Cold, hard fact: North offers more to retirees
Dusk settles over the ice-covered bay of Lake Superior at Grand Marais, Minn. The Minneapolis-St. Paul area ranks high for retiree-friendly attributes such as environment and spiritual life. (Kerri Westenberg/ McClatchy-Tribune photo)
It's a head-scratcher, but a new study seems to suggest older Americans are looking for more than tax breaks and beaches as they decide where to hunker down for the golden years.
Access to health care facilities, cultural amenities and outdoor activities pushed Minneapolis to the top of a review of the 50 largest U.S. metropolitan areas by Sperling's Best Places. Commissioned by Bankers Life and Casualty Co.'s Center for a Secure Retirement, the Best U.S. Cities for Seniors 2011 ranked the metro areas based on weighted criteria that researchers deemed important to seniors, in this order: Health care, economy, health and longevity, social life, environment, spiritual life, housing, transportation and crime.
The rest of the top five were Boston, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Denver.
Lured by downtown revitalization and proximity to their volunteer work, retirees Anne and Peter Heegaard left their suburban Minneapolis-area home a decade ago and bought a downtown town house.
A former investment firm executive, Peter now runs Urban Adventure (urbanadventuretwincities.org), a program he founded that draws groups of young business leaders together to work on urban problems.
The work — and the couple's three children and eight grandchildren — keep them rooted, though Peter, 75, admits the cold is a problem, particularly for seniors.
"We have a cabin up on Lake Superior, and I remember one particularly bad ice storm when I had to crawl to the garage to avoid a fall," he said. "The ice scares the hell out of people."
Realizing the list wasn't going to convince sun lovers to move north, Bankers Life officials say the survey was more about getting seniors to think about the important amenities for them.
Here are some examples of how winning cities execute some of the most important senior services, according to Sperling:
Health care: Indianapolis drew top marks here, including the number of physicians in specialties such as orthopedics and cardiology, strong patient reviews and abundant nursing homes.
If Indy's not your style, at least check out how your own local health providers (or the ones in a city you're eyeing for retirement) handle Medicare patients, suggests Jan Cullinane, co-author of "The New Retirement: The Ultimate Guide to the Rest of Your Life." Cullinane said many seniors have recently discovered their physicians no longer accept new Medicare patients.
Transportation: San Francisco, with its extensive network of cable cars, subway and light rail, won this category. If your city isn't big enough for mass transit, check out local senior ride programs. Often, these are subsidized and can be cheaper than having a car.
Environment: Researchers said a city's number of sunny days, access to bodies of water and parks make a big impact on seniors' emotional and physical well being. San Francisco won here, too, but it's a highly personal category depending on your interests. If your city is a negative for you in this category, run the numbers on what it will cost over time to escape to better locales for vacations. This may be less important as old age approaches, but the study ranked it higher in importance than housing, transportation and crime.
Finally, Cullinane said, don't forget the intangibles. Cullinane, co-author Cathy Fitzgerald and another friend all moved, with their husbands, to a master planned community in Palm Coast, Fla., from Cincinnati.
"This community encourages walking and social activities, so we picked up our support group and brought it with us," she said.
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