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Who doesn’t love reading real estate listings? It’s fun to dream, and lists of the “best places to retire” are fodder for the imagination.
However, you shouldn’t rely on such lists when deciding where to retire. Your own best-of list has to take your own life and particular needs into account. That is something no one but you can do.
Moving in retirement requires a different kind of planning. Changes — in finances, health and mobility — can happen quickly after age 60. An idyllic spot in the mountains or by the seashore may become too remote, or your home may become too hard to maintain after you’ve had a heart attack or diabetes or simply slowed down.
Best-of lists often oversimplify the attractions of an area. For example, I live in the Pacific Northwest, in a town recently discovered by retirees from seemingly everywhere. Many find this place through online research. Some even move here pretty much sight-unseen.
While everyone knows that the coastal Northwest is rainy, a quick internet search can make you think you’ve found Shangri-La. In reality, winter days are short, damp and dark, with endlessly overcast skies.
“It’s raining,” a new neighbor complained to me. He seemed surprised. Maybe he’d moved here after reading best-of lists.
Enjoy those lists, but keep digging before you go. These four questions can help you decide if a new place will really work for your retirement, now and in the future:
1. Who will help care for me?
Most older people require help eventually, and many need a lot of assistance. The nonprofit Family Caregiver Alliance says someone who is 65 or older stands a 68 percent chance of eventually becoming cognitively impaired or unable to manage two or more activities of daily living — such as eating, dressing or bathing.
Of course, no one wants to burden children or friends. But, in reality, loved ones usually must step up when elders need care. Just 9 percent of people who get care in their homes use only paid help, the alliance says.
So make things easier for your kids and be realistic when you make a move. Adult children who are holding down jobs and rearing children will be severely burdened if they must travel long distances to help elderly loved ones.
2. Is good medical care nearby?
Living longer usually means living with a chronic disease. About 92 percent of older adults have at least one chronic disease, according to the nonprofit National Council on Aging. And 77 percent of older Americans have two or more.
With age, medical tests become more frequent. So do visits to specialists like oncologists, cardiologists, pulmonologists and orthopedists. Managing a chronic condition well — avoiding hospital stays and emergency room visits — requires easy access to care you trust.
The joys of living in a scenic but remote retirement mecca are diminished if you have to drive hundreds of miles — frequently — for expert care. So again, consider not only what you need today but what you’ll need in the future.