Among the different options available for senior housing, independent living is the least hands-on and the least expensive. While seniors who are still living in their own homes could technically be described as "living independently," in senior housing, "independent living" just describes senior living communities where the residents have very few medical needs or assistance requirements. These communities can be known under a variety of different names, such as retirement communities, senior apartment complexes, 55+ communities, or retirement villages.
In most cases, senior independent living communities are more about the communal feel of living with a variety of other retired people than they are about the medical care aspect that is prevalent in most other types of senior housing. Residents in independent living communities have their own apartments, cottages, villas, or even small houses. For the most part, the residents maintain these spaces themselves, and often just treat them as they would treat any other residential space. (Though some independent living communities do offer basic housekeeping or laundry services.) Villas or apartments in independent living communities are typically quite large-usually including one or two bedrooms and bathrooms, a living room space, a kitchen, a dining room, and more.
Amenities of Independent Living Communities
Independent senior living communities also customarily offer a cafeteria-like dining option, and residents can opt to buy a certain number of meals at this community space each day or month. As a result, most residents in these communities do a mix of their own food preparation, and eating at the community dining room.
In addition to the community dining room, most independent living communities also provide a range of other amenities. These can include everything from exercise rooms and swimming pools to on-site barbershops and salons. Some independent living communities even offer access to tennis courts or golf courses. The biggest amenity of these communities, though, is the vibrant neighborhood-like feel that they often engender. Most senior living communities offer a fairly active schedule of different social activities, entertainment offerings, and community events, all meant to foster friendships between the seniors who call these places home.
Why Choose Independent Living?
Unlike other types of senior housing-such as assisted living communities or nursing homes-independent living is not a type of long-term "care." As a result, the decision for a senior (or often, a senior couple) to move into an independent living community has very little to do with medical necessity.
The reasons for moving an independent living community, then, can vary much more than the reasons for moving into a nursing home. Sometimes, retired couples will move into these communities because they want to have a more active social lives, now that they have so much more free time than they did when they were working every day. Other times, couples who spend summers in one part of the country and winters in another part will sell their homes and move into independent living community as a means of downsizing.
Shedding the responsibility of owning a full-sized house is not just a common choice for people living this kind of "snowbird" lifestyle, but for a variety of other seniors as well. Often, older adults can be completely healthy, but can still view living in a big house as "too much"-whether because climbing a bunch of stairs every day is becoming difficult, or because the maintenance is more trouble than it is worth. And of course, for some senior couples who are still living in the homes where they once raised families, the decision to move into an independent living community is motivated by the realization that they just don't need that much space anymore.
Cost of Independent Living
Because there is no medical care component, independent living is easily the least expensive senior housing option. According to HelpGuide.org, a non-profit organization that seeks to spread awareness on mental health and senior wellbeing, the monthly cost for residents of independent living communities ranges from $1,500 to $3,500. The cost can vary depending on location, quality and size of accommodations, availability of different amenities and services, and meal plan.
Is Independent Living Right for You?
If you are a senior who is considering making a move into an independent living community, then you have probably already done your homework and learned about the benefits of these communities. Between freedom, social life, and convenience, there are plenty of pros that can make independent living sound like the perfect senior housing option. However, before you start looking around for a community to call your new home, ask yourself a couple of questions to determine whether or not independent living is the right choice for you.
- Are you healthy enough for independent living? If you are going to make a major lifestyle change like selling your home and moving into an independent senior living community, then it's worth it to spare some serious thought for your current health. Independent living communities are designed for seniors who are still quite physically and mentally healthy, so if you have a condition or disability and have noticed a decline in your health in recent years, then you might consider an assisted living community instead.
- Where is it located? Is the independent living community you are considering located within easy driving distance of friends or family? While one of the big perks of retirement communities is getting to know all of the other people living there, you don't want to isolate yourself from your existing support system either, as doing so can increase your risk for depression and overall mental decline. In other words, if you'd have to leave friends and family completely behind to move into a good independent living community, then it might be best to think about alternative options.
Ultimately, independent living is an affordable choice for senior housing that, for a certain group of older adults, is the perfect choice! For seniors looking to retain their independence, but lessen their responsibility, selling the house and renting an apartment or villa at a retirement community is often the perfect step.