Independent Living: Life Without the Responsibility
Retirement brings with it an escape from the 8-5 schedule and office politics. You can finally spend your day filled with activities that you want to do rather than have to do without a looming deadline. And while you still may feel pride knowing that you are physically capable of daily chores of cooking meals or mowing the lawn, you may want a respite from these activities, even if it’s just once in a while. Enter independent living communities, the solution for retirees who are physically active and ready for new adventures, just with fewer chores.
If, after reading this article, you would like to find out more about independent living communities or want helping finding one that is a good fit for you or your loved one, please give us a call. Our dedicated team will help you find the right community, in the right location, with the right services and at the right price—all for free.
What is an independent living community?
First we should establish what an independent living community is not. An independent living community is not synonymous with a 55+ community or active adult retirement communities. These communities do not offer services and their residents are generally in their 60s-70s. In contrast, an independent living community provides services that are included in the monthly rent, with standard amenities being a meal plan, housekeeping, linen service and transportation.
As its name implies, independent living means that residents are fully independent and do not require assistance with life’s daily activities, whether it’s dressing, walking or medication management. Communities may offer only independent living services or may be part of a larger campus, such as in the case of continuing care communities, which also offer assisted living or skilled nursing services. Apartment-style living with buildings that are single to multiple storied are the norm; however, many now offer free-standing cottages that mimic homes without the burden of yard work or the annual property taxes.
Demographics of independent living communities
Because seniors in independent living communities don’t require healthcare services, their demographics aren’t tracked as closely as those living in assisted living communities or nursing homes. What is known is that seniors who call independent living communities home typically are in their late 70s-80s. With more seniors deciding to live at home before transitioning to an assisted living community, the senior living industry is trending toward building more assisted living and memory care communities rather than solely independent living communities.
The perks of joining an independent living community often mean that you have access to amenities, such as a movie theater, beauty salon or fitness center, which you wouldn’t have in your own home. Not only do these conveniences save you a trip into town, but they also foster a sense of community amongst residents because they can meet up for movie nights or exercise classes. Other amenities also found in newer communities include hobby rooms or woodshops, gardening areas and walking paths.
Depending upon how upscale an independent living community is determines the variety of apartment floor plans and whether you can customize design elements such as counter tops or paint colors. Communities typically offer the standard studio, one- and two-bedroom floor plans with the additional features of a patio, den or balcony. These apartments often have a full kitchen and walk-in closets but a washer/dryer is not always included. In these cases, there is usually a private laundry room located on the same floor. If the community offers cottages, these are often available in one- and two-bedroom floor plans with the addition of a patio, sunroom or garage. Safety features of an emergency call system and 24/7 staffing are also standard. Pets are also permitted, though there may be weight restrictions.
The community dining room features restaurant-style dining, and residents may reserve a private dining room for special occasions. A more casual dining experience is found in the bistro or lounge. At most communities, pets are welcomed, though there might be a weight and number limit. Wi-Fi and Internet access are also standard features with everyone now needing to be online to stay in touch with family and follow the news. Resident parking is also provided; though with the perk of scheduled transportation, you may find yourself driving less and less.
Joining this type of community also allows you to reap the benefits of living alongside other active seniors who may have similar interests. Depending upon the community’s size, there may be a designated staff member who is the activity director. Activities are often tailored to meet the interests of the community and can feature resident clubs, in addition to cards and movie nights. Outings to local restaurants, shopping trips and nearby attractions are also popular offerings.
Services offered at independent living communities
Upon joining an independent living community, you will discover an escape from housekeeping, maintenance, cooking and driving. These services are included in the monthly rent, and some communities also offer additional services for an added fee, such as concierge services, guest meals or requiring transportation beyond the allotted radius.
Unless the independent living community is part of a campus that also offers assisted living or nursing services, assisted living services are not available. Should you require these services, and your community only offers independent living, you would need to contract those services through a home health agency.
The costs of independent living
Included in the monthly rent are all the utilities, excluding cable and phone service which residents are often required to pay themselves. There may be a meal plan which allows you to select the number of meals you wish to partake in, allowing you the flexibility of cooking for yourself.
A one-time community fee is standard, and there may be a one-time pet fee. When couples join a community, there often is a second person fee.
While the costs of assisted living and nursing care have been calculated across the country, the same isn’t true for independent living. In 2015 SeniorHomes.com calculated independent living’s costs* and these are the states that ranked with the highest and lowest costs.
The states with the most expensive median monthly independent living costs are:
- Massachusetts - $4,002
- Maryland - $3,964
- New York - $3,895
- New Hampshire - $3,537
- Connecticut - $3,490
The states with the least expensive median monthly independent living costs are:
- South Dakota - $1,399
- Minnesota - $1,679
- Louisiana - $1,804
- Utah - $1,806
- Illinois - $1,859
How to select an independent living community
When selecting a community, the same considerations you used when deciding upon a home still apply. Is the community located near places you enjoy visiting, i.e. a favorite golf course, park or shopping center. The scheduled transportation that a community provides is often only within a certain mile radius, beyond that you have to pay extra. Are the errands or places you want to visit within that allotted radius? If you expect friends and family to visit, is the community easy to access?
Price is also an important consideration. Will you be using all the services to justify the monthly rent? For example, does the meal plan allow you to purchase a set number of meals or are you required to pay for a full month’s worth even though you would rather cook most nights? Even though you might have sticker shock having to pay monthly rent after not having a mortgage payment for years, the upside is you no longer have to pay for utilities, property taxes or household repairs.
But the most important consideration you should address is your future healthcare needs. Does the community have a separate building where assisted living services are provided, and if not, can you bring in in-home care? This will likely be the last move you make and you should make it count.
Touring an independent living community
Once you have narrowed your choice of communities, touring a community at different times is recommended, as this provides you with the opportunity to view residents and staff throughout the day, rather than just at lunch or during activities. Note how the staff and residents interact: does the
marketing director greet each resident by name and is there a sense of community amongst the residents?
Because touring can be overwhelming at first, bring a checklist with you to note certain features. Also, make sure to use all of your senses to study the community. If you see the building is in need of repair or the carpet looks worn, it could be a red flag.
Finding inspection records of a community
In spite of the benefits of touring a community, this doesn’t necessarily provide the behind-the-scenes insight that indicates whether the community is well run and providing a safe environment. Because independent living communities do not provide healthcare services, they are not subject to the rules and regulations governing long-term care facility operations, such as assisted living communities or skilled nursing center. However, because these communities do serve food, they are likely inspected by local health departments. They would also be inspected for compliance for fire code compliance. Asking to review these records can tell you whether the community is in compliance with required state and federal regulations. And if the community declines your request, consider that a red flag and move on.
Life after move in
There will undoubtedly be an adjustment period following your move into a community. Hopefully, you planned the move successfully so all your furniture fits into your new apartment. Many communities have an ambassador who welcomes new residents and makes them feel at home. Just as it took you time to settle into your neighborhood where you lived for decades, so too will it take time to adjust to your new home. And you aren’t alone if you worry that the transition won’t be easy; one of Joan’s Journeyers’ blog posts featured her transition into her new retirement community. But what you can expect after this transition period is a built-in support group of friends and staff who help you live an even more active life.
Written by SeniorHomes.com’s Andrea Watts.