Where will you live when you’re 80?
For a lot of retirees, the answer to that question is, “right here!” The idea of moving in with their adult children or going in to an assisted living campus or skilled nursing facility does not appeal to them. They prefer to be on their own, and that preference has created a senior-led phenomenon: NORCs.
What are NORCs?
A Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC) is an area in a city or town that wasn’t specifically planned as housing for seniors, but nevertheless became one. NORCs can pop up when the majority of residents in an area stay in the homes they have lived in for decades, or when retirees move into an area where there are a lot of other retirees.
“There’s a growing desire among seniors to ‘age in place,’” says Beverly Patnaik, a Nashville-based gerontologist with Abe’s Garden Alzheimer’s and Memory Care Center of Excellence, who has studied NORCs. “The key is to find the way to support that desire particularly for people in their 80s and 90s who have outlived family or live far away from them.”
According to population projections from the U.S. Census Bureau, Tennessee will see the number of residents aged 80 and older double between 2020 and 2040, to an estimated 650,000.
At that age, people:
- Tend to be frailer and must cope with failing health
- Often need help with daily activities like shopping, housekeeping, or cooking
- Need transportation to doctor appointments, and
- Will fare better if they stay engaged in social activities.
When that help isn’t available, seniors find they must move in with a family member or go into some sort of senior housing that can meet their needs.
Somebody in their 60s or 70s can see that day approaching. They may have the experience of watching their own parents struggle with a loss of mobility or other physical limitations, and may be caring for parents even as their own health and mobility falters.
Taking control of the future
The Tennessee State Plan on Aging for the next five years notes that the state’s major challenge in improving the lives of seniors is funding and coordinating programs and services. Its survey of Tennessee seniors found that the most pressing needs to improve daily life are:
- Better transportation services (31%), and
- More home- and community-based services (23%).
“Most people want to be independent for as long as they can, and being in your own home, in your own space, is of great comfort,” says Patnaik. “Also, as we get older we are not as confident about the unknown, and tend to like routine. Research shows that when older people move to an unfamiliar place without some transition plan, the stress can adversely affect their physical health.”
Aging in place also has practical financial benefits. A 2010 study found that staying in a nursing home cost a senior approximately 5X as much as getting care at home. Though NORC residents tend to be homeowners with some amount of savings, they do usually live on a fixed income, so affordability is a factor in their housing decisions.
How do you find a NORC?
All of that makes NORCs attractive to both retirees and adult children of aging parents.
So how does somebody create a NORC? Unfortunately, aside from a few areas across the country that have been looking at developing such communities, the key words are “naturally occurring.”
Anyone interested in finding one in Tennessee needs to do some research with local agencies dedicated to aging. A local chapter of the AARP or a municipal commission on aging may be a good resource for finding a NORC that has support services.
If an area starts to lean toward an older resident population but has no support services, those same organizations may be helpful in finding a way to get more services. Ideally the residents would have easy access to a health care clinic, reliable transportation to and from appointments and nearby shopping.
“There has to be a grassroots effort for supporting one or more NORCs,” says Patnaik. “To make them work, it truly takes a village.”
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