Some older adults are skipping a sun-drenched post-work life and moving instead to the next step: choosing to live near children and grandchildren.
After touring several retirement communities, Marta Genoni winnowed the field to two appealing possibilities not far from the home she shared with her husband, Kenneth, a lawyer, in Westfield, N.J. But unable to make a final decision she asked her elder daughter, a college administrator in Richmond, Va., to come north and weigh in.
Her daughter did as requested, only to suggest that her parents consider another option altogether: a senior living community in Richmond.
“I asked her, ‘Why on earth would I do that?’” recalled Mrs. Genoni, now 79. “‘My life is in New Jersey. My family and friends are here. I have my subscription to the New York City Ballet and the New York Philharmonic.’”
Her daughter assured her that there was plenty of culture in Richmond, and plenty of nice people, too. “And then she told us, ‘Sooner or later one or both of you are going to need an advocate,’” Mrs. Genoni recalled. “‘Why would you make me worry about you from a distance when you could be living near me?’”
“And,” she continued, “that’s when I said to my husband, ‘Darned if she doesn’t make sense.’ ”
The couple visited Richmond over Thanksgiving weekend in 2016, gave it the once-over, loved what they saw, and early the next year settled at Cedarfield, a continuing care retirement community in the city’s West End.
In March of 2020, when Mr. Genoni died suddenly, “my daughter was here in five minutes to take care of everything and helped edge me into widowhood,” Mrs. Genoni said.
For many older adults, retirement means a move from where they’d had a career and raised a family to a place with pleasant weather and amenities keyed to their new stage of life. Then, “In the experience or anticipation of decline,” there is a second move, this time “to a location that would be good for continued care,” said Douglas A. Wolf, emeritus professor of public administration and international affairs at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.
But Professor Wolf now sees an emerging trend where some people are skipping the stint in the Sun Belt and moving directly to a retirement community, one chosen in large part for its proximity to their adult offspring.
As a purely practical matter, older adults in good health are better positioned to pack up and relocate than their adult children who are tied down by their careers — and by the school schedule and extracurricular activities of their own children.
Of course, many of these retirees are envisioning a time that they’re going to need their children to take them to doctors’ appointments and help them fill out puzzling forms. Until then, they’re celebrating holidays together with ease — no frequent flier miles involved — now that they’re all living in the same ZIP code (or close to it).
Cedarfield opened in 1996, and until five or 10 years ago, drew exclusively from the Richmond area. “All the residents had a connection,” said Amy Chapman, the community’s executive director. “They went to the same colleges and belonged to the same country clubs.
“But,” she continued, “post-Covid, we’ve seen an uptick in the number of people who are moving to be closer to their kids.” About 13 percent of the people on Cedarfield’s waiting list are from outside the state, and “most if not all of them” are moving to be near their children, Ms. Chapman said.
“The pandemic changed the way we think about everything,” she said. “Not being able to travel and see loved ones — I think that has made people want to move to be closer to family. But seniors don’t want their children to be their primary caregivers. They don’t necessarily want them to have that responsibility so they’re moving to retirement communities. They see that as a gift to their children.”
Several years ago, Eric Thompson, now 82, a retired social worker and his wife, Joan Thompson, now 77, a retired second grade teacher, had begun taking due note of the fact that they weren’t as young as they once were. Accordingly, they began checking out continuing care communities near their home in Baltimore.
But when, in 2017, they went to Richmond, Vt., to visit the elder of their two sons, Matt, he encouraged them to look at Wake Robin, a senior living community near Lake Champlain in nearby Shelburne.
The couple liked what they saw and signed on. In June of 2022, they moved into a one-bedroom apartment there.
“It seems that this is where we should land,” said Ms. Thompson, whose younger son, Josh, had moved to Shelburne from Burlington, Vt., in 2021. “Our whole immediate family is around here. Just the ability to gather for birthdays and other celebrations — we weren’t able to do that very much when we were living in Baltimore, and our sons were here.
When we were younger, we watched friends deal with parents who were far away, and we saw how difficult it was.”
That concern was what motivated Mary Boundy, 83, a widow, to move in 2022 to the Watermark, a senior living community in Brooklyn Heights from her apartment in East Haven, Conn. “My daughter lives in Manhattan, and I didn’t think it was fair for her to have to keep taking the train to Connecticut to look in on me and go to doctors with me,” Ms. Boundy said.
“It’s wonderful being near her,” she added. “We have a girls’ day once a week. We go out to lunch and go shopping.”
Many seniors who have moved to be near their adult children are anticipating a time that they’ll need to lean on them for one thing or another. But part of their motivation in moving, said Ms. Chapman of Cedarfield, is for the opportunity to have the adult children lean on them for a while. “They want to keep up the life role of being a grandparent. They want to be needed,” she said.
“We know that the tables will be turned later on, and our children will be doing things for us,” said Ms. Thompson. “But at this point, we’re doing a lot of picking up the grandchildren from school and camp. For now, we can help.”