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Thinking of Joining a Retirement Community?

Thinking of joining a retirement community? Here is what you need to consider in order to be confident that you are making the right decision.

Getting older used to be something people feared, but with the advance of retirement communities, that’s starting to change. With the support provided in a place like this, many people find that they can be more independent and more active than they have been in the recent past. Communities like this offer the chance to meet new people, take up new hobbies and pursue lifelong passions that once had to take second place to earning a living. It’s no wonder they’re so popular. The difficulty is that there’s still not much information out there to help people choose between them. If you’re thinking of joining one, what do you need to consider in order to be confident that you are making the right decision?

When planning any relocation, the first thing to think about always has to be location. This entails contemplating the following:

* How far will you be from friends and family? If the distance is large, are you satisfied by the options you will have for keeping in touch?

* What is the climate like? Remember that if you’ve previously visited the area for a vacation, the weather may be very different at other times of year.

* What is the scenery like? You may find it harder to get around as you get older, even with support, so what you can see from your home will become all the more important.

* What are the state tax laws? You’ll need to factor these in when comparing the cost/benefit ratios of communities in different areas; they can also impact future healthcare needs.

Every retirement community is different in terms of the kind of people it caters for. Sometimes these differences can be quite subtle and not immediately apparent, but if you have to fill out an application form for residency or if you go on a visit, you’ll be able to get some idea. Make sure you find a place that has a set of rules and restrictions you feel comfortable with — strict enough for you to feel that you can trust other people who are admitted to the group, but not so strict that you have to compromise on things that are important to you.

Some retirement communities are built around specific factors their residents have in common, such as religious or professional background. This can really help new community members to find their feet and feel welcome.

Even if you’re still fighting fit just now, it’s important to accept that there’s a fair chance your health will deteriorate as you get older. This means that choosing a community with good healthcare facilities should be a priority.

Some have medical centers on site and doctors available round the clock, while others rely on doctors in nearby towns who are willing to visit as needed. Levels of personal care available also vary. If you can get professional care within your community as needed, it means you’ll be able to get to know the people involved rather than having to rely on strangers. As a community member you may also be able to get your care at a lower price. Almost all retirement communities provide, at minimum, an emergency service so that you can summon help if, for instance, you suffer a fall in your home.

Just as important as health care is access, which can become more difficult due to the effects of age. Good retirement communities have level sidewalks with ramp access to buildings and lifts available so you can reach upper floors, meaning you won’t have to give anything up if your mobility becomes restricted

The range of facilities available in retirement communities varies enormously and is often the make or break factor when people are deciding where to go. What’s needed depends partly on where the community is located. If it’s remote or if you’re not happy about driving, on-site facilities like bank machines, general stores and access to delivery services become more important. Otherwise, leisure facilities tend to be the most important thing.

Quite a number of retirement communities are built alongside their own golf courses. You’ll also find swimming pools (sometimes individual residences have private ones) and often tennis or volleyball courts. There’s always a restaurant and usually one or more bars, plus other social spaces where you can play games, share stories and get to know people. The right retirement community can open up an exciting and vibrant new life.

Photo: Ted Eytan