According to a report published in 2014 by the US Census Bureau, the number of Americans 65 or over is projected to increase to 83.7 million by 2050, almost double the population size in 2012 of 43.1 million.
Within Massachusetts, Barnstable County (Cape Cod) is one of only 13 counties in the United States where more than 60% of the homes are headed by someone 55 or over.
While the numbers might seem daunting, they illustrate the need to educate not only boomers and seniors, but also their adult children about a myriad of subjects from health care to housing options as Americans get older.
Fortunately, Massachusetts is home to some of the best health care in the world – for people of all ages. Navigating the waters of health care options can be overwhelming, but equally challenging is a clear understanding of the various housing options available to boomers and seniors as they grow older.
Moving to an active adult community or an independent living community is essentially a “lifestyle” decision versus a more “need based” decision when moving to an assisted living or memory care community.
Here are some guidelines to help you navigate the course on housing options that are best suited for you:
Some of the first residential communities for adults 55 and over were developed in the Southwestern United States by Del Webb, one of the pioneers in building “active adult” communities. As baby boomers (those born between 1946-1964) approached their 50s, active adult communities began appearing in northern states from Illinois to New Jersey.
In the late 1990s, I launched Southport in Mashpee (www.southportcc.com), one of the State’s first and largest active adult communities for adults 55 and older. During the last 15 years, active adult communities have flourished in New England from Maine to Connecticut. Towns embraced the concept of 55 and over communities because they often brought much needed tax relief to a town without burdening the schools since no one under the age of 18 was permitted to live in these age-restricted communities.
Similar to active adult communities, Independent living communities provide not only on-site amenities, but usually offer dining, housekeeping and occasionally, optional healthcare services provided by a third party such as Partners Healthcare at Home. Communities like Fuller Village in Milton (www.fullervillage.org) is a model for that town’s residents who wanted to create a senior community within Milton so they could remain near long-time friends or relatives.
In these communities, many services are provided for residents including Activities of Daily Living (ADL) such as assistance with dressing, bathing, housekeeping, monitoring self-administered medications, etc. Three meals a day are usually included as part of a monthly fee.
This form of need-based housing is for those who benefit from living in a protected and controlled area where access to other parts of a property are restricted and only available through a staff member. These communities serve residents with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia.
Skilled Nursing & Rehabilitation
As seniors age, this type of short-term or long-term care provides assistance after surgery or accidents with daily care being provided by, or under the direction of, professionally trained medical staff.
Senior Living Communities
Some communities offer a combination of independent and assisted living and memory care all in one location. Village at Proprietors Green, a Welch Healthcare community (www.proprietorsgreen.com) in Marshfield and Laurelwood at The Pinehills, the Northbridge Companies’ newest senior community in Plymouth (www.northbridgecos.com/laurelwood-at-the-pinehills) are two such communities on the South Shore. Laurelwood features Nantucket-style exteriors in a wooded setting where independent living and assisted living residents’ apartments are mingled together to encourage socialization for everyone. Their memory care component, Avita, provides a secure environment with both private and semi-private apartments.
Aging in Place
For those who desire to remain in their home, several options are available based on the design of your current residence:
Remodeling – to accommodate single-level living; whether you need a first floor bedroom, adjusted features in the kitchen or a walk-in shower in your master bath, many remodelers and designers can provide the features today’s homeowners need to age in place.
Senior Care at Home – Perhaps having someone come to your home daily or weekly to assist with cleaning, cooking meals, doing physical therapy or just “checking in,” is a viable option you prefer. The Massachusetts Office of Elder Affairs (http://www.mass.gov/elders/homecare/services-offered.html) is just one of many resources available to provide you with places to contact for such services.
A New Perspective on Senior Housing
As more and more boomers advance in age, the myriad of housing and care options for seniors will continue to evolve. In his book, Being Mortal, author Atul Gawande describes the evolution of how the medical profession approaches those who are dying and “how the ultimate goal is not a good death but a good life – all the way to the very end.”
Regardless of the stage of life you might be entering, if children are out of your home and as “empty nesters” your current home just doesn’t seem appropriate or necessary any more. an active adult or independent living “lifestyle” community might seem appealing. Or perhaps you have increasing physical limitations or anxiety about living alone, having to rely on others, so assisted living might be an appropriate alternative to staying in your current home. Or possibly memory care seems like the safest environment for you or a loved one as memory impairments present more challenges to daily living.
Having an open and honest discussion with your spouse and/or family members to discuss what’s most important to you in terms of the quality of life you wish to lead is an important beginning when choosing which housing options are best suited for you.
One of the comments I hear from prospective buyers at Southport is “We’re not sure if we’re ready to move to a community like Southport.” And once they move in, they tell me “We wished we had moved here 10 years ago.” The camaraderie and fun residents enjoy living in communities like Southport, Fuller Village and Laurelwood at The Pinehills are based, in large part, on the commitment these properties have made to providing social programs and recreational amenities based on their residents’ interests.
The Northbridge Companies’ theme, “Live Well, Love Life” is certainly their goal and commitment in all of their 15 communities in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. It’s also a goal which most senior communities’ strive for, whether they provide active adult, independent or assisted living, memory care or skilled nursing. Moving to any level of senior housing, regardless of your age, requires doing your homework, deciding the quality of life you want to lead and which options will best help you achieve that quality of life.