They’ve been hailed as the generation that will redefine aging by living longer and better than any generation before them. And the 78 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 are doing just that. But “Boomsday” is here. The Social Security Administration recently recognized the first baby boomer to sign up for retirement benefits.

This is a generation of people looking to age with safety, independence and active lifestyles — and many of them have parents who want the same. Both generations aren’t sure where to begin checking and comparing the local options ranging from “independent living” to “transitional communities” to full nursing care residences. Sometimes the unexpected, from a boomer’s heart attack to grandmother’s broken hip, force people into rushed decisions.

So, whether you’re facing a crisis now or looking 10 to 20 years into the future, the good news is that the housing market has expanded to meet the booming need. Greater Cincinnati choices include custom-built villa homes and condominiums that cater to relaxed lifestyles, integrated independent living communities, condominiums with small yards, apartments with no yards, and well-appointed facilities that offer a range of help from companion-care assistance to full nursing care.

The first step is asking yourself (or your parent) a few questions: Do you need to move to a house that is easier to navigate, or can you stay in your current home and adapt it to your future needs, such as a first-floor bedroom? Do you need someone to come in to help you with anything from homemaking to medications? Should you move to a community that offers the independence and activity you want now, but the option for assistance as your physical and mental conditions change?

Try to act before circumstances force your hand: a serious health setback, the death of a spouse, or financial trouble. “Planning is so important. And it’s a family decision,” says Linda Roden, owner of Retirement Living Solutions in Cincinnati. Roden’s business is built around helping families come to a resolution about what step they want next in life, then helping them navigate the choices locally. “Families are a very close-knit unit in this community. Parents want the best for their children and children want the best for their parents.”

To get the best, experts agree people should start planning early, preferably when they are middle-aged. But don’t go too quickly, advises Rose Denman, vice president of marketing and development for Lifesphere, which operates retirement communities and services for local seniors: “I recommend taking baby steps in this life-changing, decision-making process. The first step is to consider what type of retirement community you are looking for.”

That’s when a call to the Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio might be in order. “There is just an overwhelming maze of resources,”
explains Laurie Petrie, communications director for the Council. “And it is in our nature to not plan for this.” The agency offers a free long-term care consultation to people and their families, where they’ll discuss what you want now and in the future.

“We’re an unbiased, authoritative source for people and families. We will set you on the path to making decisions,” Petrie notes.

One of the biggest misconceptions about seniors is that a move from the place you’ve called home for years, perhaps the place where you raised your family, means you’re headed for a nursing home. “That’s just not true anymore,” Petrie says. “These days, a move is more likely not to be to a nursing home.”

As medical science keeps extending life spans, the number of people with chronic illnesses keeps growing: diabetes, vascular and respiratory conditions, and neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Consider those circumstances in deciding where you want to live as you age. Then analyze these three main factors: location, quality and price. In some retirement communities, for example, services ranging from cable TV to housekeeping may be included in a flat monthly fee, or charged separately.

Talk to a lawyer who specializes in estate planning and elder law, along with a financial planner. They can minimize the stress of making such life-changing decisions, and good advice will save you much more than their professional fees.

Some aging people can stay at home by adapting their environment and, as needed, by making use of various elder services in Greater Cincinnati. Grab bars and other safety features are a start. Stair lifts can let you keep using that second floor bedroom and bath.

As for outside support, Medicare will pay for rehabilitative services and skilled nursing, as long as you’re getting better. A number of area providers offer fee-based services to assist seniors in their homes. Home Instead Senior Care, for example, provides support from short visits up to 24/7 care, including cooking, laundry, light housekeeping, medication monitoring and escorts for shopping, errands and doctor appointments, according to Jim Burton, owner of the Home Instead location in Mason.

If you’ve decided that your home won’t meet your longtime needs, there’s a huge spectrum of retirement living choices — about 400 in the Greater Cincinnati area alone. And there’s always the option of custom building or downsizing into a villa home or condominium that offers community amenities, such as those in Liberty Grand Villas in West Chester or Monte Vista in Green Township.
Other options for seniors include:

• “Active adult communities” offer resort-style living for younger seniors.

• An independent living arrangement can range from homes to cottages to apartments that provide active, older adults with the security and companionship in a community without the hassle of home maintenance.

• Assisted living offers a higher level of services to residents, including personal care and supportive services to seniors who need help with the activities of daily living.

• Skilled care and rehabilitation centers supply high-level care to individuals, including the memory-impaired, who need specialized attention on a regular basis.

• Continuing care retirement communities allow seniors to enjoy an independent lifestyle with the knowledge that if they become sick or frail, their needs will continue to be met without moving to another facility.

Evaluate several choices. “The easiest way to do this is to make an appointment and visit the retirement community,” says Lifesphere’s Denman. “Don’t be afraid to talk to the residents living there or the staff on your visit. Find out if they are happy and what they like about living or working there. At Maple Knoll Village and The Knolls of Oxford, our biggest advocates are our residents.”

Talk to your family. Indeed, understanding family dynamics is half the battle. Adult children often believe their parents need more help than the parents themselves believe is necessary. “Families should talk early and often,” Petrie comments.

Half of the calls Jim Burton gets at Home Instead business are from those concerned adult children. “We focus on discovering the level of care that’s appropriate for providing a really safe environment at home,” he explains.

Some family members try to achieve that level for their parents themselves, but can get overwhelmed as the responsibilities increase, he adds.
“As seniors get older and have more and more needs, what I find is middle-aged adult children trying to make it work, and the senior parent doesn’t realize that the demands they’re making on the children are really making it intense,” Linda Roden observes. “Have a family meeting. Sometimes, just shining the light on the problem is enough.”

She reminds them solutions are at hand. “I tell them that there is an answer for you and your family. There is a finished picture.” ■