The best places to retire successfully

Retire-abroad-280x165Minnesota just might be the best place to get old in America–if you’re interested mainly in quality health care and don’t mind cold winter weather.

A state-by-state ranking of senior health gives Minnesota top honors for a range of reasons–everything from the rate of annual dental visits to the quality of nursing home beds and low rate of hip fractures.

If a healthy, active lifestyle is your thing, consider Provo, Utah. It edged out other U.S. cities in a study of places for successful aging for its low rates of smoking, binge drinking, and diabetes. More than 5% of Provo residents walk to work, the economy is growing, and crime rates are low.

Rankings of the best places to retire are a dime a dozen. Many are geared to a just a couple of factors, such as sunshine, low tax rates, or the number of golf courses per capita. They don’t tell you much about what would suit you personally.

But I have run across a number of good studies, online tools, and other resources that go deeper. These studies look at quality-of-life issues, such as affordability, health care, public safety, public transportation, culture, and even educational opportunities. They can be useful for older Americans to help evaluate where they live now as well as any relocation decisions. And they can stimulate a more thoughtful approach to the key question: Is the place where I live now–or where I might want to move–a good place to age?

Let’s take a tour.

General Livability

The Milken Institute ranks the Best Cities for Successful Aging. The institute is a nonpartisan think tank focused on public health, medical research, economics, and financial markets. The “best cities” study breaks out results three ways–one for the aging population overall, another for people ages 65-79, and the last for those over 80.

The Milken ranking–which gave the overall nod to Provo–uses six criteria:
Safety, affordability, and comfort. This measure uses statistics on cost of living, employment growth, jobless rates, income distribution, crime rates, alcoholism, and weather.

Health and happiness. Key factors include the number of health professionals, hospital beds, long-term hospitals, geriatric facilities, hospital quality, and affiliation with medical schools.
Financial security. This measure includes tax burden, small-business growth, poverty levels, and employment rates for people over age 65.

Living arrangements. Includes statistics on the cost of homeownership and rental housing, nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, and more.

Mobility and access. Milken studied commute times, fares, public transit, and the number of grocery stores and other key retailers.

Respect and engagement. This included statistics on volunteerism, employment opportunities, and factors relating to encore careers. Milken also reviewed access to fitness and recreational facilities, training and education, senior enrichment programs, museums, cultural and religious institutions, libraries, and YMCAs.

Including job opportunities may seem surprising for a study of retirement locations. It reflects the growing recognition that Americans will be working longer, sometimes because of economic need, but often out of desire to stay engaged. Numerous surveys reflect this changed outlook on retirement, most recently a Merrill Lynch survey that found that 72% of respondents older than 50 say their ideal retirement includes some type of work. Just more than half said they expect to work because they will need the money.

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