There are a couple of undeniably awkward times in a person's life. There are the notoriously terrible teen years, when you're not the cute kid you once were but you're also not the handsome young adult you will become. Then there are the post-middle-age years, when you're not the exasperated but loving parent you once were but you're not yet the adorably wrinkled oldster you will become.
For now, you're just old. You've got a house full of stuff no one -- including the kids who insisted you buy it in the first place -- wants. If you have to mow that huge lawn that seemed like such a good idea 20 years ago one more time, you're going to stab the next passer-by with the pruning shears. And why is every restaurant filled with screaming children so you can't hear yourself think, let alone the complaining of your dinner companion?
You're too young, fit and fantastic for assisted living or a nursing home, but you want a little security mixed in with being social. There is a solution: senior apartments. Where the grown-ups go to party. (Is that a slogan for any senior communities yet? If not, it should be. Maybe we could work out a little deal?)
Kick Out the Kids
Remember that other awkward age, when you were a teenager dying to get out from under the yoke, the shadow, the roof or the gaze of your parents? When all you wanted was to be left alone with 15 or 20 of your closest friends and a case of beer some guy's older brother brought to the lake? This new awkward age is the same thing, but backwards: Now you want to get away from the kids.
Many senior apartment complexes and condos have age restrictions for residents. The bottom of that floor is usually 55 or 62, which in the 21st century means just broken-in, rather than broken-down. What it means is that the complex grounds are usually quieter, the facilities are more accessible, and the neighbors won't ask if you're suffering from some kind of medical condition when you bust out your best Mick Jagger impression.
Putting the Social in Social Security
Most senior apartment complexes will have well-stocked social calendars. Many of the activities will take place right on the premises, probably at the rec center near the center of the complex. No need to drive, so you have the freedom to get cray-zay. This is a great way to stay connected and build a new pool of friends, especially when you first move into the complex. Did I mention pool? You're going to want to buy yourself a super cute swim dress or a flashy pair of swim trunks for water aerobics days. Hawt!
Some communities go so far as to arrange for trips and transportation out of the complex. This could be as simple as a weekly trip to a shopping center or as extravagant as a day trip to a casino. No matter where you go or what time of day it may be, think of it as a party bus. Your harried children ferrying the grandkids around in the minivan will envy you like never before.
Pinch Those Pennies 'til They Bleed
At some point in their selfish little lives, your kids wanted something expensive. A horse. A pair of sneakers. A new car. A college education. You, being a sane parent, said something like, "Fine. Earn the money and we'll talk." Or, still being a sane parent, you said, "A horse? Are you nuts?" In either case, your kids probably burst into tears and called you a cheapskate. This is your chance to indulge in those penny-pinching ways without anyone blinking an eye.
If you're on a fixed income (and really, who isn't?), there are low- or limited-income apartments out there that will allow you to live comfortably and still treat yourself to the occasional decaf latte. The trick is this: There are more people wanting or requiring a rent-controlled senior apartment than there are rent-controlled senior apartments available. As Americans live longer and longer, there are more of us stretching those dollars farther and farther.
Again, you're going to have to think like a teenager trying to get into college. Do your research and apply for one of those coveted apartment slots as far in advance as you can. No entrance essay required -- usually.
Freedom from Chores
Here is where you really get to live the dream. In a seniors-only condo or apartment, all those years of mowing, weeding, gardening, watering, pruning and picking are lifted from your weary shoulders. Sure, you can put a little African Violet on the shelf or a few select herbs in small pots in the kitchen window, but only if you want to.
When the kids come to visit, tell them what a relief it is to not have to climb stairs, or how mowing was really starting to aggravate your hip replacement or that the sun doesn't agree with you. Whatever you need to say is fine. But after decades of responsibility, what you really need is a break. And a pool boy.
Get By with a Little Help from Your Friends
Here's the thing. It's not just the gardening, you know. The stairs in the house were getting a little hard to maneuver several times a day. And that hip replacement helps, but what if you fall and no one else is around? You don't want to end up like the people in that horrid old commercial: "I've fallen and I can't get up!" And you're not dead yet; what if you want to travel a bit now that you can? Who will watch the house?
Living in a senior apartment complex can set your mind at ease for all these situations. Some places offer something like assisted living light, where staff is sent around to help with inside chores that are tricky or downright dangerous for you to do yourself. They can also coordinate vans for trips to the grocery store or carpools for trips to the medical center, if a few residents are headed the same way.
If you do travel, whether it's across the state to visit family or across the world to check an item off the bucket list, your neighbors will likely have your back. They'll notice if anyone strange is wandering the halls or knocking on your door. Besides, apartments have safety precautions that your own home probably never had like well-lit corridors, parking areas and 24-hour on-site staff.
You'll deal with a lot of different people when buying or selling a home, including an appraiser. Learn how to get the best appraisal.
Author's Note: 5 Tips for Senior Apartment Living
It seems that aging in place, as staying in your home as long as possible is called, is gaining traction in the United States; but after doing the research for this article, living in a senior apartment seems like a great idea. I know that in my own family, there aren't a lot of senior apartment choices, so they've had to age in place by necessity. It seems that having planned social activities that don't require much driving -- and a van or shuttle service for activities that do require driving -- would be ideal. And having neighbors nearby in case of a mishap is priceless.
Maybe I can point some of my older relatives to this article and convince them to move from the small town they're in now to a senior community closer to me...
- HelpGuide.org. "Senior Housing Options: Making the Best Senior Living Choice." (July 24, 2012) http://www.helpguide.org/elder/senior_housing_residential_care_types.htm
- Senior Resource. "Seniors Only Apartments." SeniorResource.com. (July 24, 2012) http://www.seniorresource.com/hsoa.htm