Dispelling the Confusion Between 55+ Communities and Independent Living

An active husband and wife senior coupleAs part of our mission to help families find senior living options that fit their loved ones’ needs, SeniorHomes.com offers a free Care Advisor service. On any given day, our Care Advisors assist over 400 seniors and families to find housing and care options that meet their needs and fit their budget.

Over time, our Care Advisors have noticed some frequently asked questions common to many of our inquirers. This article is the first in a series where our Care Advisors respond to questions many retirees have. In this article, Care Advisor Cindy Fox explains the differences between independent living and 55+ communities (sometimes referred to as Active Adult Retirement Communities).

When seniors and their families inquire about a community, they know exactly what they want their new lifestyle to have: they desire an affordable monthly rent, a dining option on nights they don’t feel like cooking, living among other seniors their age and perhaps have scheduled activities to join. When most people begin their search for independent living, they think this is the community setting they are looking for; however, that’s not the case.

All too often, I ask the seniors to tell me a bit more about themselves and they tell me that they’re a husband and wife in their mid-60s, fairly active without any physical ailments, and don’t want the hassle of home ownership. We conclude that an independent living community isn’t what they want for a variety of reasons.

Couple having tea Younger seniors desire an active setting—living much as they had before retirement—and these types of communities are often referred to as 55+ community, active adult, or age-qualified. Services, such as meals, housekeeping, and transportation—amenities that generally appeal to an older demographic (around 80)—are not of interest to them. And younger retirees want to live among those of a similar age.

Understandably, many people are confused and frustrated when they learn that independent living is not what they seek. Unfortunately, nothing is straightforward when learning about a new and unfamiliar environment, and part of this is because not everyone has adopted standard terms in the senior living industry. This is where my advice can help.

Couple bike ridingIn my experience, the marketplace has yet to adapt to the demands of younger seniors. They want fewer responsibilities and more opportunity for social engagement with their peers, yet prefer services such as dining or housekeeping to be optional. More specifically, they would prefer to forgo maintaining and upkeeping a house, but keep the routines of home life—cooking meals and cleaning their personal space.

The good news is that this type of community does exist, typically called active adult, 55+ or age qualified communities. Furthermore, they come in a variety of styles, and whether they are gated developments with free-standing houses or an apartment complex, they will generally have beautiful common areas where residents can congregate. Typically, you must be at least 55 years of age to live in this setting and the median age is late 60s to early 70s—a generation younger than those moving into independent living communities.

According to industry standards, independent living refers to a setting where a meal plan, housekeeping, linen service and transportation are standard amenities included in the monthly rent. Often a full-time activities director is on staff to schedule daily activities and weekly outings. The median age of seniors in this type of community is usually in the early 80s. When joining an independent living community, there is generally no option to “opt out” of the meals and services. Frequently, this setting will also offer assisted living support as needed.

Couple enjoying the natural sceneryBoth 55+ and independent living communities will allow home health care providers to assist residents with light-to-moderate support. This à la carte approach can quickly become cost prohibitive when a resident has high care needs, and it may become necessary to consider a location that offers higher levels of care on site, such as assisted living. If you have a condition where you can expect substantial increases in care outside of the normal aging process, it will be important to take these options into consideration.

When you decide which type of community meets your needs, it is time to search for your new home. While searching for independent living or assisted living communities is relatively easy, it is a bit more challenging to find 55+ communities. If you don’t find the words “dining service,” “meals provided,” or “housekeeping” listed on a community’s website, it is likely a 55+ community.  Additionally, the cost to live in a 55+ community will be far less than an independent setting because the there are fewer amenities bundled into the rates.

You will spend many fruitful years in your new home, regardless of what choice you make. As you age, you might transition from one type of senior living community to another as your needs change, providing the quality of life most important to you.  If you are looking to find a setting that offers a 55+ setting, where you can transition to independent living and assisted living as needed, you may wish to consider a continuing care setting. This for many seniors is their last move because it offers a continuum of care designed to provide the environment you want at the time it is needed.

I hope this discussion has proven helpful in your search for your new home, and I’m just a phone call away should you have any questions!

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