What is Independent Senior Living?

elderly women together laughing and talking outside at table in sunshine while drinking tea coffee

There’s a common misconception that senior living communities are only for long-term care. It’s one reason many older adults don’t consider moving to a community until they need care. But that attitude can mean missing out on all the benefits independent living has to offer.

What is independent living?
Why choose it now?
What does it cost?
See for yourself

What is independent living?
The term independent living covers a variety of housing options for seniors. There are age-restricted communities that offer housing only to those age 55+. Many of these are rental communities that don’t offer care services. There are also Life Plan Communities (also known as continuing care retirement communities) that have independent living options as well as assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing.

Typically, these residential communities offer an active lifestyle and freedom from the hassles of home maintenance. You’ll find residence options like apartments, freestanding cottages or villas, duplexes, townhomes and condos, all in a variety of floor plans and sizes.

Independent living services and amenities are designed to make things easier and more convenient. Housekeeping, linen service, dining plans, transportation services and security are common. Amenities often include a fitness center, pools, multiple dining venues, beauty and barber salons, woodworking shops, art studios or crafting rooms, and entertainment spaces such as auditoriums, game rooms or movie theaters.

You’ll also find an abundance of programming and activities to choose from, often with a focus on the dimensions of wellness.

  • Fitness classes are adapted for seniors and range from chair yoga, tai chi and balance training to water aerobics, dancing, weight training and more.
  • There are opportunities for creative expression in art, music and writing.
  • You can keep sharp through lectures, seminars and classes offered by lifelong learning institutes or local colleges.

Why choose it now?
Why sell your house and move to a community when you’re healthy and active? If you get the chance to talk with residents of senior living communities, many of them will tell you they wish they’d made the move sooner. Here are some common reasons why:

  • Simplicity and freedom – They don’t have to deal with the expense and hassles of taking care of the house or yard anymore. If they don’t want to cook, they don’t have to – or do dishes. They have more time to do the things they love and to pursue new interests. And if they’d moved in sooner, they could have been enjoying it for even longer.
  • Staying active – A comment you’ll hear a lot is, “There’s so much to do here you can’t fit it all on your calendar.” It’s not uncommon for residents to realize just how little they were actually doing when they still lived in their house. With so many opportunities right at their fingertips, they can be as busy as they want.
  • Social connections – The effects of social isolation can be devastating to your physical and mental well-being. As an independent living resident, social opportunities are built in to daily life, from informal get-togethers with friends to resident clubs, outings and parties.
  • Access to care – As healthy as you may be now, you just don’t know if or when your health (or the health of your loved one) will change. If you move into a Life Plan Community as an independent living resident and your health needs change, you have priority access to quality care right there at the community. Making the choice to move early has been a blessing to many residents who had an unexpected health problem. They didn’t have to worry about where to find the care they needed, and didn’t have to move out to get it.

What does it cost?
You’ll find a range of prices that depend on factors such as your city, size of your residence, number of occupants, and whether or not there is an entrance fee. Rental communities tend to have lower monthly rates, which can be appealing in the short-term. But not everything is included in that cost – especially health care.

In addition to monthly fees, Life Plan Communities (also known as continuing care retirement communities) require an upfront entrance fee, which can be $100,000+, which is typically covered by the proceeds from selling your house. Entrance fees are essentially a way to pre-pay future medical costs, and many communities offer various refundable options, so you or your estate gets a percentage of the entrance fee back if you leave.

According to the National Investment Center, the average independent living monthly rate is around $3,200 – although monthly fees can range from $1,500 to $5,000 or more. As you compare your options, make sure you’re looking at the whole value, not just a single price point.

See for yourself
To truly understand what today’s independent living could offer you, you should visit one near you. They’ll be happy to arrange a tour and introduce you to some residents. You can find a community with this helpful locator tool. And when you do visit, take these checklists with you so you know what to look for and what kinds of questions to ask.

Independent Living Visit Checklist

Continuing Care Retirement Community Visit Checklist

Sources:
NIC MAP Data & Analysis Service, 2017