Themed retirement finds niche

'And if We All Lived Together?' five aging Baby Boomers facing various late-life problems ask themselves in the 2011 French film 'Et si on vivait tous ensemble?' starring Jane Fonda.

"Why not?" would be the likely answer from most of their peers today. "Don't you dare put me into a retirement home."

Fonda and friends do avoid the care home and move in together, living relatively independent lives whilst looking out for each other. This kind of support network, rather than institutionalized care, is what most elderly people want as they enter their sunset years.

About two thirds of Germans older than 50 want to live independently in their own flat or house, according to a study by German pollsters Emnid. However, there is a lack of suitable, 'barrier-free' homes equipped for their needs.

By 2025, experts estimate that in Germany alone two million more age-appropriate apartments with elevators and emergency links to doctors or hospitals will be required to cater for the predicted 20 percent of households with people older than age 70.

So called 'themed communities' even comprise communities for aging Country & Western musicians, complete with recording studios and venues

Even if the money were available to build or retrofit such homes it might well be cheaper to and more effective to promote care models like assisted community living.

That's why Daniel Bahr, Germany's Minister of Health, recently announced 30 million Euros of support to retrofit bathrooms and elevators to make houses and apartments more age-appropriate. Compared to funding care homes, 100,000 such modified apartments would be up to two billion Euros cheaper, as Walter Rasch, the president of the German Federal association of independent housing and real estate companies, estimated in an article for Die Welt Online in 2011.

Government support is no doubt very welcome, but many elderly people don't want generic, uniform, state-funded models of static living. They want to live on their own terms. The majority of affluent over-50s Americans, for example, are looking forward to a comfortable retirement that includes travelling and various activities, according to a study by Allianz Global Investors on "Strategies of the affluent 50+ Generation in the United States".

For increasing numbers of the 78 million Baby Boomers approaching or already enjoying retirement in the United States, this means settling in 'themed' or 'niche' retirement communities, specifically tailored to their interests or needs.

There are communities for aging Country & Western musicians, complete with recording studios and venues. There are communities for gay and lesbian retirees. There are so-called 'university-based' retirement communities, where residents study academic courses and participate in sports events. There are even communities specializing in therapy with animals for dementia patients.

"You are talking about the generation that created 12 different versions of Coca-Cola", says Andrew Carle, founding director of the program in senior housing administration at George Mason University in Time Magazine. "They are not going to settle for one kind of retirement community."

According to Time, there are already 100 such themed communities "that offer everything from standard housing to continuing care, which provides assisted living or skilled nursing to residents as required."

Not everyone can afford to be so selective, of course. For example, only one in seven British people believe they will have enough money to live comfortably in the UK in retirement, according to a survey by the National Association of Pension Funds (NAPF).

"Only 8.3 million workers actively paid into occupational pension schemes in 2010 – the lowest level since 1956, with those employed in the private sector appearing to be even more inadequately prepared for retirement than their public sector counterparts," found a study of the development of pensions in the UK by the Future Foundation.

While some within the focus group in the study felt confused by understanding and managing private retirement and nursing care planning, the majority said they just couldn't afford it.

Rising living and healthcare costs and falling pension values are a depressing combination, aggravated by the fact that state pension schemes won't be anywhere near sufficient to secure comfortable twilight years.

Consequently, a third of people questioned by the NAPF's researchers said that they would rather retire somewhere cheaper overseas than pay more into a pension so they can afford to grow old in the UK.

No wonder another film from last year was such a hit in the UK. The cash-strapped characters in 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' are enticed to "come and spend your autumn years in an Indian palace" and, like their French counterparts, they get together and go for it. Millions are thinking along the same lines.

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