Most US seniors, almost 94 percent, do not live in an assisted living facility or nursing home. Instead, they choose to age in place in their homes, live with family, or engage or independent living. Seniors live longer and healthier lives and need living options to match their active lives. Independent living is a part of the long-term care process during the phase in which seniors do not need continuous medical care or assistance with activities of daily living. Independent living facilities do not provide residential care, but they do provide senior housing to help seniors stay healthy and engaged with their peers.
1.What is independent living?
Independent living facilities are communities in which seniors or other adults live. They do not receive medical care or need assistance in basic activities of everyday living. By living in communities with other seniors, they receive social engagement and engage in services and amenities at the complex. Independent living facilities have community rules, but seniors have the freedom to leave the facility when they want, travel, and generally live an independent life. Independent living is an umbrella term for different types of senior facilities, including independent senior apartments, retirement communities, retirement homes, senior communities,
1.1 What is the difference between:
Independent Living Vs +55 Community
A +55 community is a type of independent living facility just for seniors who are 55 years old and older. It is just for those of retirement age, instead of those who are younger but need community living.
Independent Living Vs Assisted Living
Assisted living is for seniors who need some assistance with daily living but not enough to warrant living in a nursing home. Seniors may need help with personal care, grooming, and mobility, but they do not need consistent medical care.
Independent Living Vs Nursing Home
A nursing home is a place for people who cannot medically take care of themselves anymore. Nurses provide 24/7 care, and residents can get other medical help at the nursing home. Independent living facilities do not offer medical assistance.
Independent Living Vs Continuing Care Retirement Community
A continuing care retirement community is a campus with multiple types of long-term care options. It may house an independent living facility among its options. It could also house an assisted living facility and a nursing home.
Independent Living Vs Supportive Living
Supported living centers are for people who need the level of care as seniors who need assisted living. The difference between assisted living and supportive living is that seniors often live in residential care facilities and may qualify for Medicare or Medicaid payments.
Independent Living Vs Group Home
Group homes are for people who cannot live completely independently. This may include seniors or people with disabilities. Caregivers assist and help them live without parents or guardians.
Independent Living Vs Retirement Home
Retirement homes are just for those of retirement age, typically 55-years-old and older, who need some level of care. A caregiver typically staffs and provides help to seniors.
1.2 How to know if it’s time for independent living
Understanding when it is the right time for independent living depends on the person and many different variables, but these are some guidelines for when seniors or disabled adults may consider independent living.
Independent Living for Seniors
Seniors may consider independent living under some of these conditions.
- Seniors who are at risk of social isolation or loneliness can benefit from the social programs of independent living.
- Older adults who have a home that is too large for them to maintain can enjoy a townhome or apartment at an independent living facility with no maintenance responsibilities.
- Generally healthy seniors who want to live among people their age can do so in independent living.
- Seniors who can care for themselves but need assistance with transportation or other services.
Independent Living for Disabled Adults
These situations are prime for disabled adults to consider independent living.
- Disabled children become adults and want to move away from their parents, but they need structure and assistance to live independently.
- A medical provider or therapist recommends more autonomy for the adult.
- An occupational therapist recommends a form of independent living.
2. What are independent living services?
2.1 What are independent living services?
The exact services vary by facility, but these are the common services independent living provides.
- Dining: Independent living facilities usually offer dining options for residents. Some may have multiple options, such as a restaurant and a smaller cafe or coffee shop, while others have a single cafeteria. These options provide at least all three meals.
- Housekeeping services: Residents in independent living facilities often offer housekeeping and laundry services for residents. Seniors do not need to worry about cleaning, reaching or carrying clothes and linens.
- Maintenance: Seniors who still live at home need to arrange for their home maintenance and repairs. At independent living facilities, maintenance is a service that the facility provides. Seniors do not need to pay for or arrange for repairs and home services.
- Transportation: Since many seniors may no longer be able or want to drive, independent living facilities can arrange for transportation. This includes transportation for errands, prearranged outings, and medical appointments.
- Social activities: Independent living communities often have a wide range of activities, including dancing, ice cream socials, board games, and more.
- Entertainment: Some independent living facilities host small concerts, have a movie theater, or provide other forms of entertainment for residents.
- Excursions: Planned excursions coordinate trips off the community grounds to remain a part of the larger community. Seniors may volunteer, go to the museum, take a trip to the zoo, or participate in other activities.
- Wellness services: Many independent living facilities offer services to help keep seniors healthy, including gyms, pools, exercise classes, and outdoor walking paths.
- Beauty services: Beauty salons and nail salons at the facility can reduce the need to travel around to receive beauty services.
- Hobbies: Seniors have ample opportunities to engage in their hobbies at independent living facilities through participating in a book club, doing arts and crafts, or planting in the community garden. Exactly what there is to do depends on the facility.
2.2 What careers are involved in independent living?
Independent living facilities require a lot of different people to keep it working. Each facility has different services and requires a variation of staff. Some common jobs in independent living facilities include:
- Kitchen assistant;
- Activities coordinator;
- Nursing Assistant;
- Medication Aide;
- Speech language pathologist;
- Physical therapist; and,
- Occupational therapist.
2.3 What independent living doesn’t Include?
- Medical care: Independent living does not offer medical care for seniors. Those needing daily medical care would need to select a nursing home or other residential facility.
- Caregivers: While seniors may hire their own caregivers privately, independent living does not directly offer caregiving services. Seniors should be able to care for themselves.
- Emergency services: Whereas nursing homes or some assisted living facilities have the medical staff and medication appropriate for emergencies, independent living facilities generally do not.
- Screening equipment: Facilities for seniors that cannot care for themselves often have portable x-ray machines or EKG machines to monitor seniors. That type of screening or diagnostic care is not available in independent living.
- Assistance with activities of daily living: Unless residents make arrangements, staff generally do not provide assistance with activities of daily living. They do not assist with bathing, grooming, or personal care.
3. What to expect in Independent Living?
Independent living does not have a strict schedule, besides opening times of amenities around campus and mealtimes. Each facility differs in terms of timing. This is an example of a typical day in an independent living facility.
- Residents wake up on their own time when they are ready.
- Some residents go for a morning walk, take a gym class, or go for a swim, depending on the amenities available.
- Seniors who need assistance with any grooming or personal care tasks can arrange for an assistant before breakfast.
- Residents can eat breakfast at the restaurant or cafeteria during the designated time or cook breakfast for themselves in their kitchens.
- Mid-morning social activities for seniors usually occur in many facilities.
- Seniors can eat lunch at the restaurant or cafeteria available at the facility or make their own lunch if they have the capacity.
- Planned afternoon activities may include a planned excursion or attendance at medical appointments.
- Residents have free time to engage in hobbies or social clubs.
- Seniors can enjoy a dinner at the facility or make their own food.
- Independent living facilities typically arrange an after-dinner social for residents.
- Residents go to sleep at the time of their choosing.
3.1 What are the advantages and disadvantages of independent living?
Advantages of Independent Living
These are some of the advantages of moving into an independent living facility.
- Residents have much personal freedom compared to other residential care settings like nursing homes
- Residents have planned social activities at the facility with other residents.
- Residents can take part in planned outings, such as trips to museums.
- Seniors can arrange transportation to take them to medical appointments.
- Independent living usually comes with 24/7 security.
- Gyms, exercise areas, or walking paths are a common feature that keep seniors healthy and mobile.
- Facilities provide maintenance for the units.
Disadvantages of Independent Living
These are some of the disadvantages of moving into an independent living facility.
- Seniors must leave their homes and live in what is typically a smaller place, such as an apartment.
- It may be difficult for seniors to find an independent living community that has all of the services and amenities they want.
- Independent living facilities do not provide on-site medical care, although some may arrange for therapists.
- Independent living facilities do not offer caregivers for everyone, but some may have a private service for hire for light work. Those with serious medical conditions who need more intense caregiving cannot stay.
- Seniors may have noisy neighbors or not get along with some of their community members.
4. How to choose the right independent living for you?
Finding an independent living community can be an overwhelming process for seniors and their loved ones. Often, the right facility varies for each person, as it comes down to having the fit with a potential resident. There are some guideposts seniors can use to judge independent living facilities.
4.1 What are the signs of a good independent living facility?
Seniors should keep an eye out for these traits of a good independent living facility.
- A transition plan: Choosing an independent living facility that is part of a continuing care community or has links to services that offer more care is a good sign that the facility considers the long-term care of the resident.
- An activities calendar: When visiting a community, seniors should ask to see the activities calendar. A calendar with activities every day with variations across a range of interests is a good sign it takes a real interest in its residents.
- Condition of buildings: Buildings that are clean, modern, and safe are a good sign for a facility.
4.2 What are the signs of a bad independent living facility?
These are some of the negative signs that seniors should keep in mind when choosing an independent living facility.
- Bad reviews: Seniors should examine reviews from seniors and their family members to determine the real experience instead of just believing the marketing materials. If there are several bad reviews, it is probably best to avoid them.
- Lack of services: Seniors should consider a bad sign if a facility does not have many services to offer residents. Residents may not have much to fill their days.
- Personality mismatch: Seniors should make sure to mingle with the residents before deciding on a particular facility. If they do not find people they want to get to know more, it may be a bad sign that their personalities are not a match with the present residents.
4.3 Questions to ask independent living providers to understand if they are qualified to provide quality care for you or your loved one
These questions can help seniors find the right independent living facility for their needs.
- What are the services at this facility?
- Does the community provide transportation?
- What security protocols do you have in place?
- What food is on a typical menu?
- What training do the staff have?
5. What are the alternatives to Independent Living?
For seniors who are generally in good health, want to remain independent, and also want to change their living arrangements, there are several alternative options to traditional independent living.
- Home care: For those with some medical needs or companion needs, hiring home care is a possible solution. A caregiver or companion can come to someone’s home to provide light housekeeping, personal care, and spend time engaging in hobbies. This option allows seniors to remain in their homes and ensures they get the personal attention they may need.
- Senior Co-op: Senior cooperatives put the seniors in charge by collectively buying a building or similar type of community setting to live within the community together. Seniors can share the costs of unit maintenance and repair. Seniors can agree on rules for the community together or simply go without any community rules.
- Homesharing: Seniors often face loneliness and limited funds. Deciding on a senior roommate option can help alleviate both. Shared costs reduced financial liability for shared items. Living together also provides companionship. Seniors should try to find roommates that they already know well or get to know them before they move in.
- Multigenerational housing: For seniors with a familial support system, multigenerational housing could be an alternative to traditional independent living. Parents can move in with their adult children. Not only can they spend more time with their grandchildren, but they also have an emotional support system, social contact, transportation assistance, and people to monitor for emergencies.
- Travel Living: For seniors without any major health problems, travel living could be a great alternative to traditional independent living options during their retirement years. Seniors have several options for travel living. They could get a vacation home or apartment in a foreign country and live there indefinitely. They could go without a permanent address and use house-sharing apps, hostels, or serviced apartments to travel to lots of different places. Seniors can even live on a cruise ship.
6. How to Pay for Independent Living
The costs of independent living vary widely by the type of facility, location, and amenities. These costs can range from $1,800 to over $4,000 per month. These are some of the options for paying for the costs.
- Private pay: Residents may choose to pay-out-of-pocket, also known as private pay, to cover independent living costs. In this scenario, seniors cover all of the costs of independent living themselves, typically from savings, selling their homes, or a reverse mortgage.
- Medicare: Medicare generally only pays for short-term medical expenses, although some exceptions exist for Medicare Advantage. Seniors cannot use Medicare to pay for independent living, as it is not medical care.
- Medicaid: While some states may offer programs to cover assisted living or nursing homes for seniors on Medicaid, they do not cover independent living. Medicaid applies to health needs. Depending on the state, Medicaid may pay for a skilled home health aide to go to your independent living facility to provide care after an injury.
- Long-term care insurance: Seniors typically cannot use their long-term care insurance for independent living, but it depends on the policy. Most policies require policyholders to have difficulty performing at least some activities of daily living to be eligible, which is not the ideal care scenario for independent living. Seniors can check their policies to determine eligibility.