You have probably seen ads for various 55 plus communities touting themselves as an “active adult community,” but what is the definition of this term? With so many senior living providers referring to active adults on their websites and other marketing collateral, it’s hard to know what it really means. So, what is an active adult community? Is it an actual category of senior living? If so, how does an active adult community differ from other types of age-restricted senior living?

An evolving senior living landscape

The senior living marketplace has grown and evolved fairly dramatically in the past several decades. There was a time when a retirement community was thought of more as a “retirement home” — a nursing care community for those who needed full-time care. But as more and more people are living longer, and with different retirement living preferences and needs, the industry has shifted, hoping to meet this demographic’s diverse expectations.

A broad spectrum of senior living communities has entered the marketplace over the years, offering senior adults a wide range of age-restricted community options. The options include everything from living fully on their own (i.e., independently) to having full-time nursing care … and everything in between, including assisted living, memory care, and other supportive living services. No matter where a person is on the continuum, there is a senior living community available.

For instance, age-restricted independent living communities (also commonly known as rental retirement communities) provide people age 55 and older with apartment-style residences along with a variety of services and amenities to facilitate a carefree lifestyle. This usually will include on-site dining facilities with meal plan options, community centers and other common areas, laundry and housekeeping services, and an array of organized activities for residents.

Most of these communities are able to provide some level of care if a resident’s care needs advance, but they stop short of offering 24-hour nursing care. Commonly an independent living provider will deliver supportive living services into the resident’s apartment, but if 24-hour care, or rehab care, is needed, then the resident will likely need to move again.

The next step up in the continuum of senior housing options is assisted living communities. These offer many similar services and amenities of independent living but are designed for those who need regular assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) — things like dressing, bathing, and grooming. There are also specialized memory care assisted living communities that serve those with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia or neurocognitive decline.

Skilled nursing facilities, also called nursing homes, are at the top of the care continuum of senior living communities, providing residents with full-time, 24/7 care from healthcare providers. Sometimes people only require a short-term stay in a skilled nursing community — such as after a surgery or when recovering from a medical issue. Other times, people will require long-term skilled nursing care for an issue or condition from which they are not expected to recover.

Another type of senior living community that often combines all of these offerings is a continuing care retirement community (CCRC), or life plan community. New residents of a CCRC are typically required to be healthy enough to live in the independent living portion of the community, but if they ever require any level of care — assisted living, memory care, or full-time skilled nursing care — a full continuum of care services is offered, usually within the same CCRC campus.

>> Related: Understanding Senior Living Minimum Age Requirements

A closer look at the active adult living community option

While the 55 community types listed above meet the diverse needs of many of today’s retirees, there is a growing desire for still more options when it comes to senior living. This is particularly true as the often fiercely independent Baby Boomers age.

Many Baby Boomers are living longer, healthier lives, and as a result, some want the same type of carefree simplicity that comes with living in a retirement community, but they don’t necessarily want everything that many of today’s retirement communities offer. For these folks, an active adult living community can be a potential senior living solution.

An active adult living community is essentially a rebranding of the “senior apartment” concept. This type of retirement community typically provides residents with rental apartment- or patio home-style residences with no- or low-maintenance, including landscaping/lawn care and most interior maintenance as well.

In some cases, these age-restricted communities will still have your typical apartment community-type amenities like a pool, fitness facilities, and even group activities, but they do not provide other services commonly offered by independent living communities like meal plans, linen services, or housekeeping.

Active adult living communities also do not provide care services (though a resident could contract with a third-party caregiver, if needed). As a result, active adult communities typically have a lower price point than many of the other senior living community options. Additionally, the residents of active adult communities are often younger and in better health than some of the other types of senior living community.

Before moving on, we should mention there are also active adult neighborhoods. This senior living option is basically the same as what is described above, except these are planned neighborhoods with free-standing homes that are purchased, usually accompanied by HOA dues for exterior maintenance and other services. Some active adult neighborhoods may include golf courses.

>> Related: Common Questions About 55+ Active Adult Communities

Active adult living: A perfect solution for some retirees

For some retirees, an active adult living community creates the ideal scenario. They can be done with tedious home maintenance and chores like mowing the grass or shoveling the driveway, they get to live among their peers to build new friendships, and they can devote their time to enjoying their hobbies and interests.

While they do provide fewer services and amenities than most other types of senior living, active adult communities also can be more economical given their lower price point. This is an attractive feature for some seniors.

Additionally, active adult communities can make it simple to travel or for “snowbirds” to live one place part of the year and another the remainder of the year. Residents can basically just lock their front door and leave — even for extended periods — without having to worry about home upkeep.

There are trade-offs to choosing an active adult community over an independent living community, and in particular a CCRC. Specifically, the active adult community’s lack of a continuum of on-site care services, if needed, can be a drawback for some people who place a high importance on peace of mind for their future’s “what ifs.”

Furthermore, many CCRCs offer different living settings, some of which may function very much like an active adult community. For example, a CCRC may have a large apartment building, but then have a separate section with patio homes. This section of the CCRC may look and feel a lot like active adult living, yet care services are still nearby if needed.

It’s important to remember that different people want different things, and there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to senior living. The active adult community option can be a great solution for retirees who want to live alongside their peers in an active, carefree environment. This 55 plus rental retirement community option thus meets an important need in the ever-evolving senior living landscape.

>> Related: The Pros & Cons of 55+ Active Adult Communities

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