These days retirement homes aren’t made for people to slow down — they’re designed to increase activity while supporting the needs of older Americans.

Several trends are occurring in retirement communities. Perspective residents are looking for more amenities, good service, options for every budget, and most of all, a place that feels like home.

An Array of Amenities

Retirement homes are much more than just places to eat and sleep. When looking for a retirement community, it is crucial to establish what amenities are the most important.

“Some really big changes have taken place. There has been a growing interest in wellness facilities. Ten to 15 years ago you would not have seen these kinds of options,” says Doug Spitler, president and CEO of Episcopal Retirement Homes.

Spitler knows that prospective residents are demanding more options in their living arrangements. They want more dining options, as well as technology and programs. ERH residents participate in computer classes and even Wii bowling leagues. Learning new digital skills is not only a great way to have fun, but it also keeps mental abilities sharp. ERH has also increased the amount of speakers and educational programs to allow for ongoing learning opportunities.

“What we’re seeing is a more sophisticated consumer. People are thinking more carefully than they have before. They really want amenities to keep them active,” says Kim Majick, vice president of marketing at Carespring Health Care Management.

Majick says Carespring works to keep residents healthy in body, mind and spirit. They offer a spa, massage therapy, a movie theater, private dining room (available for events with guests) and a fitness center. A few years ago, these options weren’t widely available in retirement homes.

Rose Denman, vice president of marketing and development for Maple Knoll Communities, knows exactly what residents want. Maple Knoll does market research on people who are close to retirement age to see what kind of lifestyle they desire. They have found that people want the option to customize their space and have amenities like stainless steel appliances, high ceilings, storage space and landscaping.

“Many people have been in their houses for 40-plus years, where they have made a lot of memories,” Denman says. “They want to keep making memories, and in order to do that they need entertainment space.”

And that’s exactly what Maple Knoll’s residents get: spacious cottages and apartments, a club room with billiards and TVs, wellness and fitness rooms and lush gardens. The many gardens include water features and sculptures, wheelchair accessibility and areas where residents can tend to their own plants.

“There are so many opportunities for social interaction and learning here. You could do things 24 hours a day if you wanted to,” says Jill Hreben, president and CEO of Otterbein Homes. Residents at Otterbein go to local festivals, libraries, performing arts and volunteer events. The community also has lectures, woodshop classes, fitness options, Tai Chi and spiritual activities.

“The activities are driven by a set of resident committees,” Hreben says. “They know better than anyone what they want to do and how to spend their time.”

Service Options

For seniors still living at home, chores like lawn mowing, grocery shopping and bill paying can become quite a burden.

“As you get older, you might give up driving, or your friends might move away. All things that are chores can be taken care of [in retirement communities]. It enables you to enjoy life and not worry about chores,” says Laura Lamb, vice president of residential housing and health care at ERH.

Lamb adds that a useful service to provide is allowing residents to stay in their new homes even when their health situations change.

“This industry used to have a list of levels of care, but it’s not so much like that anymore,” she explains. “Consumers wanted to live where they wanted to live, and not have to move whenever they no longer fit the criteria.”

In order to make this work, ERH first meets with potential residents and their families to do a series of assessments on mental and physical abilities. They present the different living options and let people decide which home is best for them. Once in their new homes, they are not required to move upon a changing health status.

“Consumers are saying, ‘If I can live [in a retirement home] on Madison Road and have services brought to me, why do I need to move?’ You don’t have to. It’s becoming a trend for retirement homes to bring services to them, no matter what the health situation,” Lamb says.

Carespring and many other communities even offer furnished rooms that potential members can stay in for a few nights, just to try it out. Majick says this high level of service is not a bonus — it is now expected in retirement communities.

Money Matters

In today’s economy, prospective residents aren’t demanding extra size and space, but they are expecting their retirement communities to work with their budgets.

“With the downturn in the economy, seniors have had a wakeup call in terms of what’s realistic,” Spitler says. “Their financial positions have been impacted, so many are choosing smaller apartments. People who might have wanted three or four rooms before are now wanting one or two.”

A common misconception about retirement communities is that they are not affordable, but don’t assume anything before a visit and consultation with the staff of a potential residence, Hreben says. Chances are, they will be able to find an appropriate housing option and payment plan to fit many budgets.

Majick notes that staying in a regular house is often more expensive than seniors realize. The bills, extra space and home services can drain a good deal of money, and most houses are not suited to seniors’ health needs. If a person suffers an injury, resulting bills can create more expenses. In a retirement community, homes are designed to prevent injury. If one should occur, help is just a push of a button away.

No Place LIKE Home

No matter how many fitness rooms, gardens or dining options are offered, above all, a retirement community needs to feel like home.

“We hear people say so often, ‘I wish I would have moved here sooner.’ They make a lot of friendships,” Denman says of Maple Knoll residents.

At Otterbein, residences are physically set up to encourage new relationships. All the units are organized around cul-de-sacs. “It becomes a microcosm of the whole community. It helps them form friendships with their neighbors,” Hreben says.

Lamb mentions that while amenities are important, they are not nearly as crucial as feeling comfortable in a new location. Today, seniors are really shopping around for a community that feels right.

“Their questions are different than they were before. They want to give input, have social activities and get involved,” Lamb says. “We try to respond to that at the beginning by letting them come in, have a meal with current residents, and let them meet people with similar interests.”

Spitler recognizes that many seniors don’t want to have to move out of their current homes. However, he says this situation tends to make them more isolated. On the other hand, retirement communities can provide friendships, activities and engagement that they might otherwise miss.

Before deciding on a community, shopping around and discovering all options is key. With the right planning, it is within reach to find an affordable location with all the right amenities, services and social life.

Retirement Options

Don’t feel pressured to make a decision right away on where you or your loved ones should live.

The range of choices and rapidly expanding offerings can be very complicated, with various rules for certification, licensing, capacity and types of available care. Because of this, old descriptions have become outdated. So, the Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio updated its definitions for senior living. Its list includes:

Continuing Care Retirement Communities: Designed for lifelong living options, these communities include housing for independent living, assisted living and nursing home care. Residents live in different housing on campus as their needs change. CCRCs are typically more expensive than other living options, but offer a contract that promises to provide shelter and care for a prescribed period of time, usually the life of the resident. Facilities on CCRC campuses that offer personal or skilled care are licensed.

Assisted Living Facilities: Residents typically have their own private units with a bedroom, bath and kitchenette, so they’re able to maintain their privacy and independence but still receive help for daily living such as housekeeping, dressing and bathing. Amenities vary, and some assisted living facilities may be part of a larger Continuing Care Retirement Community.

Congregate Housing: These senior housing developments include private apartments and common areas for socialization, but few or no supportive services. Some units or facilities may be subsidized.

Nursing Home: This is a licensed facility that provides 24-hour care for patients who require constant supervision.

Residential Care Facility: (formerly known as a Rest Home): Licensed by the Ohio Department of Health, this facility is able to house up to 17 unrelated adults.

Retirement Communities: These communities are typically large, self-contained campuses with a variety of living options that don’t include personal or skilled nursing care (unlike continuing care retirement communities). They’re often the choice of retired, active, older adults who want to live independently in a community with their peers, own or lease a home, and not worry about lawn or property maintenance. These communities are not licensed or accredited (unless personal or skilled care is offered).

Senior Apartments: Designated for seniors only, these apartments might be equipped with assistive technology. Subsidized or low-income units also might be available.

Subsidized Housing: The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development gives funds to apartment owners who lower the rents they charge low-income tenants who meet income limits and pay rent based on their gross monthly income.