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Retirement 2024: Best Cities for Boomers To Age in Place

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With millions of baby boomers set to retire in the coming years, it seems that we’re constantly inundated with information about choosing the best or most popular retirement haven for this generation. States that tend to win out have lower living costs, lower taxes and great weather.

However, a study by the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging, which evaluated 381 U.S. metropolitan areas on how well they serve the needs and meet the expectations of aging adults, has a slightly different take on what constitutes an idyllic retirement environment. In this guide, we’ll dissect the findings of this report and how it might influence how you, as a retiree or the loved one of a retiree, might re-evaluate living arrangements in light of this information.

How the Top Cities Were Evaluated

As mentioned, factors like the cost of living and great weather are traditionally known as the cornerstones of ideal retirement locations. However, the Best Cities for Successful Aging report offers a few more characteristics to consider. Here’s a summary of the 83 indicators used to rate cities for the report:

  • General livability.
  • Community engagement.
  • Living arrangements.
  • Employment.
  • Transportation and convenience.
  • Education.
  • Financial security.
  • Wellness.
  • Health care.

In essence, cities that ranked highest in the report had an ideal combination of safe, affordable living options — including options for those renting, buying or living in a nursing home. Access to quality healthcare, specialists focusing on geriatric populations, and a track record of favorable health outcomes for seniors are also weighted.

Opportunities to earn a living and support for economic advancement through entrepreneurship and small business ownership were also important considerations. Finally, the study evaluated cities based on community engagement opportunities and physical, intellectual, and cultural enrichment levels.

With a more comprehensive set of metrics, the goal is to identify cities and metro areas that cater to the whole retiree, offering a holistic approach to the quality of life conundrum — beyond avoiding taxes and shoveling snow in the winter.

Without further ado, here are the top five cities according to the criteria mentioned above:

5 Best Cities for Boomers to Age in Place

No. 1: Provo-Orem, Utah.

The area is also known for its strong sense of community, with plenty of social activities and clubs for seniors to join. These elements can significantly enhance retirees’ quality of life and potentially create a satisfying social life in their golden years. Compared to other large metropolitan areas, the Provo-Orem area has a lower cost of living, high safety scores and many options for outdoor recreational activities.

Home of Brigham Young University, you’d expect plenty of features from a college town that actually complements the needs of aging seniors, such as a high level of faith-based engagement, volunteerism and a healthy economy for people of all age groups.

According to the report, areas of development include the availability of affordable healthcare options for seniors and federal funding for adult-care programs. Health and wellness markers fall short due to the lack of grocery stores and indoor gyms.

No. 2: Madison, Wisconsin.

This Midwestern metro is the seat of the University of Wisconsin. It represents the fusion of college-town living with a cultured poshness that comes from the presence of the local academia.

The city ranks high in healthcare, recreational activities and lifelong learning opportunities. Public transport is convenient, and the crime rates are low. Plus, there are many hospitals with geriatric, Alzheimer’s, and rehab units and better health outcomes among seniors.

Areas that need work include the higher cost of living and taxes, unemployment among older populations and the presence of a “party atmosphere” that gives rise to alcohol and drug abuse among students and residents.

No. 3: Durham-Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Home to North Carolina’s Research Triangle, the area has a great mix of accessibility to quality healthcare, intellectual stimulation and recreational opportunities. Much of the area’s positive qualities are primarily due to the presence of educational institutions, such as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University — which also happened to have affiliated medical systems ranking among the nation’s top hospitals.

Areas where the academic metro falls short center around lifestyle, which lends itself to high incidents of crime, traffic accidents, income inequality, chronic illness and Alzheimer’s disease.

No. 4: Salt Lake City, Utah.

Salt Lake City, Utah, has a robust healthcare system with many top-ranked medical facilities, ensuring that retirees have access to healthcare specializing in many geriatric conditions. The presence of the University of Utah adds another dimension of educational engagement that older adults need to age successfully. The area is known for a vibrant cultural scene spanning music, arts, sports, and many outdoor recreational activities.

Drawbacks include low funding for programs serving older adults, high housing prices, higher crime and a higher ratio of fast food places compared to fitness facilities.

No. 5: Des Moines-West Des Moines, Iowa.

Recent census estimates reveal that this area is growing much faster than its midwestern counterparts. According to The Greater Des Moines Partnership, the area’s economic and community development organization, the expansion is due to “an affordable cost of living and career opportunities.”

Not only does the region have reasonably priced medical and long-term care services, but its medical care system leads the nation in geriatric services with many rehab and Alzheimer’s facilities. Plus, there’s more funding for programs targeting older adults, libraries and opportunities for civic engagement due to higher levels of senior volunteerism.

Drawbacks of the area include few five-star nursing homes and public transit options. Also, there’s a higher prevalence of obesity, alcoholism, and Alzheimer’s.

Other Areas That Made the List

No. 6: Austin-Round Rock, Texas.

No. 7: Omaha-Council Bluffs, Nebraska/Iowa.

No. 8: Jackson, Mississippi.

No. 9: Boston, Cambridge, Newton — Massachusetts/New Hampshire.

No. 10: San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, California.

Summing It All Up

The executive summary from the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging is clear about a common thread among the top 20 large cities. The presence of higher education institutions in many of these “college towns” boasts a higher population of older residents with degrees.

The hypothesis is that there’s a strong connection between mental stimulation as it relates to healthy, productive aging. The assertion is that cities with a large, significant presence of academic institutions are ideal for America’s aging populations. The report also “Underscores the positive impact that the presence of colleges has on quality-of-life factors that affect older adults, such as economic strength, infrastructure, walkability, and recreation.”

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