Sorting through the various retirement living alternatives can be a daunting task. Some communities offer little to no services if your circumstances change and you are not able to live independently, while others are equipped to provide assisted living and even skilled medical care if and when you need it. As you weigh these options, here are some things to consider.

Age Requirement

Depending on the retirement community, there will be a minimum age requirement, often either 55 or 62. Discrimination in housing is prohibited in the United States but there is an exception for age, as provided in the Housing for Older Persons Act of 1995.

Retirement Community Types

In general, retirement living providers can be categorized according to which phase(s) along the continuum of care is served by the community. The continuum of care begins with independent living and progresses through assisted living and skilled nursing care, and increasingly includes memory care.

Active adult communities allow you to own the unit (single-family home, townhome, cluster home, mobile home, condo, etc.) you live in, and cater only to those who live independent, and often active, lifestyles. Long-term care services, such as assisted living and skilled care, are not provided. Independent living communities (or “independent plus communities”) are rental properties for those who are either fully or mostly independent. Outside contractors may offer limited, part-time assisted living services as needed, but these services are typically not provided by staff of the community.

Although most assisted living and skilled nursing facilities (“nursing homes”) tend to serve an older population, these are not retirement communities and generally do not have an age restriction. Residents of these facilities cannot live independently and all care services are provided directly by the community.

A continuing care retirement community (CCRC) is the only type of retirement community that provides services spanning the entire continuum of care. When you enter a CCRC, you must be able to live independently; however, long-term care services are contractually guaranteed to be provided as needed. CCRC payment plans can vary drastically from one community to another, and many require an entry fee.

If you are considering a retirement community, it is important to understand what services will be available along your continuum of care so you can make an informed decision that will address your particular situation and objectives.