Aging in Place

The Palazzo, 5/18/18. Photo by Melissa Fossum for Lovin' Life After 50.

By Sherry Jackson

Today’s senior communities offer upscale care with plenty of options and amenities

There comes a point for all of us, some begrudgingly, when we realize it’s time to downsize and look for accommodations that can carry us throughout our senior years.

But seniors today don’t want the stark, almost hospital-like facilities of yesteryear. They want to age in place, never having to move again, and enjoy an active lifestyle with resort-grade amenities; fresh, healthful, chef-driven cuisine; and plenty of activities to keep minds and bodies active and fit.

There are many communities across the Valley (with many more under construction) that fit the bill. Almost all of them offer independent living with private accommodations in an apartment-style atmosphere, assisted living with 24/7 staff availability and memory care options for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia. But some have a twist — imagine feeding alpacas or horses or walking down an Italian-themed Main Street. Here’s a look at a few of the better options for aging in place, with grace.

The Palazzo

At The Palazzo in central Phoenix, residents enjoy a Main Street, Italianesque-feel in its 15-acre resort-style adult community. Residents can walk down the inside promenade area, reminiscent of a cruise ship or European city, with fountains and street lamps. They can visit the gift shop, post office, hair salon, internet café, library or enjoy a quick bite at the bistro. Outdoor courtyards, a heated swimming pool, hot tub, cinema and fitness facilities add to the resort-like feel.

Jack Aronauer, vice president of operations, returned to the Phoenix area about two years ago to take over the property and set about renovating it. With more than 25 years in the industry, Aronauer rebranded the property (it was formerly known as Chris Ridge) with plans to invest more than $5 million in renovations. Renovations have included a new common social area, new dining room and revamping 99 independent living apartments, converting them to assisted living.

“The need for assisted living is growing nationwide,” says Mark Aronauer, marketing director for The Palazzo. “Everyone is getting older and is looking for socialization and care components.”

The Palazzo offers a full continuum of care with independent, assisted, skilled nursing and memory care with its 360 private and companion apartments. Apartments in the community are on the larger scale, with one bedrooms ranging from 670 square feet and up to 960 square feet for a two-bedroom unit.

For independent living, meals, housekeeping and activities are included.  “It’s the comfort of knowing that additional care is there,” Mark Aronauer says. “We offer home care services to our residents when they need it and can personalize the assistance. Being self-managed, instead of part of a large organization, allows The Palazzo to be much more resident-focused.”

As residents age in place and need more care, all they need to do is switch to assisted living, Mark says. “Some residents can still do some things on their own but might need light care. We offer a personalized care plan with caregivers available 24 hours a day.”

The Palazzo has a separate, secured neighborhood for the safety of those with Alzheimer’s or dementia. The Palazzo also incorporates a Montessori-based memory care program that is tailored to the individual’s abilities and interests.

Skilled nursing is available to anyone, not just residents of The Palazzo. “It’s part of our offering – a full circle of care – available to residents that might need rehab or people who don’t live at The Palazzo but need rehab and therapy after a hospital stay to improve before going home. We really are caring at all levels,” Mark says.

“The community has an uplifting, elegant feel that makes you feel like you are in a small European town,” Mark adds. “We want to bring residents the beauty of Scottsdale living at affordable central Phoenix prices.”

My Father’s Retirement Ranch

Residents of My Father’s Retirement Ranch can expect a different sort of retirement community. Located in the heart of Wickenburg, the community is surrounded by 22 acres of rolling hills and mesquite trees.

The community includes both independent and assisted senior living options with 17 luxury ranchitos/casitas residences, 35 standard apartments and an assisted living lodge.

It’s a family-run business with owner and co-founder Bill Cowles heading things up. His wife, Carolyn Cowles, oversees the culinary program, marketing and independent living. Their eldest son, Chip, acts as executive director. Bill and Carolyn started My Father’s Retirement Ranch in 1979 after taking an elderly neighbor into their home who needed to be cared for. They started taking care of more seniors, adding more property to their homesite and expanded a little at a time.

“Bill has a very big heart with Christian values,” Carolyn says. “He had a vision and has really worked hard to get to it.”

At the ranch, it’s the details that matter. Food is made fresh. Windows are lower so residents in wheelchairs and beds can see the sweeping lawns, fountains, gazebos, trees and flowers. A windmill and long, winding road add to the ambiance. High ceilings and lots of windows let in natural light and there’s not a stair or step on the property. “We wanted to keep it looking like home. It’s very family-oriented,” Carolyn says.

In addition to a heated swimming pool and spa, fitness center and community area with fireplace and flat-screen TV, residents can participate in a variety of activities such as painting classes, walking groups, outings to nearby restaurants and parades and activities around town. There’s also happy hour on Fridays and a donut hour on Saturdays.

“We like to keep them pretty active,” Carolyn says. “We have a great variety of options to keep our residents connected to the outside community.”

Residents can also help feed and care for the four alpacas and two horses that are always at the ranch.

Activity directors create customized programs for memory care residents. “We want them to feel plugged into and necessary to the world,” Carolyn says.

The ranch stays connected to the Wickenburg community by hosting annual picnics, inviting more than 200 people, including local first-responders, families and other community members.

The ranch keeps growing with a new casita and four new ranchitos under construction. Another set of ranchitos are planned for next year. But it also plans to remain small. Carolyn says, “The fact that we’re smaller gives us the opportunity to do more catered care.”

LivGenerations Agritopia

Nestled in the award-winning master-planned community of Agritopia, LivGenerations Agritopia offers 122 residential units with independent and assisted living.

“Our community is rather unique because we’re located in and are a part of Agritopia, which borders on farmland in Gilbert,” says Stephanie Templeton, executive director at LivGenerations Agritopia. “We’re just down the street from Joe’s Farm Grill near the Community Garden so we’re really embedded in the community itself.”

“We serve a variety of residents, many of which are very active, independent folks,” she adds. There are generously equipped fitness rooms with a variety of exercise classes available, including yoga and tai-chi. Residents can take part in several classes or a game of chess in one of the activity rooms or opt for a game of foosball or pool in the billiards room.

“We also pride ourselves on our dining experience,” Templeton says. Meals are fresh. Residents can have a glass of wine with dinner with fresh seafood regularly brought in. There’s also a wine room and a Victorian-style tea room where high tea is served regularly.

Any of the community’s studio, one- or two-bedroom units can be optioned as independent or assisted living. A separate, secured area is available for memory care.

Residents enjoy nicely landscaped grounds, a dog park and barbecue area with picnic tables as well as a happy hour each Friday with dancing.

“We have a very vibrant community that is also very civic-minded,” Templeton says. Residents and team members work with local charities doing toy drives, water drives and care packages for servicemen and women. LivCommunities arranges and encourages its team members do local charity work.

“There’s just a great, friendly, warm feel from the moment you enter our community,” Templeton says.


Located in Sun Lakes, Renaissance is Robson Resort Communities’ first foray into the independent and assisted senior care space. Built 18 years ago, Renaissance consists of two buildings with 434 independent and assisted living residences.

“It was really ahead of its time as far as the size of its apartments,” says Heidi Royter, senior vice president, Robson Senior Living. “Each unit is like a condo. That’s important for residents who are downsizing from a family home.”

Amenities are abundant at Renaissance. There are regular happy hours and chef demos, plus a resort-style pool with water activities, a movie theater, chapel and gift shop. A recently opened ice cream parlor is also a big hit. “There’s so much to do within our community,” Royter says. “Robson is always staying on the cutting edge. From food service to activities, it’s all about the hospitality, even though it’s a residential environment.”

Robson, which also develops resort-style, luxury active adult communities, has its second senior living community under construction – Robson Reserve at PebbleCreek. Additional Robson Resort Communities are in the planning stages.

The Mission at Agua Fria

Opening in July, The Mission at Agua Fria plans to bring 90 brand new private residences to Peoria. In its first phase, the community will offer assisted and memory care. A second phase is expected to include independent living apartments.

Apartments will be studios and one bedrooms, with stainless steel appliances and granite countertops, some with vaulted ceilings and courtyard views, says Crystal Hovar, sales and marketing director for the community. A dog park, café, movie theater, game room, fitness center, chapel, and beauty salon are just some of the amenities residents can expect.

Cognitive therapy, physical fitness, social parties and activities will also be available for all the residents, Hovar says. The Mission at Agua Fria will be utilizing an aroma therapy program for the residents, with sensory rooms to help comfort and calm residents with health and behavioral issues.

The small community is owned by a local investment group managed by Scottsdale accountant Douglas Hamilton.