Finding the Right Living Arrangement for Every Stage
Life is riddled with a variety of milestones. Early milestones hold promise and an added degree of independence, such as getting your driver’s license or going off to college. Others, especially later in life, carry a sense of responsibility that can sometimes be intimidating to the unprepared.
While you spend the early portion of your life deciding how you want to contribute to the workforce and training yourself to do so, time may slip by quicker than expected. As retirement approaches, the counter culture it presents to the years you spent working can be both liberating and daunting.
While finances will undoubtedly become a concern, perhaps a greater issue is your living arrangements. Several factors including health, the state of your personal relationships and finances can determine the course of action for the living arrangement best suited to you. Here are several scenarios and how to best approach them for your next step.
Retirement with a Spouse Who is Still Working
“One of the first big discussions for a couple retiring at different times should revolve around the retirement schedule itself,” the New York Times reports. “With such a great change in how your life operates, there are bound to be major adjustments required.”
Those adjustments will largely concern your relationship with your spouse and the household dynamics that can result.
“When spouses have different retirement timing, they need to start with, and accept, that mental difference. Then, make sure someone has done the math. Most likely, they both need to adjust some of their habits—both mental, emotional and actual ones,” financial consultant and marriage counselor Susan Zimmerman told the NY Times.
Assuming the major “breadwinner” of the household retired first, with their spouse now as the sole earner for the home, there may be several emotional issues that crop up. According to the NY Times, the retiree can sometimes begin to feel guilty, for both leaving their spouse to bear the responsibility of income and also feel guilty for spending that income.
“Once couples know their finances are in order, they often find it much easier for one to retire earlier than another,” says financial planner Dana Anspach to the NY Times.
Collective Retirement for Both Spouses
On the other hand, a spouse still in the workforce may finally catch up to retirement with their retiree, or perhaps they planned to retire at roughly the same time to enjoy those years together. In any case, there are other concerns that you will want to be aware of.
As with any major decision—buying a home, having kids, estate planning—it is vital to have a clear discussion. Talk about expectations for finances and household roles and responsibilities.
Robert Laura, self-proclaimed “retirement activist” and Forbes contributor, refers to this as an “in-sync” retirement. He adds that it can present issues in the relationship dynamic between retirees.
“The possibility of spending 24 hours a day, seven days a week together can be equally concerning. Initially, an in-sync retirement may conjure up loving images of long walks on the beach and stargazing over a bonfire together, but that can come with its own challenges,” Laura said.
While one or both of you were working, you most likely had a somewhat regimented schedule of when you saw each other.
The initial shift of seeing each other a few hours a day to all day can be jarring and can lead to conflict.
Laura suggests maintaining social networks and participating in activities is helpful for ensuring both spouses preserve their independence while still enjoying retirement together.
Initially, the uncharted waters of retirement can cause certain issues to appear that may have never existed. It is important to address them, no matter how minor they seem. Discussing who does what chores around the house and how much time you will spend together are just a few areas of concern.
“Role confusion can make it crucial to discuss feelings and needs with each other before retirement instead of assuming you’re both on the same page,” Laura said.
Independent and Assisted Living (by self or in retirement community)
Independence is something everyone clamors for; and though the urge for independence generally remains over time, retirement calls for some stark assessment of which areas of life can remain autonomous and which need to be adjusted.
For seniors it’s important to be “realizing that later on down the road—whether it’s two years or 20 years—their needs are going to change,” said Admissions and Marketing Director of Heritage Green Emily Young. “Independence might become a little more difficult.”
Young insists that seniors should “take the time while they have independence to figure out what’s important to them.” They should also prioritize sharing that information with family members members to guarantee that their preferences are known and followed.
Being aware of your limitations is crucial to senior living, especially if you decide to remain in your own household, as opposed to a retirement community.
If you choose to live alone, no matter your level of ability, there are certain steps you should take to ensure mental and physical wellness.
“For seniors who would like to live on their own, it is important to downsize, particularly to a one-level home that is handicap accessible. Beyond the physical preparations, it is paramount that the senior stays connected with family and friends and weekly church/activity groups,” Vickie Runk, Owner of Runk & Pratt Senior Living Communities, said.
While the idea of remaining at home—a place where you have invested so much of your life—can be more realistic and appealing for the new retiree looking to fill the void of employment with household chores and self-upkeep, for those with more health concerns and fewer family members to assist them, a retirement community may be a more attractive option.
A retirement community can be “so helpful for so many [reasons] because it allows the resident to have all of their needs met, which enables them to do more without having to worry about daily tasks,” Runk said. “Meeting their needs faster and more efficiently helps them to stay as independent as possible for as long as possible.”
Although assisted living and independent living sound similar, their implementation is different. Runk & Pratt and The Summit are local retirement communities that offer both options. The foundation of both facilities is providing a safe environment for members that allows for independence while also meeting daily needs if necessary. “If necessary” is the key phrase in understanding the difference between assisted and independent living. For those living independently, they can simply enjoy the amenities of their community. On the other hand, those needing more help can receive additional and specialized attention from staff to assist with daily tasks—such as medication or simple chores—that can prove troublesome otherwise.
In any case, Brenda Dixon, Marketing Director at The Summit, suggests that community living can add as many as three years to someone’s life.
Dixon also believes that remaining active in programs and events is a great way for seniors to transition into a new way of life. Keeping family involved in every step of the process is also vital.
“Families need to be educated about the options available and be realistic on what their family members can afford,” Dixon said. “Have ‘the talk’ early. When dealing with independent living, most often it’s the seniors themselves [who] are doing the research; they want to make their own choices.”
According to Young, it is fairly common for families to wait until emergencies occur before they decide to make a decision
about assisted living.
“If people were to start making these decisions earlier and making a move before they feel its necessary, I think they would have a lot of stress. . .relieved,” Young said.
Health and Rehab Centers
If a senior’s health issues are greater than having to take a daily prescription, they may want to be checked into a health and rehab center. Sometimes better known as nursing homes, Christi Thomas, Community Relations Director at Liberty Ridge Health and Rehabilitation Center, ensures that modern rehabilitation facilities do not carry the same stigma or negative feelings often associated with nursing homes.
Nursing homes are sometimes thought of as an equivalent to hospice care, but this is simply untrue. “There are activities going on all the time, even nights and weekends,” Alicia Adams, Director of Community Relations at Avante, said.
Avante specializes in “skilled nursing and long term care.” Adams insists that Avante hosts many services that can help seniors transition in their health and rehab. However, depending on the medical concern, many seniors need some time before they are ready to acclimate back into their homes.
“We have a very high success rate with our therapy department,” Adams said. “It is very rare that someone comes in and is not able to go back to their assisted living or their home.”
Avante offers a wide variety of health services and therapy including speech therapy, counseling needs and outpatient occupational therapy.
Similarly, Liberty Ridge, while a smaller community, boasts a warm, home-like feel. According to Thomas, their small size allows them to give each senior more personal attention.
Whatever stage of life you find yourself in, be assured there are many ways to preserve the independence you want while still enjoying a safe and secure retirement.
By Jeremy Angione