What does the word “community” mean to you? Do you think of a town or a neighborhood? As we get older, staying involved in a community can mean the difference between living a fun, fulfilling life or living alone in near isolation.
Most of us belong to more than one “community.” You may have co-workers, neighbors, fitness friends, church regulars and other groups you see on a regular basis. They give you a sense of belonging, of community.
But as we age, maintaining these relationships can become more difficult. We aren’t as mobile or active as we once were, which can lead to isolation and loneliness. That’s why finding a sense of community can be crucial to our mental health and physical well-being.
Some older adults choose to stay in their own homes among longtime neighbors and friends. They maintain their “communities” by staying actively involved in their church, by volunteering their time or by continuing to work.
Others choose to move to a retirement community where people live independently in their own homes but find a built-in sense of community. Many seniors bond with new friends in these communities. They create a “community within a community” by being with people their age who enjoy the same hobbies and other interests.
But seniors are finding a sense of community in other ways as well.
Moving to an assisted living community isn’t really a new option for seniors. What has changed over the years is the variety of AL communities and the wide array of services they offer. Assisted living is ideal for older adults who need some help with daily living but also want the sense of community that comes from living among their peers.
If you’re considering an assisted living community for you or a loved one, you need to research your options. Find the one that offers what you most want in your next home. Be sure to consider the location, whether it fits into your budget long-term and what services they offer.
Don’t forget to check out the food! Many communities offer the chance to have lunch in their dining room. Schedule a lunch if possible so you can experience what dining there on a regular basis would feel like.
Basic services like providing meals and transportation to doctors’ offices and grocery stores are very important. But does the community also offer a wellness and fitness program that meets your particular needs?
Social activities can play a major role in terms of finding a sense of community in assisted living. Ask to see a current Activities calendar. Are social events and activities scheduled on a frequent basis? What types of activities are included and do you see yourself participating in them? You’d be surprised at how different AL communities can be when it comes to the fun-factor.
Still, maybe you want to live in your own home, at least for the time being. In that case, a niche community might be a better fit.
Finding a Sense of Community at NORCs and Village-to-Village
NORCs (Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities) and Village-to-Village are terms that are often used interchangeably, but feature key differences. Politico explains that NORCs are neighborhoods or enclaves that grew organically within a city where a large number of seniors live in their own homes.
Individuals in these communities have neighbors roughly the same age who can provide companionship. Plus, they’re more likely to find senior services, clubs and activities nearby. NORCs are often situated within larger, intergenerational communities that are home to people of all ages. Finding a sense of community, like retirement communities, is part of the fabric of daily life.
Some NORCs are informal groups of neighbors who support one another. Others are organized into what are sometimes called village-to-village communities.
In the village-to-village model, communities are places where seniors can build or buy their own homes near other seniors. Most feature an annual fee to access such services as transportation, health and wellness programs, and technology training and support.
The Latitude Margaritaville communities, The Villages in central Florida and Del Webb’s new home communities are good examples of the village-to-village model.
As an alternative to an independent retirement community, assisted living community or senior village, some older adults prefer to stay home and have roommates. According to Senior Planet, house sharing has many benefits for seniors, including help with finances and housework and companionship.
A big bonus to having a roommate is the peace of mind from knowing that someone is there in case of an emergency. If you don’t already know someone to share a space with, a number of national organizations can help connect you to a housemate in your area.
Finding Your Fit
You might feel drawn to one type of community, but it’s important to ask yourself these questions:
- What are the available options where you live, or are you willing to relocate?
- If you are feeling only a bit isolated, think about an adult day care program. This can provide you with a sense of community without a major financial commitment.
- Which option fits your budget? If you continue living at home, would you need to make modifications? If so, how do those costs factor into your budget? (Per Fixr, you can expect these renovations to run anywhere from $3,000 to $15,000.) Also consider the fact that over time, your house will need painting, roof repairs, landscape care and other maintenance that will eat into your finances.
- If you need to move to a new home, can you afford it? Many retirement communities offer flexible buy-in programs that are surprisingly affordable.
- Do you need some form of daily assistance? Then your best bet may be to check into assisted living communities in your area.
No one can tell you the “right” answer for your situation. Fortunately, today’s seniors have many more options to choose from than our parents and grandparents had in their day.
No matter how you define a “sense of community,” finding it by living among your peers can open the door to a happier, more fulfilling life. You’ll meet new friends and experience more adventures than you ever thought possible.
Our thanks to contributing writer Mary Shannon for this article. Mary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.