This article provides an overview of the various senior living options and how to choose the best one. As you or a loved one ages, deciding what type of living situation best meets your overall needs can prove challenging. Many seniors want to maintain their independence but know that their current home poses particular challenges that would make it difficult to remain there long term. Family members also want to make sure that their senior loved ones remain safe and connected to others while staying active and still participating in their favorite hobbies.
Luckily, the senior independent living sector has grown significantly over the last decade, and more options exist now than ever before. No matter the budget, desired lifestyle, or location, seniors can find an independent living situation that meets all their current needs and will continue to do so in the future. This article tells you everything you need to know about senior living and the things to consider when choosing the best option for you or your loved one.
What Is Senior Independent Living?
Senior independent living refers to a wide range of living options targeted toward adults who meet specific age requirements (usually 55 and older). These adults do not need assistance with day-to-day tasks or living but want to reside in an environment that provides targeted amenities, opportunities for socialization, and activities.
Sometimes referred to as “active adult” communities, these communities have grown widely popular in recent years and can exist in all areas of the United States. They often provide healthy and independent seniors with various convenience services such as housekeeping, transportation, and even meal services.
Residents can choose from various options for living, such as apartments, cottages, or larger private homes. These communities also have increased security, providing residents peace of mind.
Pros and Cons of Independent Living
Many healthy and active seniors find that independent living gives them the independence they desire at the same time as the assistance and support they need to maintain their independence. Here is an overview of some of the pros and cons of this living environment.
- Residents maintain their own homes, choose decor and furniture, and live independently on their own schedule.
- Provides a network of peers who develop connections and friendships based on shared interests and experiences.
- Many communities have structured activities and events to encourage socialization and help residents maintain an active lifestyle.
- Independent living residences often do not require a lot of upkeep. They do not have large yards, and basic maintenance (and sometimes even housekeeping) are included in the price.
- Independent living facilities often have staff on call 24 hours a day to help with situations and emergencies that may arrive. This aspect provides peace of mind to the resident and their family members who may not live close enough to provide immediate assistance.
- Some communities also provide transportation options, so the resident does not have to own a car to get around.
- These communities can be quite costly and therefore are not accessible to everyone (both initial costs and ongoing fees can add up).
- Sometimes there are regulations on what you can or cannot do to your residence and limits to the amount of customization (i.e., you may not be able to renovate it or change the inside too much).
- For some seniors, the stress of downsizing their original home can prove frustrating, as they may have resided in it for many years. Independent living communities force people to downsize because there is not as much room for storage or extra belongings.
Senior Living vs. Nursing Homes
Independent senior living communities should not be confused with nursing homes which provide an entirely different level of care.
A nursing home has a skilled nursing staff that works there and provides the residents with long-term, day-to-day medical care. These environments are more institutional or hospital-like, whereas independent senior living is more “homelike.” Residents in senior living communities maintain their independence and do not receive any around-the-clock care.
In addition, senior living communities provide their residents with more privacy and independence. In nursing homes, the residents usually share a room with another person and do not have much privacy. Often, the door to the room remains open during the day, and staff frequently enters and leaves to provide care to the residents.
Nursing homes assist the residents with most of their day-to-day tasks such as showering, changing, eating, and dispensing medication. In an independent senior living community, the residents take care of the day-to-day tasks independently.
Both options provide opportunities for residents to socialize and participate in activities. However, people living in independent senior communities have complete autonomy over the events and activities they choose to attend.
Average Cost of Senior Independent Living
One of the significant roadblocks to senior independent living has to do with the associated costs. As mentioned, these communities are generally private-pay only and often quite expensive. Costs do vary significantly depending on location and the type of community. Those that offer varied amenities, meals, and housekeeping will cost more than communities that do not offer these extras.
However, it does cost less than assisted living (up to 50% less per month) because residents are not paying for personal care and assistance.
Genworth’s Cost of Care survey tool can help to calculate the median cost of senior independent living and other types of care based on where you live in the United States.
Types of Senior Independent Living
Different types of senior independent living communities exist to meet the needs and budgets of various individuals. These communities range from basic senior apartments to luxurious neighborhoods filled with many amenities. Here is an overview of some of the main types of senior living communities.
- Retirement Communities/Age-Restricted Communities—These communities provide the residents with various amenities and activities, such as swimming pools, clubhouses, and golf courses. Residents can often choose from different housing options, such as apartments, condos, or single-family houses. You can search for these communities on sites such as A Place for Mom and org.
- Life Plan Communities —These communities provide residents with access to various levels of care. Often, residents start with independent living, and if their needs change as they age, they can remain in the community and receive assisted living or even skilled nursing. The benefit is knowing that regardless of future needs, the resident never has to move.
- Senior Apartments—Apartments can range from basic to luxurious, and some may have additional amenities like a gym, swimming pool, or library. The more luxurious the apartment facility, the higher the cost of living.