NORCs are becoming more common as our population and communities age.
But what are they?
What do they mean to our senior loved ones in their retirement years?
Or to us as their family caregivers?
Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs) are developing across the US as residents of apartment buildings, complexes and entire subdivisions decide to age in place in the homes in which they’ve lived for years.
Often these are homes in which they’ve raised their families and simply decided to stay as they age rather than move onto “retirement” communities.
Unplanned Senior Communities
We are not talking about communities that are planned for seniors and their needs but, as the name indicates, those communities that simply happen because a number of seniors are living in the same place.
In addition to places where seniors are choosing aging in place in the homes in which they’ve raised their families, NORCs are also common in areas of the community where retired adults have chosen to live near other retirees, either by coincidence or because they’ve chosen homes knowing other seniors are nearby.
New York City is a hotbed for NORCs, particularly its Upper West Side, due to people moving into apartment, condominium, or co-op buildings when younger and simply staying in those homes because they like them and/or to keep the benefit of the legally-stabilized rents.
The New York Times covered this in an article you might find interesting, which you can read here.
What is a NORC?
A NORC is a naturally occurring retirement center where large numbers of people aged 65 and older live. They are usually found in larger urban population centers, such as New York and California, but are growing across the country in cities and suburbs.
What is special about a NORC is that it offers another way for older people to age in place safely. It is a coordinated effort to provide services and support to elders in their communities.
Generally they are funded by government agencies and charitable organizations in the community they serve.
Services for this group of seniors can be efficiently provided by a variety of care giving services that help them with healthcare, access to support services, minor home repair, transportation, meal services, wellness screenings, information, and counseling, as well as ways to be involved in their community.
These seniors live in their homes in senior housing, subsidizing housing complexes, condominiums, multi-unit apartment buildings, assisted living centers, and a street or neighborhood with older single family homes.
NORC’s can enhance aging for the seniors who are served by them engaging them in their community.
Family Caregivers’ Role with NORCs
Many seniors live in planned retirement communities, with services in place to meet the needs of an aging community.
Senior loved ones living in NORCs might feel like they’re living in one of those communities because there are so many retirees, often including friends and family members, around them.
There are key differences, some positive but others that may call for intervention from family caregivers.
- While communities built with the needs of seniors in mind provide appropriate access and facilities, such as ramps, stairway grab bars and slip-free floors, that may not be true in a NORC. Family caregivers may need to advocate on behalf of loved ones, or even take direct action, to make their homes and surrounding common areas friendly to their needs.
- Planned retirement communities typically address the medical care needs of residents, often with physicians offices in the community and transportation to appointments and procedures. While healthcare providers may locate near NORCs, a true case of supply and demand, senior loved ones may need to have transportation coordinated or arranged by family members. This may include contacting community transit, arranging a ride with friends or neighbors, or even doing the driving.
- Shopping is another need addressed in planned senior communities, often with a combination of on-site retailers and transportation to local shopping centers and malls. Onsite retailers, likewise, stock products and package sizes consistent with the needs of seniors. Family caregivers of seniors in NORCs may need to assure transportation is available for shopping trips and look around to find products loved ones require.
- Other services and facilities needed to meet the unique needs of seniors, including those physically able and those with physical and mental challenges, may need family caregivers assistance to be met.
The ready presence of needed facilities and services is part of why New York’s Upper West Side is a hotbed for NORCs. Not only are people comfortable in their homes and/or the cost of those homes, but their needs are being met in communities that have aged with them.
Even there, though, family caregivers shouldn’t assume all needs are being met.
Be Aware of Senior Loved Ones’ Needs
As the New York Times article points out, at times the needs of retirees are being resisted or going unmet in communities that also have younger residents or are facing financial pressures. In many cases it has taken government agencies or concerned community organizations to step in and provide for aging residents.
This is yet another reminder that we shouldn’t assume the needs of senior loved ones are being met, whether they’re living in NORCs, planned retirement communities, long term care facilities or simply in the home and community of their choice.
We need to pay attention to what they say, what they don’t say (which is often more telling) and what is going on around them to be sure we understand their needs and then whether those needs are being met.
But understanding needs and making sure they’re met is what it means to be a family caregiver, right!