Most people over 70, whether living alone or with a spouse, remain in regular housing as part of the general community.
Surveys show that only 3 percent live in housing for frail seniors and another 6 percent are in age-restricted housing that offers no services.But as large numbers of Americans survive into their 80s and beyond, more will need some kind of help and, as a result, the housing options available are increasing. It's no longer a choice between a standard house and a nursing home, with little in between.
"Growing demand for different levels of care has spawned a broader range of options," according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. "These new assisted living facilities combine several levels of care in a residential rather than an institutional setting."
Such housing might include transportation to shopping, meals provided in a common area, social activities and some help with daily activities. Known as congregate senior housing, it accounted for 14 percent of the new units built for seniors this year, according to the American Seniors Housing Association.
Far more prevalent, the association said, were assisted living residences, which offer help in daily living for people who cannot do basic tasks for themselves. This housing accounted for three-quarters of the new units built this year.
The highest numbers of new properties designed especially for seniors are in Texas, Florida and California.
The Joint Center found that there are 16.4 million households with people age 70 and older living outside institutions. Of those, 38 percent are people living alone, 31 percent are living with a spouse, 22 percent live with someone other than a spouse, 3 percent live in housing that offers services and 6 percent in senior housing without services, typically an active retirement community
"The overwhelming majority of older Americans thus continue to live in regular housing that has no age restrictions," the Joint Center said. "Indeed, nearly all seniors surveyed say they prefer to spend the rest of their lives in the homes they have been in for many years."
If you're interested in exploring some type of assisted living arrangement, you can get information from the Assisted Living Facilities Association of America in Fairfax, Va., a trade group. Phone 1-703-691-8100. The Web site is www.alfa.org.
For information on reverse mortgages, visit the Web site of the National Center for Home Equity Conversion at www.reverse.org. Or to find a reverse mortgage lender, get the center's Reverse Mortgage Locater. Send $1 and a stamped, self-addressed business envelope to NCHEC, Suite 115, 7373 147th St. West, Apple Valley, MN 55124.