Retirement Communities Reinvented

Forget the old-fashioned senior community that offered little more than a tired-looking swimming pool, a weedy shuffleboard court, and a weekly shuttle bus to the supermarket.

Today's retirement communities are bustling hotbeds of activity and energy, offering more options for fun and healthful recreation than many resorts. No longer places where the elderly wither away in front of the television, retirement communities are catering to the desires of many Baby Boomers and older people who want to stay active and engaged as long as possible.

Take Trilogy at Power Ranch, an upscale retirement community near Phoenix that offers a wide range of cooking classes. A "state-of-the-art culinary teaching kitchen" helps residents of every skill level—from those who've never boiled water to those who rival Julia Child—master new cooking techniques. And like many other senior communities, the staff offers lessons in healthful cooking techniques, such as low sodium and low calorie.

Healthy togetherness and green living are the themes at Sand River Cohousing (formerly called ElderGrace), a community near Santa Fe. Low- and middle-income residents live in one- or two-bedroom units in duplex houses and share a larger space called the Common House. The Common House is where group dinners are cooked and enjoyed in a communal setting. There's also a computer room and multipurpose room for different activities. Outdoors, residents can meet can enjoy walking and biking paths, digging in the community garden, and strolling in the orchard.

"These types of developments have the advantages of walkability and universal design which appeals to [these] age [groups]," says Amy Levner, manager, AARP Education and Outreach. "These trends will help Boomers live in a smartly-designed home and community, while at the same time providing for more social interaction and less isolation from family and friends."

Even assisted-living facilities, where residents tend to be older and often require a minimum level of care to get their basic needs met, are busy places. Many facilities are offering their residents classes in line dancing, water aerobics, golf, croquet, and horseshoes. A few senior centers have even begun offering Nintendo Wii games to residents. Since Wii games provide older people the opportunity to get a low-impact workout, they're proving extremely popular diversions.

Walking clubs, tennis leagues, community dinners—is this the new old age? For seniors committed to maintaining their physical and emotional health by exercising their bodies, minds, and social lives, the answer seems to be an unequivocal yes.





National Caregiving Institute,