NORC: Naturally Occurring Senior Communities

Written by Hiland - Senior Lifestyle Expert on Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Many seniors cannot imagine aging in any place other than aging in the family residence. As previously discussed, aging, relocating and finding the right senior environment, can be challenging and emotionally disruptive. Caregivers must learn to heed Relocation Stress Syndrome (RSS) warning signs and be fully engaged in the aging residency plan.

Terms like Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC), Assisted Living, Alzheimer’s Care Facility, and Skilled Nursing can sound appealing to caregivers because they identify and suggest filling a need but to the senior faced with relocating, these terms can sound like the end of the world. This reality and other hard facts about aging and specifically aging in place, have given birth to a fairly revolutionary strategy and still evolving concept known as Naturally Occurring Senior Communities or NORC’s.

In NORC’s, residents live in a community or neighborhood for many years and age together as neighbors, not necessarily as patients. NORC can refer to a specific building, a neighborhood street lined with single family homes or any community that is age  restricted where seniors have stayed and aged together.

How popular is this new concept? Amazingly! Seniors are planning ahead and supporting NORCS with glee. It has been estimated that 27% of American seniors reside in NORC’s.

NORC and Fair Housing Laws

Fair housing guidelines stipulate that a complex where 80% of residents are over age 55 is officially an age restricted community. Under another guideline from Fair Housing, communities where 100% of residents are above age 62 are also classified as age restricted. In the US, these communities are rare but do exist.

In past years, complexes were required to provide significant amenities and/or services to qualify as an age restricted community. Under revamped Fair Housing guidelines, this is no longer the case. However, as a practical concern, age restricted communities often offer amenities and services in order to increase demand for the community.

These services often include:

  • Social and recreational programs
  • Continuing education classes
  • Counseling services
  • Exterior maintenance services
  • Referral services
  • Emergency healthcare services
  • General preventive healthcare services
  • Meal programs
  • Group or individual transportation services

Certainly these amenities present appeal to family caregivers and loved ones but very often seniors perceive these as threatening to their independence or at least their view of independent living. When quality of life is at stake, seniors are likely to view these services as controlling how they will live.

AARP Survey Surprises

A study from AARP reveals that 80% of American seniors desire to “stay at home” and age in place in the family residence. Although by definition, aging in place does not limit seniors to aging in the family home, it does mean aging in one place, even if that place is a new residence in a senior community.

In many CCRC’s, the concept is to offer the senior access to assisted living, Alzheimer’s care and other types of care within the same community but in different residences. This graduation is practical but if we imagine how the senior might perceive these relocations, it is easy to feel the resistance.

“If I transfer to Assisted Living, is my independence gone for good?”

Senior View of Aging in Place

AARP cited the following elements as crucial in the senior view of aging in place:

  • Comfortable Environs
  • Feelings of Independence
  • Aging Comfortable Environs
  • Aging Independently
  • Convenience to Services
  • Familiarity
  • Aging Convenient Services
  • Aging with Familiarity
  • Safety and Security
  • Proximity to Family
  • Aging Security
  • Aging with Family

These are the elements that seniors identified in the AARP survey as important to “healthy aging.” These are the same elements that NORC’s offer. More independence, comforts of choice, familiarity and so much more. If seniors are to age in place happily, these elements should be included.

NORC’s have great promise, especially when proximity to family is available. We shall be discussing NORCs in greater detail but it is clear that 27% of American seniors presently prefer non-institutional communities in favor of NORC’s. Surely, the number will climb as more age restricted Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities become available.