Not so long ago, the idea of a 'retirement community' conjured images of elderly folks in cardigans playing shuffleboard, or perhaps enjoying a placid round of bingo in the dining hall. As the country's population ages however, ideas about life—and quality of life—after 50 are evolving.
Evidence of this evolution is displayed front-and-center in the both nation's so-called 'active adult' communities—planned buildings and developments whose governing documents set minimum age limits for prospective residents—and in communities whose residents moved in decades ago and have simply 'aged in place,' changing the demographics of their building slowly over time.
Whatever their origin, these communities offer amenities designed to allow residents to enjoy their retirement or pre-retirement years to the fullest, while freeing them from many of the concerns, obligations and chores that come with individual homeownership or renting. With age restrictions ranging from iron-clad to very flexible, and support services ranging from modest to round-the-clock, the defining characteristic of these communities is a commitment to helping aging adults get the most out of their living environment; personally, physically, and socially.
An Idea Whose Time Had Come
A relatively recent phenomenon in this part of the country, the planned over-55 community was born in the early 1960s in Phoenix, Arizona. That's when developer Del Webb broke ground on Sun City, a planned community specifically for retirees looking for an active, community-minded lifestyle. At the time, the idea of retirement as a time to enjoy life (rather than something imposed on people for reasons of ill health) was still relatively new. Over 55-communities spread gradually, first throughout popular retirement states such as Florida, Arizona and Nevada.
When the first of the 79 million baby boomers began turning 55 in the early 2000s, the senior housing trend kicked into high gear. According to Edward Corless, vice president of New Jersey-based Wentworth Property Management's Active Adult Communities division, statistics show that in 2001 there were 5 million people in the 55-and-older age bracket. In 2005, there were 10 million, and by last year, there were 20 million.