Independent Living Communities: A Guide to Making the Right Choice

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With the burgeoning senior population living longer than previous generations, a greater need exists for a variety of lifestyle options. One alternative is Independent living or a Retirement Community with apartment style accommodations or free standing cottages. Independent living in this guide does NOT refer to 55+ communities or active adult retirement communities.

Remaining Independent and Connecting to Community

Many seniors in their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and even into their 90’s remain independent with their activities of daily living: dressing, bathing, eating, toileting, grooming/hygiene, and getting in/out of bed.

Many seniors are mobile with walkers, canes, or wheelchairs or without these devices. In addition, many seniors continue to drive, cook, do laundry, manage their own medications and finances, make appointments, shop and lead active social lives.

The responsibilities and costs associated with home ownership can become overwhelming and unrealistic as one ages; repairs, yard maintenance, snow removal, house cleaning, stairs, property taxes as well as isolation are no longer appealing or feasible. Hence, independent living communities can eliminate these burdens and obstacles while maintaining quality of life.

Services

Independent living communities provide an array of amenities and services for those seniors who wish to retain their independence but without the responsibilities of maintaining their own homes.

Residents have the option of a studio, one bedroom or two bedrooms. Apartments may include a patio or balcony. Apartments may include full-size kitchens or smaller kitchenettes. Bathrooms are usually accessible with walk-in showers, benches, grab bars and raised toilets.

Independent living communities offer the following services that distinguish them from other active adult retirement communities:

  • Meal service/plan with restaurant style dining that fosters socialization and healthy meal choices
  • Housekeeping: laundry, trash removal, changing linens and house cleaning.
  • Transportation: accessible vans that transport residents within a radius for medical appointments and shopping.
  • Emergency call system with 24/7 staffing and check ins if requested
  • Indoor and outdoor maintenance and repairs

Depending on the meal plan, some residents continue to prepare their breakfast and lunch in their own kitchens and eat dinner in the larger dining room. Meals can be ordered in when a resident is recuperating from an illness and unable to get to the dining room.Depending on the community, pets are welcome; however, a weight restriction might apply to dogs. A washer/dryer is not always included in the apartment; however, laundry facilities are available on all floors with baskets that have rolling wheels for easier transporting. The facility can wash linens and towels.

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Amenities

The amenities offered by Independent living communities will vary; however, the majority will include:

  • Movies 
  • Beauty salon/barber shop
  • Fitness Center with exercise classes
  • Gardening areas and walking paths
  • Life Enrichment Classes: lectures, social/recreational activities, community outings, music performances
  • Library

Other amenities may include:

  • Guest apartment or hospitality suite
  • Wellness clinic with monthly vital signs monitoring and weight check
  • On-site therapy services
  • Banking services, prescription drop off through a contracted pharmacy 
  • Billiards or game room
  • Woodshops or other hobby rooms
  • Swimming pool/sauna

Costs of Independent Living Communities

The costs of Independent Living residences will vary significantly depending on 3 major factors:

  • Geographical location
  • Apartment floor plan and size
  • Amenity and service fees

The most expensive states include: Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Rhode Island. The least expensive states include: South Dakota, Minnesota, Louisiana, Utah and Illinois.

Independent living communities do not provide residents with medical care services; therefore, government run healthcare financial aid programs (Medicare and Medicaid) will not cover the cost. Seniors must use their social security, pension income, retirement savings, proceeds from home sales, and other personal funds to pay for an independent living residence.

The cost of independent living has been increasing approximately 2%/year. When considering independent living, it is highly recommended to inquire about projected or potential costs for budgeting purposes. Consulting with an attorney regarding contracts may be worth the expense.

Future Healthcare Needs

Some independent living communities are part of Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC), which include assisted living and nursing home services. If the independent living community is not a part of a CCRC, then medical services will not be provided unless a home health agency is hired. Free standing independent living communities may not be the ideal place for aging-in-place as healthcare needs change.

Is this the Right Fit?

In making the decision as to whether independent living is the right fit, the following are questions to consider:

  • Are you or your loved one in good health?
  • Can you or your loved one manage medications and make medical appointments independently?
  • Would you enjoy living in a community of peers?
  • Do you want “hassle free” living?
  • Would you prefer the extra security provided by these communities?
  • Can you afford the costs for this kind of living? 
  • If outside caregiving assistance is required, can you afford the cost of these private services?
  • Can you make the transition from living in your own familiar home with a lifetime of memories to downsizing and living in an unfamiliar place?

Factors to Consider in Decision-Making

Although finances will play a contributing factor in selecting an independent living community, other factors will contribute such as:

  • Location- is the residence close to family, familiar shopping, medical facilities, noise, pollution, feasibility for driving
  • Size: too big or too small?
  • Availability: how long is the wait list?
  • Life Enrichment/Activities: do the offerings match your interests or opportunities for new learning?
  • Accessibility: are the doorways wide enough for a wheelchair if needed, elevator access, distance from apartment -dining room, closet accessibility, easily navigated with a walker or wheelchair
  • Culture: warm, friendly, inviting, staff is approachable, resident council for decision making

Conclusion

The proliferation of independent living communities attests to need for optional senior housing that includes wellness, safety and reduces the sense of isolation associated with living alone. Children who are still working, raising their own children, or who live a distance can feel a sense of ease knowing that their parent(s) are safe while can maintaining their quality of life and independence.

The transition from living in one’s own home, often for most his/her adult life to moving into a smaller and strange place can be stressful and frightening. Hiring a professional home organizer who can assist with decisions about what to keep, what to give away, packing, and helping set-up the new apartment can be invaluable.