Pre-retirees' desire for independence and sense of community is fueling new options for older adult housing. Some new models focus on a campus setting that includes independent living cottages or apartments with amenities and services accommodating a more long-term living situation.

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Pre-retirees' desire for independence and sense of community is fueling new options for older adult housing. Some new models focus on a campus setting that includes independent living cottages or apartments with amenities and services accommodating a more long-term living situation.

Aging Well: Older adults guide housing alternatives

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Focus groups

The VNA's Aging Well program is seeking residents 50 and older from throughout Routt County to have their voices heard and discuss their hopes for future supportive housing. Results will be incorporated into the Routt County Housing Needs Assessment, which will help guide future planning and development.

One set of focus groups will meet at 5:30 p.m. and another at 6:45 p.m. Thursday at the Steamboat Springs Community Center. For more information or to be placed in a focus group, call 871-7676.

Editor's note: This article includes information from "Housing and Retirement Living: Redefining the Continuum," by Sandra Timmermann, Journal of Financial Service Professionals, December 2005.

Imagine a cozy gathering of cottages for residents nearing or in the midst of retirement.

The setting, which includes a cafe, gym, pharmacy, medical clinic, transit depot and community areas, meets many residents' needs, enabling them to safely remain as independent as possible.

Within the comfort of the community, there also are health and social programs such as home health services, an adult day center, assisted living and skilled nursing home to help residents as their needs increase.

This vision may not be too far from reality in Routt County, where groups are exploring supportive housing options residents hope to have when or if they are no longer able to remain in their homes.

"Overwhelmingly, seniors would like to think they will stay in their homes," explained Heidi Aggeler, managing director of BBC Research & Consulting, a Denver firm which recently conducted a housing needs assessment for Routt County.

The assessment, paid for by a grant from the Colorado Division of Housing, included some input from older adults (the number of surveys was proportional to the percentage of older adults in the county). However, staff at the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, which has been working to provide more wellness and support services for older adults, wanted to learn more about living situations and lifestyles older residents have in mind.

The VNA's Aging Well program and BBC Research & Consulting are hosting focus groups Thursday to help gauge older adult housing needs in the county. The results of the discussions, in addition to more surveys of older adults in Routt County, will be incorporated into the draft report of the Routt County Housing Needs Assessment.

A continuum of housing

Rather than ignore the possibility of needing a more accomodating home - one with support close by and no stairs to climb or yards to maintain - the VNA is hoping residents will begin considering alternatives and plan for potential transition.

This doesn't have to be a dreary prospect. Fueled by Baby Boomers' demands and lifestyles, more and more options are filling the gap between independent living and assisted living and nursing homes.

Unlike some rural areas, Northwest Colorado already has a variety of living options for older adults including senior apartments, assisted living and skilled nursing facilities. New programs, such as adult day services, also are helping older adults remain in their homes or with family caregivers, longer.

What is missing from the mix are flexible housing options that accommodate and encourage active, independent lifestyles but include safe and convenient access to supportive services.

"Your continuum is a little bit fractured," said Aggeler, who has conducted similar surveys and more detailed analysis of older adults' housing needs in other communities.

New alternatives

Nearly all pre-retirees want to live in their own homes during retirement, according to a 2004 survey by The MetLife Market Institute and AARP.

As a second option, many would prefer living in an adult retirement community with homes/apartments and services and amenities for people 55 and older. Survey participants cited independence and a sense of community as strong factors in their decisions about where to live in retirement.

Although adult retirement communities are nothing new, there is a trend toward smaller developments for older adults built on a small-town, community concept. Some models have a campus-like setting, where residents live in small houses or duplexes. These small communities may include health, personal care and transportation services as well as wellness facilities and programs.

Additional features, such as parks, open space, playgrounds, a child care center, cafe and activity centers, also appeal to the larger community, creating a lively and engaging intergenerational neighborhood setting for older adults.

One version of this, the continuing care retirement community, offers several levels of care - independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing - in one location, providing a more comfortable and assured long-term living solution.

These communities usually involve a long-term contract, upfront payment or fee (part of which may be refunded to a person's estate after death) and/or monthly fees to guarantee ongoing services. Potential residents usually have to be in good health to move in.

Another trend in older adult communities is co-housing, little developments where residents live in private quarters but gather for communal meals, chores and activities. The communities' layout and design reflect traditional neighborhoods and encourage a close-knit community with prominent front doors, porches and walkways as well as communal gardens and open space.

The co-housing concept, originally developed for young families, can be particularly appealing to individuals or couples interested in pooling resources or being part of a family-like community of older adults.

There are no rules, of course, to what these communities look like or include. There can be many different versions and combinations based on the needs and desires of older adults in a region or community.

This is why it's important for local adults planning for or are in the midst of retirement, to share their thoughts on living situations that would best suit their lifestyles and needs.

Older individuals in Routt County interested in participating in a housing focus group Thursday should call 871-7676.

Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at tmanzanares@nwcovna.org or 871-7606. Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and older. For more information or to view past articles, visit www.agingwelltoday.com.

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