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A Doctor’s View: What is A Retirement Home?

Hi, I’m Dr. Sandra Petersen, and I’m the Senior VP of Health and Wellness for Pegasus Senior Living. One of my most significant accomplishments is designing the Connections Memory Care Program for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. It’s available in 28 Pegasus communities around the country.

Every day in the United States, 10,000 people turn 65. By 2034, seniors will outnumber people under 18. As the population of older adults grows, the need for senior housing and care will increase immensely.

Many retirees and people planning for retirement should know how to choose a retirement community. They should also learn the difference between other types of senior living that may be a better fit for their lifestyle.

Retirement Communities

A retirement home commonly refers to a congregate living facility (community) intended primarily for older adults. Typically, each person or couple has an apartment-style room or suite of rooms.

Additional amenities are available within the building. These can include:

  • Dining rooms
  • Common areas for socializing
  • Recreational activities
  • Healthcare facilities
  • Acute senior care

The financial aspects of retirement homes vary as much as the services offered. Apartments in a retirement home can be paid for on a rental basis, like a traditional apartment, with extra charges for care services. Others can be bought in perpetuity on the same basis as a condominium.

There are as many types of retirement homes as there are flavors of ice cream, but anticipating future needs and wants can help you choose what type of senior housing might be best.

Independent Living

These communities can range from homes to cottages but are most commonly senior apartments that typically offer a concierge approach to retirement living. Independent living is best suited for active seniors. These communities are similar to traditional apartment complexes or housing developments with strong homeowners’ associations.

An oasis for seniors, these communities generally offer dining, activities, and some form of a la carte personal assistance services. Housekeeping, laundry, and transportation are standard amenities.

Some independent living communities offer a theme and endless senior-friendly activities that include things such as:

  • Trips to casinos
  • Travel clubs and cruises
  • Fitness classes, golf, tennis, and swimming
  • Cooking classes and a focus on fine dining
  • Onsite clinics and wellness programs

Although some seniors use community transportation, many still drive, go to work, and enjoy their retirement life outside of the community. Independent living offers a social network and reliable services that cater exclusively to the needs of older adults.

Assisted Living

Assisted living residences are best described as housing facilities for people with disabilities or older adults who cannot or choose not to live independently. Most offer apartments that can be appointed with furniture of the resident’s choosing, resulting in a more home-like environment.

Seniors in assisted living enjoy the group environment to keep up with friends and like-minded people. Almost all these facilities offer personal care, medication, dining, housekeeping, and laundry services. Some allow pets and offer pet care services.

These senior living communities provide transportation to and from doctor’s appointments, and many also offer in-house visiting physician services. Depending on the facility, additional care services may include:

  • Podiatry
  • Audiology
  • In-house rehabilitative services
  • Dentistry

Some assisted living communities offer memory care for seniors living with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Care is provided to these residents by specialized staff members who understand the needs of people experiencing memory loss.

Nursing Homes

People who do not need to be in a hospital but cannot be cared for at home usually opt for short-term stays in a nursing home. In contrast to independent and assisted living communities, nursing home facilities typically operate under a medical model rather than a residential care model.

This form of senior care includes professional rehabilitation and services for people who have acute needs or may be chronically ill. Nursing homes employ skilled nurses who care for patients’ medical needs 24-hours a day.

Due to the medical model, Medicare helps pay for this form of temporary senior living. Some care services may be covered by insurance in assisted living but not things like monthly rent.

Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs)

CCRCs are retirement communities that offer a continuum of support for aging care needs. It supports the aging in place philosophy of not needing to move as needs change. These communities provide the most common senior services on one campus:

  • Independent living
  • Assisted living and memory care
  • Skilled nursing

These various levels of housing and care may be arranged on different floors or wings of a single high-rise building or in physically adjacent buildings. The emphasis of the CCRC model is to enable residents to avoid having to move facilities. The next level of care is down the hall or in the building next door if needs change.

Deciding How to Choose a Retirement Community

Regardless of the type of retirement community you choose, there are some questions to consider to ensure the best fit. The National Institute on Aging suggests the following:

  • What do you want in retirement?
  • What is important to you—nursing care, meals, physical therapy, a religious connection, hospice care, or special care units for dementia patients?
  • Do you want a place close to loved ones for regular visitation?

Talk with friends, family, people at church, social workers, and healthcare providers to see what they suggest.

Call and visit different facilities to see how many people live there, what it costs, and what services they offer. Inquire as to whether they have a waitlist.

Pegasus Senior Living | Senior couple smiling outdoors
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Visiting a facility is your chance to interview them and make requests to guide your decision. Don’t hesitate to ask:

  • For a meal
  • To meet with the directors
  • To meet with a representative from the nursing department

Try revisiting the facility without calling ahead on another day of the week. Get to know other staff members and activities at different times of the day.

Keep a mental checklist in your head and notice things like:

  • Is the dining room attractive and clean?
  • Does the food look and smell tempting?
  • Do residents seem happy?
  • Are the activities engaging?
  • Are people friendly?

Ask for a copy of the residency contract to review. Carefully read the agreement and question the director about anything you don’t understand. Ask a friend or family member to read over the contract as well.

Independent living facilities are not licensed. Assisted living, nursing homes, and CCRCs have to pass state inspections regularly. You may be able to find state inspection reports online, or you can ask the community for a copy.

Facilities that accept Medicare and Medicaid funds must be certified in addition to passing state surveys.


Find a Retirement Community Near You

Visit a Pegasus Senior Living community to discover more about what a retirement home looks like and how they benefit older adults. Our senior living specialists are happy to be a resource in your journey of finding the best retirement lifestyle for you.

Read More About Pegasus Senior Living Communities

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