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The perfect fit

07 December 2016

Moving into a retirement community is a decision that demands a great deal of careful consideration.

There are plenty of reasons to think about downsizing. Perhaps your children have flown the nest, you’re approaching retirement, or your spouse has recently died. But whatever the motivation, it can still be difficult to leave somewhere that’s been your home for many years.

Fortunately, the choice of purpose-built accommodation for retirees is expanding and becoming more flexible as well as more appealing, helping residents to live independent and fulfilling lives for as long as possible.

In recent years, there has been a surge in the numbers of retirement villages under construction in the UK, many of which provide luxury accommodation to people over the age 55 who are looking to downsize without compromising their standard of living.

“What we hear most commonly from our clients, once they have settled into their new home, is that they wish they’d made the move sooner,” says Craig Percy, Chief Operating Officer of LifeCare Residences, a founding member of the Associated Retirement Community Operators (ARCO). “The upheaval of leaving a family home full of a lifetime of memories is a process best undertaken while the mind and body are in a fit enough state to make the transition as smooth as possible.”

Multiple choice

When selecting a retirement community, people understandably tend to gravitate to an area in which they already have an established network of friends and family. But the venue should also resonate with the individual’s vision of an ideal retirement – whether that is a newly-built development, designed with luxurious retirement in mind, or a distinctive period property run under a traditional ethos.

Percy believes there may be no better way to gauge the character of a retirement community than by talking to the residents. “They can be the best ambassadors but, equally, the most honest critics,” he says.

Other factors, like the presence of active social and residents’ committees, or the provision of a communal space designed to foster integration, are also very important to consider before making a move.

“Residents are often drawn by the opportunity to live amongst like-minded people in a thriving community, which is why a varied programme of social opportunities and activities is a fundamental part of any retirement neighbourhood,” says Percy.

It’s also worth considering whether a retirement community has care facilities – even if care is not required at outset – so as to avoid a further move when it might be much more difficult.

“Whether care is needed for a short recuperative stay or for an extended period, having facilities available within your retirement community means there will be far less disruption during what is likely to be a difficult time for you and your family,” says Percy.

It is also important to distinguish the level and nature of the care packages available, as these can vary widely. You may, or may not, be able to benefit from personalised assistance with everyday living, or domiciliary care from a registered nurse, administered in your apartment; short-term convalescence and postoperative care in an adjoining facility may be included, or long-term nursing and palliative care.

“You should meet with key staff to ensure you have confidence in their knowledge, experience and qualifications – and that you like them,” says Percy.

But perhaps most importantly, being fully aware of costs and affordability is essential. “A transparent financial structure is paramount – buyers have the right to understand exactly what they are paying for, the outgoings, and any additional costs involved, including any event fees.”

Downsizing can make sense, both in terms of improving your quality of life and freeing up capital, but it’s only one of the options available to help finance later-life care. Speaking to a financial adviser can help you explore the options that are best suited to your individual circumstances.

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