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Two More Important Choices For Retirement Living

Choosing a town to live in after you retire and deciding whether you want to be completely independent or to live in a retirement community are both crucial parts of planning for your life after work. But there are also other factors to weigh, and two of the most important may be the proximity of medical care and how far you’ll be from your children, grandchildren, and other members of your family.

Aging almost inevitably brings a need for more medical care, and having top-quality physicians and hospitals nearby could help you enjoy a longer and healthier retirement. Some retirement communities and private retirement locations—such as a single-family home in a small town—may be exactly what you’re looking for in other regards but aren’t located near specialized medical care. A retiree with heart disease, for instance, is likely to want quick access to a cardiologist and a hospital capable of performing angioplasty or open-heart surgery.

It may cost less to live in a remotely located retirement village than in a city that gives you access to top medical facilities. But having lower living expenses will be little consolation if you’re not able to get the care you need.

Consider the case of a Florida couple who decided to retire to the mountains of northern Arkansas—where it’s beautiful, remote, serene, and inexpensive to live. They purchased a two-story, 2,000-square-foot home built into the side of an Ozark Mountains foothill for $68,500 in late 2004. The nearest hospital, not to mention the nearest cardiologist, is an hour’s drive away, however. And the closest hospital may not be the best hospital.

The two retirees had a second hospital choice that had a better-trained, more qualified staff, better equipment, and a greater ability to handle trauma and heart attack victims in the emergency room. That second hospital is almost an hour and a half drive away from their home, however.

The husband suffered a heart attack in 2006 and was taken to the closer of the two hospitals. He received a stent, recovered, and is alive and well today. He knows, however, that he was lucky, and the incident played a role in the couple’s decision to leave their beautiful mountain abode, located in the middle of a hardwood forest, and move back to Florida, close to top-notch doctors and health-care facilities.

The other factor in their decision to move back to Florida was the distance from their family. Together they have seven sons, a daughter, 13 grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren—and all but three of them live in Florida. It was a two-day drive from northern Arkansas to the Tampa Bay area of Florida, where the couple had lived before they relocated and where two of their sons still live.

They were jolted into reality when one son was divorced in 2008 and was awarded joint custody of his two children. That was a development the parents hadn’t anticipated when planning their retirement. It also was something that would change their lives, again.

To add to the urgency of the situation, the son now was working six days a week and needed someone to care for his children on the days that he had custody. His mother was the most logical choice, but she now lived in Arkansas.

Hence, the couple decided to move back to the Tampa Bay area, not only to be near the divorced son but also so they’d have a good team of cardiologists and one of the best heart hospitals in the region close at hand. Finding a suitable retirement home set off a frantic search that ended rather quickly when the couple bought a duplex in an over-55 community.

Selling their home in Arkansas didn’t go quite so smoothly, however. They had bought their mountain hideaway when real estate prices were still rising steeply, and by the time they were ready to sell, the local market was slumping. They were fortunate that their retirement home had not cost that much in the first place. By being patient, and not accepting low-ball offers, they were able to recoup their investment in the house a year after they’d offered it for sale. Meanwhile, they’d done well at the other end of their relocation, selling their first Florida home in 2004, near the top of the boom, and returning in 2008, when home prices were plunging.

Your situation won’t be exactly like theirs, of course. But you could well face some of the same considerations in choosing where to spend your retirement. Having access to good health care and being able to reach out and touch your loved ones are very important, especially as you grow older.

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