Forget bingo and shuffleboard.

Retirement living nowadays is active and exciting, from go-kart racing and zip-lining trips, to wine tastings, nutrition seminars and computer clubs.

“A lot of people think retirement living means playing bingo, but that’s not what residents are interested in doing,” says Megan Gresham, director of corporate communication for Maple Knoll Communities. “People want a worry-free lifestyle, with perhaps some extra care, but they still want to have fun.”

Americans are living longer and healthier. Many choose to enter retirement communities at younger ages while they are still mobile and healthy so they can focus on having fun without household and landscaping chores.

Retirement communities are trying appeal to the changing tastes of today’s seniors, and market themselves to the next generation of baby-boomer clients. These generations want bigger apartments, private rehabilitation suites, villas with two-car garages, community rooms with weight rooms and computer labs, and a cruise director’s line-up of trips and amenities.

“We’re a little ahead of the game because we are thinking about what the next group will want,” Gresham says. “They move in here because this allows them free time, without housework and maintenance, to do the things they always wanted to do while they were working.”

Roughly 10,000 baby boomers will retire today, and every day, for the next 16 years. By 2030, when all baby boomers have hit retirement age, fully 18 percent of the nation will be 65 or older, according to the Pew Research Center.

This generation is active, they want bigger spaces and more privacy, and their families are younger and visit often so they want big community spaces and guesthouses. They care about nutrition and exercise, and want to stay intellectually stimulated.

“The baby-boomer generation seems to be more involved in discovering their options before it gets to the point of urgency,” says Christina Wullenweber, business development director for Brookdale Senior Living Solutions in Cincinnati.

Long-Term Care

Long-term care isn’t a topic that most seniors like to discuss. Yet, 70 percent of people turning 65 this year will need some form of long-term care before they die, says Laurie Petrie, communications director for the Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio.

“None of us likes to think about it,” she says. “We are living longer, which is a good thing, but there is a price to pay. We are outliving our health.”

The diseases that killed seniors 15 or 20 years ago are survivable today with medical advances. So seniors are living longer, better lives. In fact, this oldest generation is the first to reach their late 80s and 90s in such widespread numbers, but by that age they are also beginning to diminish physically or mentally, she says.

“Think about people who are older and the help that they need. Then imagine the help that you will need,” Petrie says.

Petrie encourages baby boomers to think about their future now, before a crisis hits. For example, if an aging parent suddenly has a stroke, once they are discharged from the hospital their children are often left scrambling for options.

“If none of this is planned in advance then you are forced to make long-term, critical decisions at a point of stress,” she says.

Lack of planning is also expensive. A sudden episode that requires long-term care can wipe out a person’s retirement savings.

For long-term care, the least costly choice is to remain at home with the help of a home health aide. An assisted living facility—usually an apartment that includes services such as help showering and dressing, housecleaning, laundry and meals—may cost $36,000 to $46,000 a year. Nursing home care, with round-the-clock skilled medical attention, can cost more than $100,000 a year. This is usually for people who are very sick, at the end of life, or need short-term rehabilitation, Petrie says.

“I think people are vaguely aware that it’s expensive,” Petrie says. “But instead of investigating it, they kind of turn their minds from it, because its so difficult to contemplate.”

Planning Early

When should baby boomers start planning for their later years?

“Now. Yesterday,” says Kim Kaser, director of marketing for Llanfair Retirement Community. “Start looking one, two, three years before you need it.”

Retirement communities such as Llanfair offer a wide range of housing options, from Cape Cod homes and apartments to assisted living apartments and long-term care and rehabilitation. They also offer help with daily life, from emptying a kitty litter box to watering plants or distributing medication.

The true uniqueness of a retirement community is in the amenities it offers. At Brookdale, the focus is on aging well and living well.

“The senior population today is more involved in their health. They want programs to enhance the whole self,” Wullenweber says. Their Optimum Life program focuses on six key facets of wellness and is designed to keep residents at peak health.

Llanfair is a Masterpiece Living community, a philosophy developed with the Mayo Clinic to focus on purposeful aging. Residents are regularly assessed and monitored on how they age and programs are designed to challenge them intellectually, physically, spiritually and socially.

Llanfair partners with the University of Cincinnati’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute to offer weekly educational seminars.

Maple Knoll also partners with UC and created a “smart” house on campus where students can test new products to help seniors. Inventions such as telehealth robots and patient simulators are used to detect falls, prevent medication errors and make life easier for an aging population. Residents give the students feedback on their devices.

Maple Knoll’s residents can also spend time with much younger generations. An on-campus Montessori Child Center gives them a chance to volunteer as “grand friends,” with children ages 3 to 6. The children also regularly visit the skilled nursing floor for arts and crafts with residents.