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A retirement community is a housing complex designed for older adults who are generally able to care for themselves; however, assistance from home care agencies is allowed in some communities, and activities and socialization opportunities are often provided. There is not single definition of a retirement community, but some of the characteristics typically are: the community must be age-restricted or age-qualified, residents must be partially or fully retired, and the community offers shared services or amenities.
Additionally, there are different types of retirement communities older adults can choose from including:
New types of retirement communities are being developed as the population ages including elder co-housing, which is defined later in this article. Retirement communities are often built in warm climates, and are common in Arizona, California, Florida and Texas but are increasingly being built in and around major cities throughout the United States. Youngtown, Arizona, established in 1954, was the first age-restricted community. Del Webb opened Sun City, Arizona, with the active adult concept, in 1960. In 2011, The Villages, Florida is the largest of these communities. While new retirement communities have developed in various areas of the United States, they are largely marketed to older adults who are financially secure. Lower income retirement communities are rare except for government subsidized housing, which neglects a large proportion of older adults who have fewer financial resources.
The term Continuing Care Retirement Community is the primary term for a major part of the retirement scene, in books, magazines, accreditation and legislation, in parallel with the categorization just presented. A typical definition, from a New York Department of Health website  is "Continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) and fee-for-service continuing care retirement communities (FFSCCRCs) are residential alternatives for adults that offer, under one contract, an independent living unit (an apartment or cottage), residential amenities and access to a continuum of long-term care services, as residents' health and social needs change over time." The accrediting agency CCRC/CARF  uses the term CCRC with the same meaning.
In 2010, over 2,000 CCRCs existed in the United States with an estimated 640,000 residents. The popularity of CCRCs is increasing, as the number of older adults in such retirement communities has more than doubled during the last decade. The primary benefit of the CCRC model is that it allows people to age in one community even if they need additional healthcare services with time. Additionally, CCRCs embody a general sense of community and offer peace of mind for couples with the assurance that they will always be near each other, even if one spouse needs more care.
There are three levels of care in most CCRCs. The first level is independent living in which residents live on their own and have access to a wide array of amenities. The second level is assisted living, which provides help with daily tasks such as bathing and dressing. The third level is 24-hour nursing home-style care. As residents' health needs increase, they will transition from one level to the next, all within the same community.
Most CCRCs include an entrance fee and a monthly fee, and these costs vary widely depending on several factors: the luxuriousness of the facility, the size and type of housing unit, whether the person enters alone or with a spouse, and how much future care is covered. Fees tend to be expensive and usually do not include additional services such as phone and television. Additionally, residents should plan on a 3-6% increase in monthly fees each year. CCRC's usually offer various payment plans, which are listed below.
One risk of entering a CCRC is that most will refund only a portion or none of the entrance fee if a resident choses to leave the community. The same refund policies exist when a resident passes away. Persons considering moving into a CCRC may wish to research existing CCRCs before committing to one.
Senior cohousing is a living arrangement in which multiple individually owned housing units are oriented around a common open area and a common house. Cohousing website Residents actively cooperate to live in a neighborhood in which there is socialization, and mutual support for one another. The idea for elder cohousing originated in Denmark, where intergenerational cohousing was successfully implemented. This idea formulated into an age-specific cohousing model for active elders, in which, the design in the communities includes easy access for all levels of physical ability. There may also be options to include studio residencies in the common house to provide living quarters for home health aids whose services may be shared by several residents.
Elder cohousing is a spin off from intergenerational cohousing. The community is planned, owned and managed by the residents who all share in many daily activities together.
There are six defining characteristics of cohousing. To be considered a "cohousing community" the following must be present:
1. Participatory process- the future residents participate in the design so that it meets their needs.
2. Neighborhood design- the physical layout and orientation of the buildings encourage a sense of community
3. Common facilities
4. Resident Management
5. Non-hierarchical stricture and decision making
6. No shared community economy
Age Requirements for Elder Cohousing
At least 80% of the units in the community must have an individual aged 55 or older to meet the age requirements to qualify as "senior housing".
The cohousing living arrangement was first observed in Denmark. There, the communities are known as "bofoellesskaber" in Danish which translates to "living communities". K. McCamant and C. Durrett coined the term "cohousing" and launched it in the United States in the 1970s. Since its introduction to the U.S. intergenerational cohousing communities have been developed in at least twenty-one states. As far as elder cohousing communities, there are currently five located in the United States.
Currently, there are over 3 million Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) persons over the age of 65 in the United States, and this number is estimated to rise to 4 million by the year 2020. LGBT elders face many additional issues concerning their future retirement plans. Approximately two-thirds do not have children and up to half live alone. Therefore, LGBT persons may have a lack of support in their retirement years. Additionally, LGBT couples are not legally recognized; spouses are often excluded in late-life decisions, inheritance claims, and spousal pension and social security plans. Several healthcare concerns exist for older LGBT adults, including increased incidence of illness and disease, lack of disclosure about sexual orientation to health providers, and lack of support for individual needs. Many of these concerns affect the decisions LGBT persons make concerning their retirement residence. One study found that LGBT persons are least likely to choose a retirement community as a residence due to fears of unmet needs and heterosexism that occurs in many retirement communities. LGBT persons have increasing concern about discrimination as they age and fear that most retirement communities do not recognize the special needs of LGBT elders or offer supportive services.
Several retirement communities have been built with particular attention to the needs of LGBT older persons. These establishments cater to various income levels and aim to have a discrimination-free environment. Several popular LGBT retirement communities are described below. None of these communities are exclusive to LGBT persons, but are specifically geared toward meeting their needs.
The NORC model allows people to retire in their existing homes and encourages communities of seniors to band together to provide mutual assistance. These communities may involve low-income residents receiving a richer mix of public services through a NORC model. They may serve people of all income levels who get together to furnish cost-effective transportation services. There are NORCs for relatively affluent households that may charge $1,000 or even more in annual dues to support staffers who provide a rich variety of support services and cultural enrichment activities. NORCs can be very effective mechanisms to identify populations of people who need government-provided services and then provide those services in cost-effective ways.
A number of publishers have created lists of the 100 best retirement communities or "100 best places (or towns) to retire". For the most part these lists are helpful in terms of finding desirable communities to live in. The extent to which desirable amenities are "priced" in labor markets (lower wages in nice places) or housing markets (higher housing prices in nice places) will have a large impact on their appeal elderly retirees who no longer have to pay in the labor market. One drawback to these lists is that these communities often become more expensive as a result of their popularity.
Sun Park Living, with its holiday retirement complex in Lanzarote, is credited with the coming together of Senior Living & Senior Travel. It's Retirement Holiday Community in the sun has attracted thousands of Over 50s from across Europe.
In India too, the traditional family system in which elders would be cared for by their children has collapsed. And a new generation of elders who value their independence have evolved. This has necessitated the development of retirement homes and communities in India.
Once recent trend to emerge in the Indian retirement industry is the "retirement resort": a long-term rental unit within a resort-like community, with many of the amenities of a traditional vacation resort. This trend is just starting.
In the United Kingdom retirement villages have become more and more prevalent. According to a BBC report of August 2009 there were approximately 25,000 people across the UK living within a retirement village model at that date. A growing trend witnessed recently is the emergence of Holiday Retirement Community Living. The trend pioneered by Sun Park Living which caters for English speaking European., a model proving successful due to a non-profit community being at its center.
Models do vary - from local authority funded and charitable schemes such as Hartrigg Oaks in York led by the Joseph Rowntree Trust through to privately funded projects such as Roseland Parc in Cornwall by Retirement Villages Ltd, Fleet house retirement village in Devon, and Boughton Hall in Chester.
Retirement Villages Ltd opened their first scheme in the UK over 25 years ago so the model is not so new to the UK as people think. There is now an umbrella organisation called the Association of Retirement Village Operators UK (ARVOUK) working to collaborate thinking and best practice in this popular retirement homes market.
Several retirement community resources exist to assist active adults in finding the ideal retirement community. These resources include: