- What is senior independent living?
- What are the advantages of an independent living community?
- When should I move to an independent living community?
- How can independent living community help?
- How do I select an independent living community?
- What questions should I ask about a senior independent living community?
“An independent living community consists of residences intentionally designed for seniors who want to remain active and spend more time doing things they like to do.”
What is independent living?
An independent living community consists of residences intentionally designed for seniors who remain active and want to spend more time doing things they like to do. Seniors are freed from many daily worries such as some household chores, home maintenance and repairs. Independent living also provides social and dining options. Usually, everything needed by the senior is close by, such as a library, fitness center and dining room.
A significant goal of independent living is to create a sense of community and fight the isolation that frequently comes as we age. There are often group activities, trips and a shared dining space that encourages interaction and new friends.
Independent living differs from assisted living because seniors in independent living do not rely on staff for medical care or assistance with daily living activities, like dressing or bathing. Assisted living facilities are not designed for active seniors. Instead, they are intended for those who are no longer able to live safely on their own.
“The main advantages of independent living are a worry-free lifestyle, a sense of community with friends nearby and a predictable monthly cost without the risk of sudden home expenses.”
What are the advantages of an independent living community?
The main advantages of independent living are a worry-free lifestyle, a sense of community with friends nearby and a predictable monthly cost without the risk of sudden home expenses. Also, independent living communities are usually designed to be a safe living environment as seniors age. Often, an apartment will be on a single level with wide doorways, large handles and easy-grip bars in the bathroom. Multi-floor facilities will have elevators so that there won’t be a need to climb steps if you do not want to.
Here is a breakdown of the significant advantages:
- No Cost Maintenance and Repairs: Let somebody else worry about household maintenance. You won’t have to pay for or wait for contractors again.
- Regular Social Activities: Surround yourself with new (or existing) friends that live just a few steps away. You may walk to get together for a cup of coffee, games, gardening or other hobbies. Social activities fight isolation that often impacts seniors and are one of the main reasons for joining an independent living community.
- Healthy Meal Options: Don’t worry about stocking up your refrigerator or spending hours making food for you or a spouse. Let a trained chef create healthy meals from fresh ingredients.
- On-site Amenities: Walk to everything you want, such as a library, dining options, a fitness center, and a space for getting together with friends.
- Helpful Services: Housekeeping, transportation, trash removal and delicious healthy meals are a few of the services offered by the best communities.
- Security: Enjoy peace of mind by living in a secured environment with electronic locks and cameras.
- Safer Aging Environment: Everything in the apartments is designed to make it easier and safer to age in place.
- Continuum of Care: A few independent living facilities have access to at-home caregivers who can assist when daily tasks become more difficult to manage and enable residents to age in place.
- One All-Inclusive Fee: If you are on a fixed income, it is helpful not to worry about surprise expenses for your living environment. There are some exceptional all-inclusive independent living providers who provide excellent value with truly all-inclusive services.
“If you are on the ‘young side of being a senior,’ then you will be able to take the best advantage of the freedom that is offered by independent living.”
Should I move into an independent living community?
It is difficult to leave the home and the neighborhood that you lived in for years. However, most independent living residents say that they wish they had moved earlier. If you are on the “young side of being a senior,” then you will be able to take the best advantage of the freedom that is offered by independent living.
Here are some tell-tale signs that independent living is right for you:
- You have had enough of taking care of a house. Repairs may be getting more expensive, and you wonder if it is worth spending more money on your property. Tasks like shoveling snow and mowing a lawn take more out of you than they used to.
- You stop cooking some of the healthy meals that you love because it has become a bother. Perhaps you no longer eat the wide variety of meals that you used to. Often a senior will say that it is not worth the hassle to spend hours preparing a healthy dinner every day just for oneself or for two.
- You get annoyed at the daily chores required because your place is so big. Routine home cleaning might be OK, but having a person come by regularly to clean a bathroom would be helpful or to do some odd jobs.
- You stop going to activities because they are too difficult to attend. Some seniors decide to stop driving at night or in the rain. Others don’t go out because they do not want to go to a movie or restaurant alone. These are important warning signs that can lead to social isolation and loneliness.
- Friends have moved away, and you feel more isolated in your neighborhood. It may feel that it is a burden for a family member to spend time with you because they have their own life, work and family to care for.
- You are nervous about living alone. If you worry about what will happen if you hurt yourself in your home with nobody around or if personal security is a concern, then independent living could be the solution.
“Most independent living residents say that they wish they had moved earlier.”
How can independent living help?
Common ways in which independent living may help are as follows:
- Somebody else will take care of routine housekeeping.
- Somebody else will worry about repairs and maintenance.
- You can get a variety of delicious, healthy meals.
- You will belong to a community with friends that are just a short walk away.
- There are organized and informal social activities that fight isolation.
- The environment is designed for the physical needs of seniors and will be safer than most homes.
- Provide a predictable fee for household budgeting.
- There can be additional staff and care coordination supports should you need them in the future.
“The most important is whether you can picture yourself living there. Does it offer the environment, activities and choices that you are looking for?”
How do I select an independent living community?
There are several key factors to consider when selecting an independent living community. The most important is whether you can picture yourself living there. Does it offer the environment, activities and choices that you are looking for? Here is how to approach the process:
- Always start by asking yourself about your desired location. That decision can help you narrow down options very quickly. It may be important for you to live near a relative or near old friends. Perhaps you want to live where it is warm year-round. Consider whether you want to be in a rural environment where you will depend upon a car or bus to go anywhere or whether the freedom of being within walking distance to attractions and restaurants is worthwhile.
- With a location in mind, it is relatively easy to create a list of communities. A search for “independent living” using Google search is a logical choice. You can also contact a local senior center for advice regarding local communities.
- Decide whether you want to live in a large community of hundreds of people or a smaller setting. While a large setting often means more choices, you will have more input and get greater individual attention in a smaller community. After all, it is not about the number of options a community has, it is whether you can influence the selection of options so that they include the ones you want.
- Think about what physical facilities will be important to you. If you like to golf every day, you may want a retirement community on a golf course. Otherwise, you probably don’t want to pay a monthly fee that includes costly golf privileges. If you like to read or go to the movies, determine if there is a library, museum or cinema within walking distance so that you can go anytime.
- Check to see if the community has on-site management or if it is part of a chain. The best facilities have senior executives on-site and make it easy for you to see them. In that way, requests and concernscan be made directly. Approvals for making changes can happen quickly. Management in a community that is part of a chain or a franchise may not be empowered to make all decisions. That could limit your options in the future.
- Determine if the organization is part of a non-profit organization. Non-profits do not need to send their money to investors. Instead, they can charge lower fees and/or put more of their fees towards services.
These steps above should enable you to quickly narrow down the list of potential independent living communities that would interest you to a handful. Before you tour, you might want to drive past the facility to get an impression of what it would be like to live there. Many people find helpful information based upon a first impression.
- Does the community have curb appeal to you? Is it a place that will make you feel happy when you come home to it?
- Does everything look to be in good repair? Is it neat and clean? Check to see that the lawns are mowed, the flower beds are neat, the paths are in good repair, and that snow is cleanly plowed.
- Look at the neighborhood. If you want the freedom to walk to attractions and restaurants, check to see how far they are.
Now, you should have significantly narrowed down the list. Make a few appointments and get a formal tour of the residences.
“When you take a tour, it is essential to get a sense of the other people who live in the community. … Be sure to see the actual unit where you will live. … Ask these specific questions below:”
What questions should I ask when touring an independent living community?
Once you have narrowed the list (see above), it is time to make an appointment for a formal tour and an opportunity to ask questions.
When you take a tour, it is essential to get a sense of the other people who live in the community.
- Can you picture yourself spending time with them?
- While they are not friends today, can you imagine that they could become friends over time? There is no formal list that can answer this question. Instead, it is crucial to rely on your feelings.
Be sure to see the actual unit where you will live.
- Will the apartment layout work for you and your furniture?
- Is it spacious enough to have guests?
- Are the kitchens, appliances and baths modern?
- Do you like the view?
- Do you feel safe?
- How far is it from an elevator or the dining room?
Ask specific questions:
- Ask about your neighbors and the community. What activities are the most popular? Can you attend any activity, or are there limits on the number of people who may sign up? Review a copy of the activity calendar for the past few months to see if they match your interests.
- Ask as much as you can about dining as you will spend a lot of time dining with other residents. The variety and quality of food is essential. But, also ask about meal times and who you will be sitting next to. Look at the menu to see if it is of interest and find out if you can influence it. Large facilities often have fixed menus that rotate meals over the weeks. A smaller facility will give the chef an opportunity to get to know you and to customize the meal options for you. Find out if the chef might prepare your favorite breakfast or dinner recipe for you.
- Is a continuum of care available? It is good to live in a community that can offer additional medical services or assistance with daily activities, such as grooming and bathing. Expect extra costs for these services. Others make it easy to move to a different facility that offers more care if you need it. The ability to keep using caregivers from the same organization is beneficial for ongoing quality care.
- Find out about the services you will use. If weekly access to a hairdresser or stylist is important, ask about how that can be arranged for you.
- If religious services are essential to you, find out about whether the services are located on-site or if there is an active spiritual center, such as a church, synagogue or mosque, nearby. Some independent living communities are run by religious organizations. Find out if the religious services meet your needs. If you are not interested in religious services, you may want a more non-sectarian environment.
- Ask about the level of security in the facility. In many communities, electronic door locks and video cameras with recorders will supply the security you need.
- Ask about access to emergency services. It is likely that at some point, you will need to see a doctor, visit a pharmacy or go to the hospital. On-site pharmacies are not always better if they are not open every day. Find out if there is a full-service pharmacy within a few blocks. Determine exactly how many minutes it takes to get to the hospital.
- Look for non-profit independent living communities. These tend to cost less or provide more value for the monthly fee because
- Be sure that you afford it and won’t have to move too soon. Ask about the fees for the unit you toured and will occupy. Find out if there are any additional charges that you should anticipate. (It is a good idea to have an exact figure in your mind before committing. Many seniors use a combination of social security, savings and the proceeds from the sale of their home to fund an independent living apartment. Ask your accountant or a trusted advisor the maximum amount you can spend and how many years the funding will last.)
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