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Niche Senior Living Redefines Retirement

As 78 million Baby Boomers age their way into retirement, the increasing understanding is that these retirees are not looking for an ”old folks home,” offering a rocking chair and a quiet porch.

Unlike the usual cliché of older people in retirement, Baby Boomers remain active and engaged in life. They want socialization, stimulation – even partying. Moreover, not only do they need quality senior planning with access to information about Medicare and Medicaid eligibility, they also need viable senior housing options for retirement.

Senior housing developers are responding to the trend with properties that cater to their varied interests, which can include anything from sports to creative expression to lifelong learning.

These communities, called “niche senior living”, are not the average retirement communities and serve as a place for mom to grow old in happiness. They feature theaters, art galleries, dance studios, classrooms and even recording studios. There is housing that caters to the LGBT community, retired postal workers, lovers of classic cars, and even college alumni (giving new meaning to the term “senior on campus”).

The old, out-of-date understanding of senior living retirement homes is that they’re a fate worse than death, forced upon seniors by their children; the seniors are warehoused there along with other tenants who they would rather not spend time with. Now, with niche living, seniors are eagerly opting for specialized senior living communities offering programs that interest them; they want to be part of the action and continue to be involved in a purposeful life.

In fact, similar preferences actually exist among the old and the young. What seniors share with Millennials: a desire for more communal living.

Like younger people, seniors are opting for community (including common spaces both inside and outside) as opposed to personal space and isolation. Smaller apartments – with lots of natural light and access to nature — are preferred to larger ones. More quality time is spent in common areas, with other residents. These spaces can include cyber cafes, wellness centers, coffee bistros, hip lounges (serving alcohol) and a variety of dining options so that residents don’t feel like they are always eating in the same room.

Millennials are also paving the way for seniors when it comes to retail: out of style are the boring, cookie-cutter suburban malls of recent past – and the stale idea that senior living properties need to be built near shopping malls. Instead, seniors are opting for smaller specialty and artisan shops, mixed-use developments, and a more urban, live-work-play-styled landscape. Transit-oriented, walkable environments also allow seniors to get around more easily.

Of course, a compromise may have to be considered, due to factors like high costs, and the type of senior living communities available nearby. It’s important to research the property in advance, and have an attorney review all of the paperwork and contracts before making a decision.

The bottom line: seniors today are defining themselves not by age, but by interest. And where they live is all about living, not dying.

Niche housing is growing in popularity. These communities include: Chiefland Astronomy Village (Chiefland, FL), which features 15 astronomical observatories; Spruce Creek Fly-In (Daytona Beach, FL), providing runways and hangars for aviators; Rocinante (Summertown, TN), featuring 100 acres for “aging hippies,” where tenants often build their own cabins; Kendal (near Oberlin College in OH and offering many connections to the school), featuring concerts, recitals, and a chance to audit university classes at no cost; and The Ridge at Chukker Creek (Aiken, SC) catering to equestrians and providing miles of horse trails.