When I first looked around for housing for the elderly in Medellín, Colombia, where I’ve been living for the past two years, I encountered only the kind of single-family houses with silent occupants in dark corners that Charles Dickens would have found familiar.
I decided to defer the task of considering an assisted-living situation and resolved to stay healthy and athletic forever.
When reality reasserted itself, I adopted a more systematic approach and learned that there are indeed these kinds of options available in this part of the world at all levels of price and quality.
Why not start at the top?
Hábitat Adulto Mayor is large-scale and upscale, benevolent and for-profit, beginning and evolving. It is best understood with the help of the key concepts behind the facility—which are openness and family.
The founders have been successful at achieving both objectives. The physical setting, both inside and out, is open and bright… and the social setting is welcoming and supportive. At home here, you feel at home.
The task is not complete, of course, and may never be. But the outlines are clear, and the model has real power. Living here for a period of months has convinced this professional skeptic from another culture that he is in a truly distinctive place.
I shall first sketch the physical setting and then offer some examples of daily life aboard this fantasy cruise.
Adulto Mayor’s core is a modern seven-story building in the shape of a squared figure eight, with two vast atriums, an underground garage, and three banks of elevators. There are about 130 residents in one- and two-bedroom units scattered about the main building and the 18 casitas adjoining.
These are neatly integrated in one compact campus by a pattern of paved, level walkways that connect with other structures housing exercise and recreational facilities.
The shape of the main building maximizes view opportunities for residents, and the tall buildings of the surrounding city and its mountains fully justify the effort. The two floor-to-sky atriums, filled with greenery, are covered by a heavy plastic roof that not only allows full daylight for the seven balconied levels of the interior but creates a special-effects moment during rainstorms when we all imagine ourselves beneath Niagara Falls or our own favorite waterfall.
This nearly unbelievable complex is set just south of Medellín in the municipality of La Estrella, easily accessible from both the international airport and the busy, much closer and recently modernized local airport downtown.
Shopping begins one long block away from the well-guarded front gate, banking services are available not much farther away, and ready taxi service makes the linkage to any place in Medellín easy (although you have to prepare yourself for the heavy traffic of downtown again after the tranquility of your Adulto Mayor oasis!).
Life at Hábitat Adulto Mayor is interesting and as dynamic as each resident cares to make it. Most of my fellow residents are Colombians, and Spanish is their main language, of course. There are six or seven, though, whose primary language is not, and even two or three who are most comfortable in English.
Not many Colombians are really proficient in English, but several among the Adulto Mayor management are. Others tend to have derived their English from time spent in the United States, and it tends to be erratic.
But Colombians generally, and certainly those in residence with me at Adulto Mayor, are unfailingly courteous. We always greet each other with at least two sentences as we pass each other each day, and we mutually encourage sitting with new acquaintances in the dining area for each meal.
When I first arrived, I noticed that most staff, including management, wore buttons sharing their names. So I asked for, and got, a similar button with my name and the words (in Spanish) “Please correct my Spanish.”
I had a lot of fun and met some very interesting people before retiring that button.
What does this great-sounding utopia cost?
Remember, Hábitat Adulto Mayor is top of the line in Colombia. But, presumably, your comparison will be with assisted-living centers in the United States or Canada.
The average cost of average-standard assisted-living centers in the United States is about US$4,000 per month.
The cost of becoming a resident at Hábitat Adulto Mayor (where the standard of living is far above average, in my personal experience) is 5 million Colombian pesos per month. At the current rate of exchange, that’s about US$1,600.
Of course, you have to remember and be prepared for currency fluctuations. Right now, the U.S. dollar is strong versus the Colombian peso. This could change, of course. Still, you have a long way to go before your monthly cost would approach the average U.S. cost.
Is there no downside here?
Well, Adulto Mayor does not have the best Wi-Fi system I have ever seen, and sometimes service goes out. When this happens, there is nothing you can do except wait for it to return.
But, remember, you should not be in Colombia in the first place if you have not accepted in advance the standard Colombian mantra… which is:
Even at home here at Hábitat Adulto Mayor, which, for me, has proven to be a kind of paradise, you should plan accordingly.