New wrinkles on senior living

Fresh careers, hobbies, residential options await the willing, able

Friday, May 11, 2018, Vol. 42, No. 19
By Hollie Deese

Retirement isn’t what it used to be. And for many people, retirement isn’t even what it was when they started the transition. There are so many variables and options, retirees need to be open to change and ready for surprises, even if their plan is to stay at home forever.

Zif Berry, 80, is 15 years into her retirement as a Texas school administrator, and life has been constantly changing since she stopped working. She and her husband had initially bought a country home outside Austin. They went on Caribbean cruises and bought a motor home. They were members of the Austin Road Riders motorcycle club and attended rallies in the southwest.

But when her husband died in 2011, she had to rethink everything. About a year later her daughter Karen was going through a divorce, so Berry moved to Brentwood five years ago to help. She now lives in a guest room in her daughter’s house, helping with the grandkids while her daughter runs her skin care business.

Zif Berry, 80, lives with her daughter, Karen Griffin and Karen’s children George, 14, and Caroline, 13, and her dog, Louie.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

“I moved here on my 75th birthday, and I drove myself from Texas with a car full of stuff and a dog,” Berry recalls. “And it’s been incredibly near perfect. I’ve just been blessed with incredibly good health, and I have no problems and no issues and no replacement parts or anything.”

She still travels often, volunteers with AARP and enjoys life as much as she can now. And 15 years into retirement she is always open to change.

“No matter what happens or who calls you, if you’re vacuuming, put it down, put your hat on and go,” she says.

Embracing change


“Retirement means different things for different people and it’s not what it used to be,” explains Rebecca Kelly, AARP state director. “People aren’t automatically retiring when they get to a certain age. And retirement is not sitting down and quitting. People are working well past 65 and 70 because they want to stay motivated and stayed involved and stay engaged in their community.”

John Tarnoff, author of “Boomer Reinvention: How to Create Your Dream Career over 50,” explains retirement for older workers is largely out of reach due to low retirement savings, high housing and health care costs and increasing longevity. Even for those who have saved, and have sufficient pension benefits or a huge 401(k), there’s a desire to stay engaged, give back, be useful and leave a legacy.

“As we age, we want more meaning and purpose in our lives, and shuffling off to play golf or go on cruises isn’t cutting it,” Tarnoff points out. “There’s all sorts of transitions that are happening at this age. There’s a quest for greater meaning and purpose, which starts to emerge when you get older and you start thinking, ‘Oh, I don’t have that much time left. I’ve got to hustle and figure out how to leave a mark and really feel good about what I’m doing every day.’”

But it is also a great time for people to reinvent their careers, drawing on the strengths they have accumulated after decades in the field and marketing themselves as specialists in a way that has new meaning. There’s a new set of criteria that begins to emerge as we get into our 50s that Tarnoff says can be integrated into your view of your career.

“It’s time to look forward and really take a much more proactive and, in this economy, much more entrepreneurial attitude,” he adds. “I’m not saying it’s pretty. I think most people who are having to make a career switch in their 50s may wind up making less money. I think that’s something which is partially the result of all the issues around ageism, but I think it’s also where the economy is going.”

Tarnoff is walking the walk here – his own career hit a wall around the time he turned 50. He had spent decades in the entertainment business in Los Angeles, as an executive and producer, then veered into technology in the 90s with a startup that was washed out by 2001, along with everything else.

“I thought, ‘What the hell am I going to do now?’ I’d just turned 50, and I didn’t want to go back to the jobs that I had been doing,” he recalls. “And I didn’t think I could get any of those jobs if I had tried because I had just let all that drop.”

So he went back to school and earned a psychology degree, mainly to learn more about himself and reflect on what was important to him, where he wanted to go, what his values were, and how he wanted to live the rest of his life. Ironically, getting into that degree helped get him back into the entertainment business, and he worked at Dreamworks Animation in leadership development for most of the 2000s.

Now a consultant and author, Tarnoff says people working past retirement age have to come across very clearly with the niched useful value proposition.

“That’s a reset for a lot of people,” he explains. “But as life provides more wisdom and experience, and you’ve navigated these important life stages of relationships and parenthood in many cases, plus just the day-to-day of dealing with finances and logistics and accidents and things that happen, you’ve built up a sense of life experience and value that far exceeds the role that you do in your job.”

Flexible, active communities

Retirement hasn’t looked anything like what Jane Andrews thought it would, either.

Jane Andrews holds a 3-pound peacock bass she caught during her time in Panama.

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Andrews, 68, just moved into a 55+ community in Belle Meade at the beginning of May, but she has only recently returned to Nashville after selling everything she owned and moving to the Republic of Panama when she first retired.

Andrews had been the CEO of Nashville Rehabilitation Hospital for nearly 10 years, and after that was the executive director of CASA for another 10 years. She fully retired March 31, 2015 after reconnecting with a long lost love the year before, a man she had lost touch with in 1980, after dating for a few years in the late 70s.

She had never even considered she would leave Nashville to retire, until she got a LinkedIn message from the man she had not spoken to since 1980. The spark was there and she began to completely rethink what life after work would look like. And for the first time ever Tennessee seemed negotiable.

“It took something like that fairy tale story to get me out of Nashville,” Andrews adds.

Andrews sold or gave away all of her belongings and paid off the little bit of debt that she had, except the mortgage on her condo. She then signed up for Social Security at age 65, rented out her condo – covering her mortgage and clearing $300 more a month – and moved to Panama.

Once there, her partner paid most of the day-to-day expenses. Her days consisted of fishing and enjoying the life and love that surprised her later in life. But on December 8, 2017, her boyfriend unexpectedly died, leaving Andrews alone. She decided to return to Nashville, to her base of friends and family, and moved into the older, active community.

Andrews sold her condo last May while still in Panama, not knowing she would be moving back to Music City, but she isn’t sorry because the new lifestyle is so much easier. There is a single-car garage, and everything is all on one level. No neighborhood children reduces the noise level.

Rendering of Avenida in Cool Springs

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“It’s serene, and if I want to participate in activities they are right here, like yoga and a book club,” she says. “And they’ve got walking trails, so it’s convenient and easy living.”

Robin Craig is senior vice president of sales and marketing for Avenida Partners, a 55+, multi-family lifestyle community being built in Cool Springs. Avenida has been around since 1991, first in Oklahoma. The Cool Springs location is their first foray into Tennessee.

Flexibility is what a 55-and-up community like Avenida offers, Craig explains. There is no full meal program, so residents go out to dinner or cook in their own kitchen.

Rental rates range from $1,880 a month for one-bedroom apartments to $2,280 for a two-bedroom.

“The couples that are coming in, they want to be around people their own age. They don’t want to have little kids crying by the pool or teenagers having parties at night,” Craig says. “They want to be around people like themselves that they can walk out their door and go down to the bistro and chat, or play cards, or whatever they want to do, and come and go as they please.

“When they move in, they are still going to have all the freedom they would if they were living in a regular apartment building,” Craig adds. “They are not restricted to do anything. They can participate in everything or not and that is their choice.”

Craig says the hardest aspect for people moving from a traditional home to an active community is downsizing, getting rid of all the things they have accumulated over the years. But once they decide to take that burden of making that decision off their children, they have the opportunity to enjoy this period in their lives.

“I think the hardest thing is for people to let go of what their life was and move into something that really gives themselves permission to have a good time,” Craig says. “It give themselves permission to not worry about the house and having the kids over all the time.”

The communities are age restricted, so one of the people that lives in the home has to be over 55. Craig notes early 70s is the average age in these communities. Family is very important to seniors, so while kids don’t typically live there, they can visit, and there are plenty of family activities for all to participate in.

“I think it is really about changing the mindset about aging to be a really wonderful time of life,” Craig continues. “And that is what this kind of community does, it supports this time of your life as being one of the best times of your life.”

And being involved can possibly help improve health and wellness.

“We’re seeing that more and more that people can remain healthier if they can be independent and involved in a community,” AARP’s Kelly says. “If we can build opportunities and infrastructure for them to remain active, as long as they possibly can, then they’re going to be better off. It literally saves healthcare costs, and people are less dependent on government-funded programs and their quality of life is just much better.”

At some point people might not be able to live independently anymore, and when it gets to the time where more care is needed than even in-home care can manage, Craig says Avenida will help with that transition.

“But not everyone ends up in assisted living or memory care,” Kelly says. “It just depends on the individual person.”

The Aging Wave

Still, many people just want to age in place in their own home right from the beginning, and that can come with some specific challenges and expenses.

Patch, co-founded by Rachel Soper Sanders, is headquartered in Nashville but also serves New York, Boston and Denver. It is a new physical therapy delivery model that uses technology to provide better access to high-quality care, specifically physical therapy, by allowing users to book physical therapy appointments at their home with top, vetted physical therapists all via a phone or computer.

Patch provides a simple and convenient option to get needed care, but unlike home health care, all visits are 60 minutes, highly-tailored and can be booked on-demand at the exact time and location you are looking for. Like Uber for physical therapy.

“I was injured in a car accident about five and a-half years ago here in Nashville and suffered severe whiplash,” Sanders recounts. “I struggled to really find options for care that were both convenient and high quality. I was an investment banker at the time, so I had a very busy lifestyle.”

Her co-founder has a similar story. A doctor of rehabilitation medicine in New York, he was injured while treating a patient about seven years ago and similarly struggled to find care. He did some research and realized about 130 million, or 50 percent of the adult population, suffers from some sort of pain or injury – specifically the older population.

Patch has been operating for about nine months now, and Sanders says they are out of network with insurance, so clients pay out of pocket or using their HSA or FSA card, and then if they want to file an out of network claim, they can do that. Therapy sessions start around $125 per visit.

“Our mission is to build out a technology platform that basically eliminates the barriers to get access to pain and injury care,” Sanders adds. “For us that means starting with physical therapy, but there are also services like chiropractic care or acupuncture or even cognitive behavioral therapy, which is an important part of pain management. More than the injury specifically. We definitely envision having a suite of services and also expanding into virtual visits.”

Home Instead Senior Care is the world’s largest provider of home care for seniors with more than 1,000 franchises and 65,000 professional caregivers all over the world. Emily Harlan, regional marketing specialist with Home Instead, says caregivers can provide care anywhere a senior calls home.

Home health care has grown in recent years thanks to something Harlan calls the Aging Wave, which means that there are more people living longer that need more help, and the challenge as a nation is going to be finding the caregivers to provide those services. The non-medical care they provide includes bathing assistance, toileting and incontinence care, mobility assistance for all levels, housekeeping and transportation.

“It used to be that home care would be kind of a stop-gap before you went into a facility,” Harlan recalls. “It no longer has to be that way because we are a non-medical agency that helps you stay in your home until you pass away. We do very serious hands-on care. We do end-of-life services. We provide Alzheimer’s and dementia care. We have special training on Parkinson’s and COPD. So that very personal, very serious, hands-on care are things that we do every day for our clients.”

Both Patch and Home Instead address an issue many families don’t think about until they face it, and that is children having to do intimate tasks for their parents. While the children often don’t mind, the parents do not want to have to put their kids in that position.

Harlan’s mother took care of her own dad for a few months at the end of his life. But she later told Harlan after he passed away, her father never wanted her to perform those tasks for him. And because of that, she wished that she hadn’t given him that intimate kind of care.

“She, of course, wanted to give back to him, the man who raised her, but being the daughter, he was a little bit embarrassed by that,” Harlan recalls. “Having a neutral third party, a professional in the home, can often alleviate that barrier to receiving care from a family member.”

Affording it all

Jean Chatzky, personal finance expert and host of the HerMoney podcast, says people typically need about 80-85 percent of their pre-retirement income in retirement. So if you can calculate how much of it is covered by Social Security, then you can figure out what the gap is and how much you need to save or invest in order to get there.

“But there’s also a much more individual way to look at it, which is what happens to your cost of living once you retire,” she adds. “When is the mortgage paid off, what costs will you no longer have to incur, and what costs are voluntary? Come up with an estimate and factor in the idea that maybe this is a time in your life when you truly do want to downshift.”

For instance, some people know they want to travel more when they retire. They need to factor those costs into the equation.

“It’s really a matter of thinking about what life is going to look like in retirement, including the question of whether you’ll have an income,” Chatzky adds. “A lot of people are working part-time. So what is life going to look like, and once you understand that, then you can start to project what it’s going to cost and how you’re going to afford it.”

“That said, a lot of people don’t go into retirement knowing the answers to those questions, and they feel their way through.’’

Aging by the numbers

There is a nationwide nursing and caregiver shortage that is getting worse with 80 million people ages 65 and older.

The number of people needing help with activities of daily living is expected to rise from 12 million today to 27 million in 2050.

As many as 96 percent of seniors want to remain in their own home as they age.

The estimated annual cost of nursing home care is $91K. About half that, or $45K, is for a home-health aide.

There are an estimated 40.4 million unpaid family caregivers.

The average monthly cost of assisted living in the U.S. is roughly $3,600 a month or about $43,500.

As many as of 75 percent of all caregivers are women.

The average caregiver is a married woman, age 46, working outside the home for $35,000 annually.

Female caregivers might spend as much as 50 percent more time providing care than men.

75 percent of people will require some type of long-term care.

44 percent of Baby Boomers plan to move into smaller homes after retiring.

Sources: Caregivers by WholeCare,, Institute on Aging

If you can afford to wait until 70 to pull in Social Security, do it, because the annual bump that you get in monthly earnings from Social Security is about 8 percent from age 62 to age 70, and that’s a really difficult guaranteed return to replicate otherwise, according to Chatzky.

Still, Chatzky notes people are definitely trying to work longer and trying to keep income flowing into retirement these days, but the vast majority of people in this country still take Social Security at 62.

Andrews turned 65 just a month after retirement and began drawing Social Security after analyzing the benefits against waiting to draw it at age 70. “It would have taken me a lot of years to recoup what I wasn’t drawing during that five years,” she acknowledges. “And so, it wasn’t worth waiting. Life is not guaranteed. You might as well go ahead and get that money now.”

Berry, a former teacher, also began drawing Social Security at age 65. She had worked hard on her retirement plans with her husband over the many years they were married, and they each had a systematic means of having money deducted from their checks that went into retirement savings.

She now receives teacher retirement, which she says is quite good, and has medical insurance through the teacher retirement system in Texas. When her husband passed away so did his Social Security, but she still had the savings and trust they had set up together.

In fact, Berry sometimes can’t believe that what she planned for in her 30s has turned out to be exactly what she needs in her 80s.

“It’s too bad that some people don’t do that, because today so many people work for themselves, and it takes so much to run the business that they don’t think about putting something away every month religiously,” she says. “Because when you wake up one day, you too will be 65.”

For people getting a late start towards retirement saving, there are ways to ramp it up, but skipping your daily Starbucks run isn’t going to cut it.

“You’ve got to look at more radical shifts in your lifestyle and your spending, and it can make a lot of sense to try to downsize sooner rather than later,” Chatzky points out. “Basically, look at some way to significantly reduce your cost of living so that you can supersize your savings.”

That can mean selling a home, selling personal belongings and finding some way to make automatic contributions into some sort of account – IRA, savings or 401K.

“It’s so important that it happens with regularity and that you set up a system where you don’t have to make a good decision to do it every single time you get paid,” Chatzky says. Because the biggest unknown – a health event – can change everything.

Spending patterns over life tend to peak in our late 40s, early 50s, which, from a life cycle perspective, is typically when kids are in college, and you’re still paying the mortgage, Chatsky continues. From there, spending tapers off a little bit and continues to taper off. As you head into retirement, health care costs kick in as you age, and then expenses go way back up again.

“The reality is that a health event, whether it hits you when you’re young or when you’re old, can radically shake up your financial life,” she says. “There’s a reason that health events are the biggest source of bankruptcies every single year in America. That’s the big unpredictable factor. We know that long-term care are the kinds of things that we should all be saving more for and planning for and a lot of us just haven’t done it.”

Still, Berry says there is no sense worrying about what might happen and takes every opportunity as it comes, short of extreme sports.

“I’ve had the greatest life,” Berry says. “There probably not anything I could look back on and say, ‘I should have done that.’ I don’t jump out of airplanes or anything, but other than that, I try to do most anything that sounds interesting.”