Empty-nesters in search of new digs may have a wish list that looks something like this: warm climate, tennis courts, golf courses, walking trails and a spare room for the grandchildren to stay.
But here’s the thing. What we want at age 65 may not be what we need 10, 20 or 30 years down the road. Even the most physically active among us could have a stroke or end up in a wheelchair in early retirement.
As boomers cash out, gerontologists are urging newly minted seniors to think hard before choosing their next place to live. Cognitive decline, or loss of a spouse, could push them out sooner than they think.
Instead of just downsizing into a condo or one-story home, researchers say retirees should consider what their broader surroundings may offer as their needs change.
Here are five things to look for in an age-friendly community:
Many of us assume we’ll be driving until the day we die. But now that people are living longer, more and more of us will end up with vision problems, physical disabilities or cognitive impairments that prevent us from driving years before we take our last breath.
House hunters nearing retirement should think about how they would get to the grocery store, pharmacy, swimming pool or a friend’s house without a driver’s license. When retirees choose to live in car-oriented communities, it may actually curtail the amount of time they can live independently.
When deciding to move later in life, it’s important to choose a community where you can either maintain, redevelop or re-establish your social network.
Older adults should think twice about moving to places that lack community centers and activities that draw like-minded people. Finding friends to go bowling with may not be enough. You want to have reciprocal relationships with the community so you’re looking for opportunities for employment, or volunteering.
Before moving, older adults should pay close attention to their specific social needs. Social isolation, especially later in life, is quite literally deadly.
Many new retirees can’t wait for all the golfing, Zumba classes and exotic travels in their future. But a leisure-focused life may quickly lose its charm.
Boomers are no longer interested in bingo. Check for lifelong learning opportunities in a neighborhood of choice. Many colleges and universities offer free tuition to people over 65 for a variety of courses. Other adults may prefer to search out creative activities, such as community arts projects and music groups.
Planning for healthy aging after retirement goes beyond choosing to live near a hospital. The community should have an adequate number of family doctors and medical clinics, too. Health and social services should be accessible to older adults using any mode of transportation.
Care in the twilight years
Boomers may see retirement as a last chance to live on a houseboat or a quaint island before senescence forces them into a nursing home. But the plan to move again sometime in the distant future could set them up for a harsh transition, and ultimately, poorer health. With every move, especially later in life, the change is really hard on people. The research shows that elderly people tend to be healthier and happier when they stay in their homes.
Giving up the houseboat fantasy may be worth the price if older adults can remain or settle in a community where family and friends can help. Otherwise, retirees should make sure that affordable home-care services are available in their area. Personal care, housekeeping, snow removal and yard work services could help them remain at home until their last days.