When you're planning a move, there are dozens of details to consider: what to take, how much it will cost, when to go. But the rule of real estate -- location, location, location -- is even more essential for seniors.
Here are five questions to ask yourself before calling the moving truck.
If you're buying a house or condo, think about how the space might feel in 10 or 20 years. Look for smooth transitions between rooms and from the driveway to the front door. Avoid homes with unnecessary steps, especially when they're in unexpected places like the entryway or living room, since those can become tripping hazards. An accessible bathroom, outfitted with a zero-threshold shower or walk-in tub, might be a perk you'd like. Write out the features you want and those that are required, so you know in advance where you're willing to compromise.
Then ask yourself how much maintenance the place needs. That includes total square feet (which have to be cleaned), the yard (which needs to be mowed) and any renovations or upgrades you'll have to do. A fixer upper might get you a good deal, but make sure that's work, time and money you truly want to invest in the coming years.
Whether you're planning for retirement or it's finally here, you want to have plenty to keep you active in your new home. Look for educational, fitness and recreational outlets. These are important not just for your enjoyment but also for your physical well-being. Data from the Leisure World Cohort Study shows that seniors who participate even in light recreational activities live longer than those who don't.
Make a list of the top 10 things you enjoy doing. That could be walking the dog, cooking or listening to music. Then brainstorm avenues for these, like access to trails, farmers' markets and concerts. If you enjoy playing golf, you'll want to locate nearby golf courses. Swimmers and boaters should seek out waterfront destinations.
Research local festivals, museums and other attractions that might keep you coming back year after year. If you have the time and resources, take a short vacation there to get to know the place as a tourist, or just order a travel guide, often available free from the local visitor's bureau.
Take a look at the average high temperature in summer and the average low in winter. Try to imagine how comfortable you'll be living there. Does the city get snow? Does it rain often? Sunlight correlates to lifted moods and better bone health, which can decrease the likelihood of osteoporosis, but you know your personal preferences best.
Be sure to look up the history of hurricanes, tornadoes and the like to get an idea of how prone the region is to them. Weather is something you won't be able to change once you move, so it should be a top factor in your decision.
We spend a lot of time worrying about the what in life, but it's people who really matter. Feeling connected to others is always important, even more so as you age. The Global Council on Brain Health found that seniors with strong social connections were more likely to have improved cognitive functions and less likely to feel lonely. Loneliness and isolation are frequently linked to overall poor health, and seniors are at a higher risk for both of these. What can you do?
First, consider how close you'll be to family and long-time friends. These established relationships will provide a solid foundation for social connections in your new home, even if it's just the occasional visit from a loved one.
Second, find avenues for building new connections once you move. Making friends as an adult is hard, so it helps when there's a structure in place to bring like-minded individuals together. If you enjoy group fitness classes, look for a local YMCA. If there's a university in the city, see if they have an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, a nonprofit organization with academic and leisure offerings for those 50 and up. If you're browsing planned communities, check if they have regular classes or outings. Activities will help you meet new people and form lasting friendships.
This exercise is all about thinking long-term. How can you surround yourself with the resources you'll need to stay healthy and happy?
Living options for seniors vary along a spectrum from limited supervision to more intensive support. Along this spectrum, there are a number of alternatives and variations, such as in-home care and cohousing, a newer trend in many communities where older adults share a common area and a more communal approach to their home. For most senior care residences, here are the three main categories:
You might not need assistance with medical care now, but you may down the road. Or you might find having access to transportation or emergency help convenient. Planned communities with varying levels of support could be the right solution.
Many of these places offer different packages and living arrangements depending on your interests. A few of these, called Continuing Care Retirement Communities, or CCRCs, are made to accommodate seniors from active, independent living all the way to 24-hour nurse care.
You could choose a gated residential complex open only to seniors with group entertainment and dining options available to help you connect with others. Alternatively, you may want to buy or rent on your own in an area that has several senior living options at hand. That way, you can explore those communities as you get to know your new home.
Moving as a senior can feel like an overwhelming decision at first. After all, where you live dramatically impacts your day-to-day life. Rest assured that there are several "right" choices you can make, and that much of what is great about where you live is entirely dependent on you. So do a little more research, be open to new experiences, and don't forget to plan for the future, and you're well on your way to finding the new home of your dreams.