Aging In Place vs. Retirement Communities: Which is The Right Choice for You?

This post is part of a series on where to live as you age

By Scott Stanley

One of the most significant decisions you’ll make in retirement is where you are going to live when your physical health declines. In this post, I will delve into two of the more popular options—aging in place and moving to a retirement community—and explore the pros and cons of each.

I’ve been helping families find care options for their parents, spouses, and other family members for more than 15 years. What I’ve learned is that getting old is a contact sport. My advice is to avoid a crisis where you’re forced to make short-term decisions with limited options. The best defense against such a predicament is a good offense, which means advanced planning.

Whenever you plan, start with the end objective and then work backward. As we face the reality that 70% of Americans over 65 will require long-term care for an average of three years, it’s vital to take a hard look at the future and plan accordingly. Involve your loved ones early on, get everyone on the same page, and assign roles for each person’s responsibilities. And remember, family issues that have been buried for years can percolate up during a crisis, so strengthen those relationships now.

With careful consideration and planning, both aging in place and moving to a retirement community can be viable options. Overall costs typically net out. While aging in place may seem more cost-effective in the short term, the costs can significantly add up as you approach end of life. On the other hand, retirement communities have higher upfront costs.

Aging In Place 

Aging in place is defined as the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently and comfortably. Retirement Living queried 2,300 adults over 50 and found 83% of them want to age in place and that’s roughly what I see in my practice. There’s such an emotional part of living and dying at home that embodies all the memories and that’s hard to replace.

The main planning steps required for aging in place are: 

Make home modifications so you can safely live in your home when your mobility decreases.Work with an aging-in-place specialist and contractor to optimize your home for aging
Create a clear financial plan, so family members know where to access funds for long-term care costs.Write up and share the plan. Ensure your executor has access to your accounts
Identify caregivers and facilities you would go to when needed. Always have a plan B.Tour facilities and interview care agencies when you are healthy to see which ones you like. Have a stack-ranked list so that when you need help, you have options in case your first choice is unavailable.
Understand who is going to help enact your plan when you can’t. Communicate the details to your family and friends who will be helping. The planning is the easier part; enacting the plans takes even more effort.


  • It’s a great option when you are healthy and mobile.
  • It’s your home, your community, and it’s familiar.
  • You can continue your life as is, without any major changes.


  • Reliance on family and friends: Most people don’t want to be a burden on their families and aging in place requires ongoing assistance. You’ll rely on loved ones to coordinate care, and they’ll be the ones you call on in an emergency. Family members provide 80% of long-term care in America. And when you die, you leave a house full of stuff that someone needs to go through. All of this is a burden. 
  • Social isolation: Living at home can lead to social isolation and loneliness as your world gets smaller. Mental cognition decline and loneliness go hand-in-hand. 
  • Ongoing maintenance: The effort required to live on your own becomes harder as you age. House maintenance goes unattended. Living a healthy lifestyle becomes deprioritized. Cooking for one or two people is tiresome.

Retirement Communities

Retirement communities are designed for seniors looking for a sense of community and a maintenance-free lifestyle. Most of these communities provide a continuum of care, including independent living, assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing care, all on one campus.  

But it’s not just the healthcare services that make retirement communities appealing. They also offer a wide range of social activities, fitness classes, and other programs to keep residents engaged and fulfilled. For many people, these retirement communities can feel like a vacation. Because there’s a critical mass, they can provide more focused resources, such as in-home doctor visits, grief classes, transportation services, etc.

I typically see people evaluating retirement communities in their early 70’s and moving into them in their late 70’s to mid-80’s.  


  • Healthy living: With an abundance of healthy food options, exercise classes, and plenty of opportunities to socialize, residents can maintain an active and fulfilling lifestyle. 
  • Maintenance-free living: No home maintenance, and you’ll never have to cook dinner or change your bed sheets again!
  • Continuum of care: When your health inevitably declines, step-up services such as memory care and skilled nursing are part of the service with easy transitions.


  • Entrance requirements: Retirement communities want healthy people to move in, so they may not be an option for those already in poor health.
  • Moving requirements: You’ll need to sell your home and move to your new home. This can be difficult as it’s uprooting and full of change. You’ll need to make an effort to make your retirement community your new home.
  • Awareness of end of life: Living in a community of older people means a constant march of loss. It’s a final destination, and that’s always hanging over your head.

Ultimately, deciding whether to age in place or move to a retirement community depends on an individual’s needs, preferences, and resources. Both options have their benefits and drawbacks, and it’s important to consider the options carefully and plan in advance.


Scott Stanley is the president of Caring Hands Caregivers, a Non-Medical Home Health Agency, with the goal of providing 24 X 7 companion care for seniors allowing them to live in their homes. For the past 15 years, he found his purpose in serving the senior community, many of whom would otherwise face moving to a nursing home without his services.

Throughout the “The Nuts and Bolts” section of this blog, we will introduce you to the practical needs in retirement. 


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