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What Is Independent Living?

Independent Living Communities, also called retirement communities or senior living communities, are intended for individuals who are in their 50s or older and who can live independently without the need for skilled medical care. Housing is designed with the needs of older adults in mind and communities typically offer various activities, services, and amenities for residents to enjoy. The type of housing available (e.g. apartments versus single-family homes), number of included amenities and services, and overall costs vary by community. Below we answer some common questions about independent living to help people decide whether it may be a good fit for them, as well as how to find the best available option for them.


Who is this for?

Who are you seeking care for?

How Much Does Independent Living Cost?

The costs of independent living vary, but can be estimated by subtracting 40% from the average costs of assisted living. According to the Genworth Cost of Care Survey, the national monthly median cost for assisted living was $4,500 in 2021. Therefore, the approximate national monthly median cost for independent living would be $2,700. 

Pricing for a specific community may be more or less than this depending on the type and number of amenities offered, which can include fitness centers, transportation services, swimming pools, and/or dining facilities. Further, communities may offer a range of housing types at different prices, such as single-family homes, condos, duplexes, or apartments. Location affects costs as well, and facilities located in high-demand areas will typically be much more expensive than those in less desirable locations.

Government-subsidized independent living is available to low-income individuals who typically pay a certain percentage of their income. Those who don’t qualify for this option should expect to pay an entrance fee, monthly fees, or both.

Types of Independent Living Communities

The three primary types of independent living communities are described below:

Retirement Homes or Communities

These are age-restricted communities with single-family homes, duplexes, townhouses, condominiums, or mobile homes available for residents. Those who meet age requirements can reside in these communities and pay monthly fees for maintenance, recreation, or other services.   

Senior Apartments or Congregate Care

Residents in senior apartment complexes or congregate care are required to be a minimum age, often 55 or 62. Rent may cover recreational programs, transportation, and/or communal dining arrangements. 

Independent Senior Housing for Low-Income Seniors

Some senior housing complexes are subsidized through state or federal programs. These types of independent living communities are for low to moderate-income elderly individuals and may include cleaning, cooking, transportation, and/or other services. Rent is usually a certain percentage of an individual’s income.

Benefits of Independent Living Communities

Independent living communities provide residents with services, activities, and amenities that  make their lives easier and more enjoyable while allowing them to maintain their independence. While these communities do not offer medical care or nursing, residents can hire in-home help if they need it. 

Services provided by independent living communities may include:

  • Housing maintenance
  • Yard work
  • Spas and beauty and barber salons
  • Meal preparation
  • Basic housekeeping
  • Laundry

As the above list shows, residents of independent communities no longer have to worry about many chores and responsibilities, such as mowing the lawn or preparing daily meals. Because of this, they free up time that can be spent on enjoyable activities and amenities offered in independent living communities. Examples of these are provided below.   

Activities may include:

  • Arts and crafts
  • Holiday celebrations
  • Educational classes
  • Movie nights
  • Club and hobby group activities

Amenities may include: 

  • Recreational centers
  • Clubhouses
  • Swimming pools
  • Fitness centers
  • Tennis courts
  • Golf courses

Making the Transition to Independent Living

There are steps individuals interested in transitioning to an independent living community can take that will help make the process go smoothly. Learn more below:

    • Determine Your Current Needs: Unlike physical changes that necessitate moving to an assisted living facility, signs that you could benefit from an independent living community may be less obvious. Determine if you are burdened by daily chores and home ownership, or if you would enjoy living among a community of peers to relieve social isolation. Taking the time to uncover your current needs can go a long way as you consider independent living.   
    • Plan to downsize: The contents of a large house plus a garage may not easily fit in a duplex or apartment unit within an independent living community. The process of determining what to take and give away or sell may take time and effort and should be begun well in advance of moving.
    • Leave time to look at all options: Determine what services and amenities you would like, as well as location and whether or not you want a community nearby friends or family. Offerings may vary considerably. Also realize that some communities may not be accepting new residents or could have long wait lists. 
    • Consider hiring professional help: Geriatric care managers may offer consultations with care communities as well as help older adults make future plans, including finding care and supportive services.

What to Consider When Searching for an Independent Living Community

Always ask if there are entry and/or monthly fees and what these are, as well as what services are or are not included. When comparing independent living communities, it is also important to look for ratings and reviews to determine the overall reputation of a facility. Also make sure to ask as many questions as necessary to determine what your days would be like living there so you can decide if it would be the right fit. 

Examples of questions to ask include:

  • What housing options are available?
  • What activities and social events are offered?
  • What amenities are provided?
  • What types of meals are served and are special diets accommodated?
  • Is transportation available?
  • Can you have pets? 

Also, if possible, take an in-person tour of different communities. This will allow you to do the following:

  • Get a sense for the overall environment and if it feels welcoming, like a place you can picture yourself living
  • Meet the staff and other residents to determine if you would get along well with them
  • Observe if the facility is kept clean and in good condition
  • Look at the menu and possibly sample the food  
  • Look for security measures and observe the surrounding area

Does Insurance Cover Independent Living?

Neither Medicare nor Medicaid covers the fees for residing in an independent living community. Seniors who live in these communities are typically healthy with active lifestyles and choose to join the community to have fewer responsibilities and access to amenities as well as socializing opportunities. Therefore, independent living costs are not considered medical expenses that would be covered by Medicare or Medicaid health insurance. 

However, seniors who receive in-home health care while residing in an independent living community may receive coverage for this care through Medicare, Medicaid, the Veterans Administration, or long-term care insurance. Community costs unrelated to their medical care, such as community entrance and/or monthly fees, would still not be covered.  

There are other types of insurance that can assist with the costs of living in an independent living community. These include:

  • Annuities: This is an initial investment that gains untaxed earnings and later provides payments at regular intervals or as a lump sum. 
  • Life Insurance: If a senior sells their life insurance policy, they can receive cash that can be used towards the costs of independent living.

Is Independent Living Right for Me?

There are certain questions you can ask yourself that may help you determine whether you could benefit from independent living. Examples of such questions are included below:

  • Does your house feel too big and does it require an overwhelming amount of maintenance?
  • Do you feel socially isolated? Are you interested in engaging in planned activities and events with other seniors?
  • Would you like to have access to meal preparation, housekeeping, and/or transportation services?
  • Would you enjoy using easily accessible onsite fitness centers, swimming pools, golf courses, or spas?

If you answered yes to the above questions, you’re likely a good candidate for independent living. However, if you need regular medical care, personal care assistance, or prefer living on your own, independent living may not be right for you.

What If I Need More Care in the Future?

While you could always move from an independent living community into an assisted living facility or nursing home, a continuing care retirement community, or CCRC, may be a more convenient option. These communities offer a range of care levels onsite so that seniors can receive help with daily activities or medical care when needed without having to move to an entirely different community. This allows seniors to stay with residents and staff that they know and trust in a familiar setting. However, CCRCs can be expensive. Many charge entry fees, which may be more than $2 million, on top of average monthly fees of around $3,500, on average. 

SeniorHomes advisors are available 24/7 to help you decide what care type is right for you and where to find the best care options. To connect with an advisor, call 1-800-748-4024.

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Those with certain disabilities or diseases have more obstacles to overcome when searching for a quality assisted living home. If you have questions, we are here to help provide the answers. Give our senior care advocates a call and read our guides for specific information and resources related to your or your loved one’s condition.

Those with certain disabilities or diseases have more obstacles to overcome when searching for a quality assisted living home. If you have questions, we are here to help provide the answers. Give our senior care advocates a call and read our guides for specific information and resources related to your or your loved one’s condition.

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