Mar 22, 2022

What are the different types of communities for older adults?

Manny Cominsky

One of the most exciting things about starting your retirement is deciding where you’re going to live. This means not only deciding if you’ll move to a new city or state, but also what your new house will look like when you get there. As we’ve covered in many other blog posts, there’s almost an endless list of places you could choose to have an excellent and low cost retirement. From the white-sand beaches of Florida, to the stunning desserts in Arizona, to the laidback coastlands of the Carolinas or Georgia, you really can’t go wrong wherever you choose. 

But while people generally have a good idea of where they want to live geographically, we find that they sometimes have less of an idea of what kind of house they want to live in. For many people, they start with a general understanding that the options are either an individual home built in a residential neighborhood, or a home built in a master-planned community. But while a home in a residential neighborhood is familiar, people often tell us they are confused by what exactly is meant by master-planned communities, especially when it comes to those focused on older adults. People ask, for example, if they can still own their home and live independently in an active adult community? Or, what exactly is the difference between an active adult community and what is traditionally thought of as a retirement or senior living facility? 

Below, we outline some of the major types of communities that people will move into upon retirement. Generally, those who are younger and closer to their retirement will choose to live in a master planned community or an active adult community, while senior living facilities are generally reserved for those older adults that require active assistance. 

Master Planned Community - No Age

First, there are master-planned communities that have no age restrictions at all, meaning that anyone can buy a home there. While these communities are not designed for older adults, many older adults nevertheless retire to planned communities with no age restrictions. From the outside, these may look a lot like an active adult community as many are gated communities. But otherwise these communities are much like any other master-planned community in the country featuring residents of all ages, from children with young families to retired adults. Often times these communities will have amenities that are similar to active adult communities, like pools, gyms, and outdoor recreational areas like tennis courts or golf courses. In addition, and also like active adult communities, these communities will sometimes help out with home and outdoor maintenance, which is generally done through fees paid to a Home Owner’s Association (or HOA). That being said, master-planned communities often offer a similar feel to an active adult community and can provide a great option for those who like the idea of an active adult community, but want to live with groups of all ages.

Active Adult Community

As we’ve covered in other blog posts, active adult communities are just master-planned communities that have an age limit on who can live there, generally that the residents are 55 or above (although some communities are capped at different ages like 50, or require only one resident to hit the required age limit). Many people we talk to are surprised to learn how similar active adult communities are to more traditional master-planned communities that they are often more familiar with (like those described above). Often the only difference between an active adult community and a traditional master-planned community is the age limit imposed on living there. 

Active adult communities often have similar amenities to other master-planned communities, like tennis courts or golf courses.

Other than the difference in the age of your neighbors, there’s often little differentiating your life at an active adult community from if you were living in a home you owned in any other type of master-planned community. The only difference is that active adult communities generally have a higher level of services and amenities, including not only the traditional things like pools and workout facilities, but sometimes even include things like restaurants or performance centers as well as on-site maintenance and security. But even where these communities have more amenities than a standard master-planned community, they still differ greatly from managed care facilities, which generally do not allow independent living and are meant for an older audience requiring a greater level of support and care. In an active adult community you maintain your independent active lifestyle, with all the benefits of a resort and all the stress taken out of home ownership.

Senior Living Communities 

For those are who a little bit older and want to leave the stress and chores of home ownership behind completely, there are senior living communities. Generally, senior living communities are broken into three large categories based upon the acuity level, a term related to the amount of medically required support an individual needs, of its resident, and are: independent living, assisted living, and memory or nursing care. For independent living options, this often means that while the community takes care of your everyday household chores- like handling your laundry and housekeeping services, or providing easy access to chef-prepared meals in their community dining facilities - you will not be receiving the type of medical care and oversight that goes with higher acuity-level communities that offer assisted living or memory care. An easy way to think of the breakdown is that independent living is for older adults who simply want to live in an apartment where everything is taken care of for them, while assisted living and memory care are for those who also require some degree of daily medical or personal care.

Often times, regardless of the acuity level, these facilities offer apartment style living, with seniors living in their own apartment suites. These facilities not only provide ready access to nursing or other personal care, they often completely remove the burdens of home ownership. They also feature activities and programming specifically designed for seniors like cultural or artistic trips, or healthy activities like gym classes. Not only do these communities help seniors by providing easy access to everything they need, they also help provide a sense of community and support.

It’s important to keep in mind all the types of housing options at your disposal as you age. One of the most important decisions you can make for yourself and your future is to make sure that you are living in a home that lets you age in the most comfortable and healthiest way possible. While many people often equate active adult communities with senior living facilities, they are often much more similar to your traditional, master-planned communities. If you’re looking to maintain an independent and active lifestyle, then an active adult community is very likely the place for you! 

Whatever your needs, we’re here to help you find the right destination for yourself or your loved ones.

Sunbound is the best way to pay for senior living. If you want to learn more about how Sunbound can help make senior living more affordable for residents and easier to manage for communities, email us at or request a demo here. Sunbound is on a mission to make senior living more affordable for everyone.

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