Critter Corner: Are NORCs the Future of Successful Aging?

Dear Magic,

I saw in our community newsletter that our neighborhood is considering becoming a NORC. We have a large population of seniors and various resources to help with transportation, meals, home care and more. What is being a NORC all about? Isn’t it just people aging in place?

Thanks for your help!

Hae Jin Playce

Dear Hae Jin,

NORC is an acronym that stands for Naturally Occurring Retirement Community. First described in 1984, its formal definition is a “geographically defined community in which 50% of the population is 60 or older and live in their own homes.” Since there are so many seniors ages 60+ in one community, and the fact that they’re able to age in place often makes NORCs vibrant and independent communities.

NORCs were not initially created to help seniors age in place, but have evolved naturally, and provide a unique and easy way for seniors to live independently. The idea is to meet the needs of seniors where they are, instead of requiring them to overhaul their lives and move to get the help they need.

Here are some interesting things about NORCs:

  • Although AARP has reported in recent years that 25% to 36% of seniors live in NORCs, the Administration on Aging puts the figure at 17%.
  • NORCs typically have four things: a gym or fitness center, lots of events on the calendar, reliable and available information from businesses and social service providers, and trustworthiness with providers of services.
  • Supportive Services Programs, or SSPs are the result of partnerships between local organizations and vetted providers. Many NORCs are evolving into NORC-SSPs (SSP standing for Supportive Services Program) by offering social services, health care management, education, recreation, and volunteer opportunities. To those core components, many NORC-SSPs have added adult day care, meals, transportation, home care, legal and financial advice, bereavement services, home safety improvements, mental health counseling, and disease management.
  • The majority of residents in a NORC live in their own homes, which makes the costs for NORCs dramatically lower than other senior housing.
  • A disadvantage of a NORC is that houses may not be accessible for a senior’s needs and may need to be remodeled. To provide adequate comfort, safety, and mobility, various elements of older homes including stairs, railings, hallways, kitchens, bathrooms and more, typically require some modification. Another disadvantage is that most seniors who live in NORCs are empty nesters, leaving them to maintain a home that may be a lot bigger than they need.
  • NORCs still require funding that over the long term can become a major concern.
  • The community has to see value in supporting NORC supportive services programs for them to be sustainable.

Eight years ago, Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland took notice of the NORC model and championed adding NORC funding to the Older Americans Act. Between 2002 and 2008, Congress funded the creation of 45 experimental NORC-SSP programs in 26 states. There is no longer federal funding for those NORCs, but states and localities have used other revenue streams to accomplish some of the same goals.

As NORCs continue to occur, they’re creating opportunities for rethinking just how to care for people as they age. Remember, however, even with the aging-in-place supports a NORC provides, if you or a loved one cannot live independently and are showing signs that you need more assistance, it may be time to consider other alternatives. Please always remember that we offer initial consultations to discuss planning for long-term care.

Hop that helps!


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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.