‘Active Adult’ Is The Newest Housing Option For Older Adults

If you have studied the landscape on private-pay residential options for older adults, you are probably familiar with the terms Independent Living, Assisted Living, Skilled Nursing and Memory Care. That has been the spectrum of senior living options for at least the past decade. Recently, however, there is another term being bandied about and I think it’s an exciting entry into the older adult housing line-up.  It’s called Active Adult

Residential options for older adults can be organized in somewhat of a linear fashion based on the care or support they offer. As the name indicates, Independent Living (IL) is the senior housing option that works for older adults when no on-site care is needed. It typically includes full services for maintenance-free living: a meal plan, laundry, housekeeping, transportation, and a variety of organized activities. 

An assisted living (AL) community offers everything IL offers, plus assistance (care), as needed, with the activities of daily living (ADLs), which can include bathing, dressing, toileting, grooming, and/or transferring. Memory care facilities include everything ALs include, with the addition of a specialized environment and activities for residents with memory impairment or dementia. 

Skilled nursing is designed for people who need medical attention round the clock.  It often combines short-term, post-acute care (mainly for recovery from surgery or injury) and long-term chronic care in a single facility.  

When private-pay independent living residences are co-located with an assisted living facility and a skilled nursing unit, the property is generally offered as a “continuing care” or “life plan” community. In that case, residents are expected to buy in at a substantial cost, plus a monthly fee, and remain there for the rest of their lives, advancing through the levels of care as needed.  

So, where does “Active Adult” enter this picture and why is there a need for something different? I believe the answer to this is two-fold: The first reason is people are living longer and even the wealthy blanche at the possibility of 20-30 years of private-pay independent living, yet they still want to enjoy their active years in an environment that supports their interests, requires little maintenance, and offers a community environment conducive to building new friendships and interest groups.  The second reason is baby boomers are very resistant to what they see as conventional “senior living.” They don’t want anyone running their lives, they don’t want or need a meal plan while they are still capable of cooking and getting take-out, and they don’t want to live amongst what they view as “a bunch of old people.”

The Active Adult model fits nicely between the urban, rural, or suburban single-family home and traditional senior living. For those who have the freedom and means to travel, an Active Adult community provides a kind of “lock-and-leave” lifestyle, even for longer trips. Because most Active Adult communities are apartment-style living, with secure entrances, the worry of leaving a freestanding home for several days to several months vanishes.

Typically included in an Active Adult community are recreational facilities and activity programming by professional staff, social activities, grounds maintenance, and home maintenance (but not housekeeping). These are rental properties, and can be quite affordable.  I have seen rental quotes as low as $1200. per month and as high as $4000. This variance is driven by location (value of the land) and amenities. Like any multi-family development, they can be very basic or quite lavish in what they offer to residents. The only requirement for entry is that the renter be age 55 (or in some states 62) or older. Examples of these Active Adult rental communities can be viewed at Greystar, one of the industry leaders in Active Adult living. You can browse through their many communities throughout the U.S. on their website.  They list price ranges as well as the amenities of each property. 

Properties with an age-55 or age-62 threshold are not new.  They have been around since Del Webb opened the first Sun City in Arizona in 1960. What is different about these Active Adult communities is the programming. They are more than just a place to live amongst people of similar age. They are designed with active living built in to the plan. That won’t appeal to everyone, but developers of these kinds of properties are convinced that this is the missing link to the spectrum of senior housing in America.

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