What is independent living for seniors? Who is it for, and what are the benefits and costs?
Like many others, you probably aren’t familiar with the various options for senior living. That’s all right, because at Age Better Resources, we’ve put together a knowledge base to get you up to speed. This article will focus on Independent Living, a retirement community option that falls somewhere between traditional apartments and care-focused Assisted Living retirement communities.
Many seniors mistakenly believe that all retirement living communities are only for elders who need skilled nursing care. This stigma is unfortunate, because seniors often find great social connections in independent living communities. Many miss out on what can be a truly enhanced quality of life available in an Independent Living community because of their assumption that it is better to stay in their home, but this is often due to mistaken perceptions about Independent Living communities.
Independent Living communities can offer many benefits. Help with basic tasks is often provided, which creates more time to enjoy the day. Like a college dorm, residents can sign up for a certain number of meals “on campus”, and all lawn care/snow removal is handled by the staff! Another similarity to a college dorm is that seniors are surrounded by people of their own age, which creates opportunities to build new relationships. This is often the most significant benefit of Independent Living; if a senior’s mobility has declined, Independent Living makes it easier to maintain a more engaged lifestyle.
In Independent Living, seniors are surrounded by peers who share similar schedules and are likely to have overlapping interests, and they can enjoy those relationships in a community environment that provides safety and security.
If these highlights of Independent Living have you intrigued, the rest of this article dives deeper into the basics of Independent Living, what Independent Living can offer, who is a fit for Independent Living, what costs you should expect, and how to compare Independent Living options. My many years of working with seniors have shown me that while many individuals are hesitant about Independent Living, a fun new life often awaits them in that unknown, so I am excited for you to learn more!
Table of Contents
- What is Independent Living?
- What Does Independent Living Offer?
- Who is Independent Living For?
- Independent Living for Seniors Type #1: A Senior is Looking to Free Up Time
- Independent Living for Seniors Type #2: An Older Adult Wants More Engagement
- Independent Living for Seniors Type #3: A Senior Seeks a More Active Lifestyle
- Independent Living for Seniors Type #4: An Individual Observes Physical or Cognitive Declines
- Independent Living for Seniors Type #5: Seniors Seeking Increased Safety and Security
- What are Typical Prices for Independent Living?
- How is Independent Living Different From Other Senior Living Options?
- Tips for Selecting an Independent Living Community
- Questions for Independent Living for Seniors #1: Does this Independent Living Community Fit My Budget?
- Questions for Independent Living for Seniors #2: Is the Independent Living Community in the Right Location?
- Questions for Independent Living for Seniors #3: What Are Your Personal Preferences?
- Questions for Independent Living for Seniors #4: What is the Culture of the Independent Living Community?
- Questions for Independent Living for Seniors #5: Details, Details, Details
- Questions for Independent Living for Seniors #6: What are the Contract Details for the Independent Living Facility?
- Summing it Up
What is Independent Living?
Independent Living is any housing arrangement designed for older adults, generally those aged 55 and over. Housing options include apartments, cottages or villas, duplexes, townhomes, and condos. These options come in a range of floor plans and sizes.
Independent Living has many names, including 55-plus or 62-plus apartments, retirement homes, retirement communities, and independent senior living. Independent Living can be its own community, but there are also options that are part of a full Continuing Care Retirement Community or Life Plan Community, which will have Assisted Living and/or Memory Care communities on campus.
Independent Living spaces are often built with safety considerations for older adults. These safety enhancements may include walk-in showers or tubs, grab bars, convenient storage, and safe entry. The living spaces are often one level to make them easy to navigate.
What Does Independent Living Offer?
Independent Living facilities offer a range of amenities, services, and activities. Seniors enjoy the privacy of living on their own with easy access to support services, as well as opportunities to engage and socialize.
Daily meals, housekeeping, and laundry services are often provided. In many communities, meals are featured events, popular gathering times for seniors to enjoy each others’ company. Residents can also enjoy fitness classes, arts and crafts, book clubs, holiday gatherings, movie nights, and more. Transportation is often available, and many communities schedule “field trips” to the local library, restaurants, or nearby parks.
Independent living for seniors may also include an onsite spa, fitness area, beauty and barber salons, and even a small store. Some include a swimming pool, tennis courts, or a golf course. Others feature walking paths and gardens available for resident use. Most include gathering areas or a clubhouse for organized or impromptu get-togethers.
Who is Independent Living For?
Independent Living can be an excellent fit for a variety of seniors. For seniors who are deciding whether their Home is a Candidate for Aging in Place, Independent Living is often a good alternative to consider. Here are six situations where an older adult might benefit from a transition to an Independent Living community.
Independent Living for Seniors Type #1: A Senior is Looking to Free Up Time
Independent Living for seniors frees elderly people from spending hours on home maintenance and upkeep. At a minimum, the community will take care of lawn care and snow removal, but Independent Living communities with more services can also handle meals, laundry, and general housekeeping. Sounds heavenly!
Independent Living for Seniors Type #2: An Older Adult Wants More Engagement
For some, retirement years can be lonely. While many seniors have the inclination that they want to age in place, many retirees yearn for new relationships, more interactions, and a sense of belonging to a community of peers. The right Independent Living community can provide these opportunities for seniors.
Independent Living for Seniors Type #3: A Senior Seeks a More Active Lifestyle
Many retirees enjoy the wide range of offerings available in an Independent Living community. It can be a more stimulating environment, and the social activities and fitness classes provided are an excellent way to stay active mentally and physically. Independent Living communities may also provide nutritious, chef-prepared meals to keep seniors active.
Independent Living for Seniors Type #4: An Individual Observes Physical or Cognitive Declines
If an older adult has a condition that limits their ability to manage daily chores, Independent Living may be a perfect fit. People who fit into this category should strongly consider Continuing Care Retirement Communities, as this sets seniors up for an easier transition if/when they need to move to an Assisted Living or Memory Care community.
Independent Living for Seniors Type #5: Seniors Seeking Increased Safety and Security
Independent Living spaces have layouts designed for seniors to safely navigate, and 24/7 security is often available 24/7. As importantly, people are close by if help is needed, so you or your loved one will not be isolated in an emergency.
What are Typical Prices for Independent Living?
There is a significant range in prices for Independent Living options. Costs vary based on location, the category of independent living, the quality of the living spaces, and the amenities and services.
Some Independent Living options are for sale, but most are rented. Rental option prices can range from $1500 to $6000 per month, with prices including amenities and some or all services. These prices may seem high at first glance, but remember, your current cost of living is more than just your rent! You should add up your total monthly costs to make an accurate comparison.
There are also subsidized senior apartments that are much lower in price, though these often with a long waitlist. With planning, research, and some leg work, there are options for most budgets and lifestyle choices.
How is Independent Living Different From Other Senior Living Options?
Independent Living does not offer help with activities of daily living (ADLs), which include tasks such as medication management, showering, dressing, and toileting. Residents of independent living take care of these needs on their own. There is also the option to hire private care or to have family members help, as in any private home.
If support for activities of daily living (ADLs) is needed, a Senior Care Community, such as Assisted Living, Memory Care, or a Nursing Home, is usually the preferred option.
Tips for Selecting an Independent Living Community
There are many aspects to consider as you evaluate your Independent Living options. To start, you may want to consult a resource such as your local Area Agency on Aging, provided there is one in your area. Beyond that, here are some tips on what to consider and what to look for.
Questions for Independent Living for Seniors #1: Does this Independent Living Community Fit My Budget?
As with all senior living and housing options, it makes sense to start with your budget. With a wide range of offerings, determining a comfortable budget will help focus your search efforts.
To determine your price range, add up the monthly costs to maintain your current home. This calculation should include taxes, insurance, home and yard maintenance, and utilities. If you are weighing Independent Living against Aging in Place, you also need to consider the cost of home modifications. Meals and other services included in the Independent Living communities you are considering should also be weighted against current food costs.
Questions for Independent Living for Seniors #2: Is the Independent Living Community in the Right Location?
The location of an independent living community should be a crucial consideration in your decision. Do you want to stay local to your current community? Would you prefer to relocate so you are closer to family? Is climate a factor? Make your list!
Location is an especially poignant consideration for me. After losing my father, my step-mother selected an Independent Living cottage that was beautiful, but nowhere close to her family. She made the decision to buy rather than rent, and this long-term commitment proved to be a big mistake as her health declined, as she would have benefitted from being closer to her sons.
Her attorney and financial advisors were involved in the process, but while they could ensure it was a financially responsible decision, confirming that my step-mother’s “aging” plan made sense was outside of their expertise. Of course, my step-mother had every right to make her plans with her sons, but when some difficulties emerged down the road, I did wish I could have advised her, as it could have made her final years smoother.
Questions for Independent Living for Seniors #3: What Are Your Personal Preferences?
If there are a number of Independent Living options that are potential fits, you should consider your personal preferences. Do you desire a large campus with a plethora of amenities, services, and people to meet? Or would you feel more comfortable in a smaller, more intimate setting, where you will get to know most of the residents and staff and be part of a tight-knit community?
These are important considerations. Your Independent Living experience is likely to be greatly enhanced if you are in an environment you feel fits your personality and disposition.
Questions for Independent Living for Seniors #4: What is the Culture of the Independent Living Community?
The culture of an Independent Living community will have a huge impact on your day-to-day life. You should visit each of your options and get a feel for what day-to-day life is like in that environment. Some communities are casual, while some have a more formal feel. Some are geared toward an active lifestyle, others are for less physically active seniors. The community website is a decent place to start, but it may not ring true in person, so you will still want to visit.
When you visit, notice if the community seems vibrant and active. Is it quiet and relaxing? Do you see life around the buildings? Do you like the decor? Does this match what you are looking for? Do you resonate with the activities and amenities offered?
What about the people? Are the staff welcoming and do they seem to know the residents? Are the residents you encounter friendly? Do they seem happy? Plan to chat with some folks to find out how they like living or working there and why. Are you comfortable with the people you meet, and can you envision living there?
Pay attention to how you feel.
Questions for Independent Living for Seniors #5: Details, Details, Details
While visiting, dig deeper into the aspects important to you. Do you want or need services such as meals, activities, and transportation? Some independent living options do not offer these services, so you need to do your research.
If dining is key, ask for a 30-day menu, and set up a visit to test the meal service at communities you are considering. Where are meals served, and is there some flexibility with times? Meals are often a primary gathering time, so be sure the details work for you.
If activities are your priority, review the activity calendar if there is one. Are there varied choices? Are there resident outings? Who selects the activities planned?
Be sure you understand what amenities and services the quoted price includes. Is complimentary transportation available? Are there visiting services such as Primary Care Providers, Therapists, or Podiatrists? Is there a salon on-site?
Once you have narrowed your list, visit the communities again to double-check your first impressions. You may want to visit at a different time of day the second time to see if the meal service is consistent between breakfast and dinner, or to participate in a class.
Questions for Independent Living for Seniors #6: What are the Contract Details for the Independent Living Facility?
Be sure to review the details on costs and leasing agreements. Make sure you understand the fine print. There will be a lot of information thrown at you, and it is easy to miss some small but essential details! Consider having a trusted advisor review any agreements prior to signing. If considering a purchase, have your attorney review any contracts.
Summing it Up
If you are a senior searching for community, engagement, or security, a transition to an independent living community setting is worth exploring! Even if it is not the right option at this time, considering all your options will help you make informed, smart decisions. As Jane Bryant Quinn advises in her AARP Article, don’t wait to have the talk about living arrangements in your later years! Remember, this is your life to design!