Aging In Place

7/26/2022 | By Terri L. Jones

If you’ve considered moving to a community that better serves your needs as an aging adult – or if you’re considering that your aging parent may need to move – you might have heard the term “NORC,” naturally occurring retirement community. While “official” NORCs are relatively few, the concept is worth knowing. If you are looking for a new community, you could look for a community similar to a NORC. Or if aging in place is your desire, you may not want to move to an established NORC, but you can apply the principles in improving the services within community where you live.

Joyce has lived in her home for 40 years, alongside many of her neighbors. While she’s requiring a little more help these days, she doesn’t need the high level of care offered by assisted living – and has no desire to move out of her home. The naturally occurring retirement community (NORC) that has grown up around her is exactly what Joyce needs to live independently in her home for years to come.

So, what exactly is a NORC?

It’s a community – apartment building/complex or housing development – where at least 40 percent of the heads of households are over 60 (the number of seniors and minimum age may vary). As the name implies, the community has formed organically – rather than being planned for seniors, like a 55+ community – as a result of residents remaining there for many years (like Joyce) or new seniors moving in. Living in a NORC is suitable for seniors who are in relatively good health and don’t need regular medical care or attention.

NORCs can be found in at least 25 states, primarily in urban locations but also suburban and rural areas.

What are the benefits?

Older man at home being cared for by a home care nurse. Photo by Monkey Business Images, Dreamstime. A NORC, naturally occurring retirement community, serves older adults. Its services offer a blueprint for aging-in-place options.

NORCs aren’t just about living near people your own age. NORC programs, funded jointly by government agencies and private organizations, also provide you with support services where you live.

A NORC may include:

  • Medical services, such as consultation with visiting nurses, doctors and therapists
  • Fitness and other health-related classes
  • Guidance with benefits and entitlements
  • Social activities such as dances, clubs or organized outings
  • Classes and other educational activities

Some may also offer more robust features such as:

  • Housekeeping resources
  • Outside maintenance referral services
  • Walkability
  • Public transportation
  • Parks
  • A high level of community participation and interaction
  • Senior-friendly local government
  • Neighboring businesses that cater to seniors’ needs

“When my mom needed to fill out tax forms for her condo, a NORC administrator told me to have her come to the office and someone would help her fill out and notarize those forms,” said Michelle Hollow. There was no cost for this service.

Another resident of a NORC said she had volunteers help with yard work: “I provided the tools and bags, and they came and spiffed up the backyard.”

While NORC programs vary in the support services they provide, they all seek to expand and strengthen connections between older adults and leverage community services to allow seniors to age in place comfortably and safely.

How do NORCs cut costs?

Living in a NORC is less expensive than moving to assisted living. Residents pay only a nominal annual membership fee to enjoy the many benefits. Not to mention, NORCs often negotiate discounts on services seniors may need.

However, the cost savings goes far beyond that. Experts report that the existence of NORCs also helps keep healthcare costs down in general.

“The costs for health care for aging Americans is prohibitive for many. Some older adults do without. In the long run that ups the costs of care,” according to Emily Greenfield, professor at the Rutgers School of Social Work. “NORC is community based and that community watches out for its residents.”

Should you move to a NORC?

If your family worries about your living alone, but you’re not ready for assisted living, this might be a good compromise. But it’s not the only option.

NORCs encouraging aging in place, remaining in the homes despite increased needs for services. So if you want to age in place – in your current home – then moving isn’t the best option.

Instead, look around your community to find the services and connections you need:

  • People who live in Seniors Guide service areas can search for aging-in-place services such as companion care, home health care, adult day services, etc.
  • Contact your local Area Agency on Aging.
  • Contact your state and local governments, which likely provide an abundance of services for seniors and others with special needs.

Even if your community isn’t an official NORC, you might be able to get what you need in the comfort and familiarity of your current neighborhood.

Terri L. Jones

Terri L. Jones has been writing educational and informative topics for the senior industry for over 10 years, and is a frequent and longtime contributor to Seniors Guide.

Terri Jones