Senior Living

The Great Escapes Alarm clocks scream. Your coffee spills. There’s nothing to wear, and the e-mail’s frozen. An hour into your day finds you seething behind creeping school buses.

By Trudi Van Dyke

The Great Escapes Alarm clocks scream. Your coffee spills. There’s nothing to wear, and the e-mail’s frozen. An hour into your day finds you seething behind creeping school buses. Follow the process in reverse for the drive home—only tack on grocery shopping, dry cleaning pick-up and a board meeting.

Those 55 and older are trading in deadlines, office politics, carpools and traffic for yoga, dining, dancing and leisurely pursuits as they settle into a retirement community. Look at the statistics that show more people taking early retirements, and it’s clear that more and more adults are planning carefully for the later stage of life. No longer do they look at the future and see an endless procession of more of the same. Realtor Pat McCord, 63, said the census confirms that the baby boomer generation is beginning to look for retirement opportunities that allow them to choose a lifestyle that will revolve around a choice of living arrangements. The variety of senior communities offering endless possibilities for retirees to sculpt a new phase of their lives can seem daunting. Finances are an obvious consideration. Some retirees still have traditional pension plans, but these are less and less common. The new crop of members of the Medicaid generation will be planning ahead, and many industries and businesses are investing large sums into helping employees plan for their future with wise choices based on individual goals.

Alexandria financial planner Mike Hart said planners and advice are abundant, and that getting the right guidance is important for financial security. It is particularly important for seniors to have concrete plans and to make decisions that will positively impact their lifestyles at retirement. Because Washington home values have risen dramatically over a generation, a willingness to downsize and move to outlying suburbs makes luxury living an affordable reality.

Self-contained communities allow residents to structure their lives to meet their needs as they explore new stages of life. Senior housing and senior communities are usually restricted by age, and a recent study by AARP concluded that 40 percent of seniors prefer it that way. This in part accounts for the burgeoning development of this type of construction. The basic independent living arrangements are assumed by the residents, who are generally in good health. The desire is to continue to live on their own with a lifestyle associated with community living. Complexes range from government-sponsored units to gated communities, some of which are as large as small cities.

There is an extensive number of model communities for seniors in the metropolitan area. Searching for the right one can be a daunting task. Experts recommend in-person visits and tours and casually meeting with residents who are settled in. There are plenty of things to consider before making a decision. If meals are available, seniors may want to try out the food more than once.

Try to find out what the safety features are within units and also within the community. You will want to be concerned with how easily you can park and travel within the complex. Make practice runs to your doctor and the grocery store. The site amenities are important. How well are the facilities managed, and what is their overall appearance? Some communities have websites and blogs where you can read opinions by residents. Do your research to avoid any unpleasant surprises after the move.

Country Club Atmosphere
One option is for seniors who seek an energetic and engaged community while maintaining ownership of their apartment. One possible fit for them is a high-rise with proximity to city services to complement community services, such as The Jefferson in Arlington. The building touts lovely lounges for happy hours, complete with wine and pianists and programs. Residents seem to enjoy the company of others and can often be found amiably relaxing in elegantly decorated common areas. Mary Donohoe, 84, came to The Jefferson five years ago with her husband Ray. She said the place really “keeps her alive.”

Planning for Levels of Care
Greensprings in Springfield seems huge. This self-contained community goes on and on. But it is creatively organized so that neighborhoods have their own dining facilities and social areas. Covered walkways lead residents to classrooms, hobby centers, a pool, fitness center and library. It has the intentional ambience of a college campus—only most of the co-eds have gray hair. Like college freshmen, it takes a while for new residents to learn the ropes and catch on to color-coded pathways and other community systems, but soon they’re buzzing around from area to area. An entrance fee payment based on the size of the unit ensures that residents can age in place, even as they eventually need assisted living or nursing home care.

Something for Everyone
The landmark of senior living in this area is generally considered to be the Leisure World complexes. This pioneer development of senior living opened in the early ‘60s, continues to expand and offers housing to suit every desire. Options include co-ops, apartments, townhouses, condos, duplexes and single-family homes. Currently under construction are high-end luxury homes. The amenities seem endless, including two clubhouses, a golf course, and a myriad of classes, programs and trips.

Leisure World of Virginia began developing locally in 1995. When it is completed it will have 3,000 residents. Management brags that it was recently voted the best active adult community in the country by the National Association of Home Builders.

Rose Pryor, an energetic 64, found the perfect balance at Leisure World for her and her husband. Although officially retired, they both continue to do some teaching and are active in their traveling. They have bonded with new friends over common interests at their new home and now feel like they are part of a caring, extended family. Pryor said, “When we came back from our recent trip to England we found friends waiting to greet us and welcome us home. It’s the community of new single-family people who make this place wonderful.”

Secure and Friendly
Catherine McCall, 84, began her search for senior living in her early 60s and has lived in several gated communities. She chose her current home in Falls Run because of the large, Olympic-size pools. This senior Olympic swimming record holder wanted a well-kept aquatic facility with lots of time for lap swimming. Many folks focus on one or two favorite activities and find housing communities that lend themselves to them.

McCall chose to live in a senior community because there are no boomboxes or cars without mufflers. She said she finds much in common with her neighbors besides their ages, and shared that they are all dealing with health issues, aging parents and grown children. McCall said, “The best thing of all is that when you are in your bathing suit, you don’t have to hold in your tummy!”

(November 2007)