A Helpful Guide from AssistedLiving.org, Part 1

When older adults picture their retirement years, many desire a relaxed pace of life enjoying hobbies and cherishing time with friends and family. However, continual responsibilities like household upkeep and cooking can get too burdensome for those seeking a leisurely lifestyle.

As the name suggests, independent living is a great solution. Designed for active seniors, these communities allow them to keep their independence and privacy, while also enjoying services and amenities to make their lives easier.

In this guide, we will explain what makes independent living different from other senior living options, and provide answers to frequently asked questions. In Part 2, we’ll delve into factors and costs, to help you decide if independent living is the right choice for you or your loved one.

What Is Independent Living?

Independent living communities (also known as active adult, 55+, 62+, senior living, or retirement communities) offer healthy seniors the freedom to maintain a recreational and social lifestyle with the added convenience of services such as housekeeping, prepared meals and transportation. The average age of seniors in these communities is 74-75 years old, and living options vary from private homes to apartments and suites. Residents enjoy the assurance of 24-hour security and staff availability if assistance is needed.

The main distinction between independent living and other types of senior living is that the focus is not on providing regular medical care or help with activities of daily living like bathing and dressing, although some facilities do have onsite assisted living and medical staff to step in as needed. This emphasis on maintaining independence makes it a great choice for self-reliant seniors who desire community living, but do not currently need daily access to nursing staff or personal care assistance.

Types of Independent Living

Although there are basic commonalities among all independent living communities, they are not created equal. As you start your search, you might notice different terms for housing types that fall under the umbrella of independent living for seniors. For example, retirement communities and senior apartments offer slightly different services. Read on to understand the differences between these independent living types.

Retirement Homes or Retirement Communities

Depending on the community, retirement homes offer an array of living options for seniors ranging from apartments and townhomes to stand-alone houses. While these communities are designed with residents’ independence in mind, some offer 24-hour emergency help and access to medical care in case there is a health change. The trademark of traditional retirement communities is access to convenient onsite services, including benefits like meals, transportation, laundry service, social and educational activities, theater or game room, pool, and fitness center. As a result of these extra services and subsequent staffing needs, the monthly cost of retirement communities tends to be higher than other independent living types, like senior apartments.

Senior Apartments

Senior apartments, also referred to as congregate care housing, offer some of the same amenities as retirement communities but with more limited services. One or two bedroom apartments with full kitchens and bathrooms allow seniors to maintain privacy, while shared common spaces like dining rooms encourage a social, community feel. These 55+ or 62+ complexes usually offer disability-accessible accommodations for those who use a wheelchair or walker. Onsite services differ, but might include recreational programs, transportation and communal dining. The rent can be substantially less than that of a similar unit in a retirement community, and often includes the cost of indoor and outdoor facility maintenance.

Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC)

Also known as life plan communities, continuing care retirement communities offer a wide spectrum of residential options ranging from independent living to nursing home care all in one location. Seniors appreciate the freedom of an active, social lifestyle with the added safety net of onsite medical care and the knowledge that long-term care is available if it is needed. These communities eliminate the need for moving to different facilities as health needs change over time. Instead, residents benefit from the convenience of an all-in-one community that they can call home for years to come.

Independent Living Services and Amenities

Since many seniors choose independent living for the access to convenient services and amenities, it’s important to identify which ones are most valuable to you. Whether you prefer to have meals cooked for you, social activities on your calendar, or exercise classes to keep you active, it’s helpful to know what your “must-haves” are when looking for an independent living community to call home. . Not all communities offer the full range of services and amenities, but most offer at least one of the common options we explain below.

Meals and Home Maintenance

A quality dining experience is one of the most important services for many people considering independent living. When a resident moves in, they are usually offered some sort of dining package with access to food prepared by culinary chefs and registered dietitians. Some communities offer meal credit programs that provide a certain number of meals per month, while others offer an a-la-carte approach. Either way, set meal times in the dining room take the stress out of shopping and cooking, with the added benefit of socializing with friends.

For some people seeking independent living, cleaning and home maintenance are responsibilities that they are excited to leave behind. Communities often offer weekly home or apartment cleanings to keep your space tidy, along with full laundry service. If issues like a broken appliance arise, a quick phone call to an onsite technician will take care of it for you. No more cleaning out the gutters or mowing the lawn — groundskeepers keep the area well groomed.

Recreational, Social and Educational Activities

Retirement is the time to have fun and try new, life-enriching activities. That’s why independent living communities provide a wide range of options for every interest. Exercise offerings like yoga, tai chi, walking clubs, personal training and water aerobics keep you feeling strong and physically fit. If you’re interested in learning something new alongside friends, many communities offer workshops for things like cooking, technology, dance, or painting. Pre-organized social gatherings allow residents to simply show up and enjoy a full calendar of happy hours, excursions to local attractions, movie nights, book clubs, wine and cheese tastings, and more.

Onsite Amenities

Convenience is king at independent living communities, and access to onsite amenities plays a large role. Common spaces like fireside living rooms, naturally-lit sunrooms and comfortable patios are great places to catch up with friends and family. Fitness centers and beauty salons keep residents looking and feeling their best, without the hassle of driving and facing crowds. Game and theater rooms, libraries, bars, tennis courts and pools are designed to keep seniors engaged without having to step foot off campus. Some communities also feature extras like an onsite general store, community vegetable garden, and a chapel for worship.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between independent living and assisted living?

The main difference between independent living and assisted living is that you will not receive regular medical assistance and help with activities of daily living (ADLs) such as bathing, dressing, medication management at independent living communities. As the name suggests, independent living gives healthy seniors the freedom to enjoy a relaxed lifestyle by providing convenient services and amenities to make their lives easier. Assisted living, on the other hand, provides regular support with ADLs and some other health services.

What is the average cost of living in a retirement community?

Although retirement community costs vary greatly depending on their size, location and services offered, the average cost is about $1,500 – $10,000 a month. Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC) are typically more expensive because they offer the benefits of independent living, assisted living and nursing home care all within one community. Retirement communities generally cost less than stand-alone assisted living or nursing home communities because skilled onsite medical and nursing staff are not required.

How do you know if independent living is right for you?

If you are an active, healthy senior who is interested in living out your retirement years in a stress-free, social and safe environment, then independent living might be a good fit for you. Some seniors who live alone find independent living to ease their loneliness and burden of keeping a clean, well-maintained home by themselves. Others are interested in adding more zest to their life with a full social calendar of planned activities like painting classes, tennis and movie nights.

Do you have to be 55+ to live in an independent living community?

Independent living communities are intentionally designed to meet the needs of seniors. As such, certain age rules are in place to protect these communities from taking on younger residents that can potentially disrupt this design. Many 55+ communities have a requirement that at least 80% of their residents are over the age of 55. That being said, there are occasionally exceptions to this rule. If the 55+ resident has a spouse who is at least 40 years old or a child who is at least 18 years old, then they may sometimes  reside together.

Read Part 2 to learn more by reviewing these topics:

  • Who Is a Good Fit for Independent Living?
  • Independent Living Costs
  • What to Consider When Choosing an Independent Living Community

This helpful guide was provided by the Assisted Living Team. Here’s a message, directly from them on WHY they do what they do.

The AssistedLiving.org team exists to collaborate with like-minded individuals, to provide effective solutions to real challenges impacting seniors everyday. Want to get involved? Send us a message to find out how you can help. Questions? Let us know below and we will do our best to answer them.

Our work isn’t just offering raw data and information – we offer deep insights and real solutions to problems seniors, caregivers and influencers face every day.

We believe that constant innovation based on scientific, intensive research can richly improve the quality of life for seniors for years to come. That’s why we foster a culture of that constantly pushes us to pursue innovation, by collaborating with industry influencers, experts, and caregivers.


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