisted living facilities

An assisted living facility provides a little more assistance than you'd find at an independent living community. In addition to basic laundry, home care, and other services, retirees in these communities can get help preparing meals, bathing, dressing, and dealing with medications. An assisted living community may consist of small, independent homes or duplexes, or apartments or condominiums.

Continuing care communities

Continuing care communities are designed for seniors who are currently active and independent, but who don't want to undertake another move as their needs change. Continuing care communities usually offer several different stages of care, from independent living through assisted living and skilled nursing facilities. These are often the most expensive retirement option, as residents must buy into the community. Up-front costs can be as much as $100,000-$500,000. In addition, monthly fees are charged depending on the level of service the resident requires.

Active retirement communities

Similar to independent living communities, active retirement communities are slightly different in that they cater to a younger group of retirees. These communities may have an age restriction, but it may be as young as 45 rather than 55 or older. These communities often offer activities and social outings organized around an active lifestyle, but do not offer medical facilities or in-home care. Unlike continuing care facilities, they usually don't require an entry fee and often allow residents to buy their unit.


Rather than a full community, co-housing is typically an informal arrangement between friends at similar stages in life. Many retirees find themselves without spouses or caretakers at certain points in their lives, and choose to move in with friends with an informal agreement to care for each other. Often, those in co-housing arrangements need to move to facilities with more comprehensive care or get at-home assistance as their needs progress. However, co-housing can be a good option for those seeking companionship as well as independence in retirement.

Nursing homes

Nursing homes provide advanced, round-the-clock medical care to residents in the advanced stages of aging. Typically the nursing home is the last resort for those whose loved ones can no longer provide the level of care needed, or who require more help than can be found in assisted living or independent living communities. Nursing homes typically provide private rooms within a larger complex, although some may offer shared rooms as well. Generally, social activities and outings, medical assistance, daily activity assistance, regular meals, and medication assistance are all provided.

At-home care

Many retirees prefer to stay in their own homes as they age. While some may rely on family to care for them initially, many find that at some point they need more advanced help. Those who prefer not to move into a retirement community often opt to bring in a professional to assist with tasks that could range from simple housekeeping and meal preparation to bathing and dressing assistance or skilled nursing care. If your needs are severe, at-home health care for seniors may be covered by Medicare. At-home care providers have a variety of skills and qualifications, so you'll need to do some research to find an agency that provides staff members who can meet your needs.

Finding the right retirement community is never easy. To find the right one, you must first know your needs and priorities or your loved one's. With an honest assessment, you'll be better able to choose the retirement community that provides the right level of care, socialization, and assistance.

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