Many older adults reach a point when they’re ready for a more leisurely, low-stress lifestyle, especially after retiring. But, if they do not yet require any daily personal care assistance, they’ll likely feel that an assisted living community offers more care than they need. This can leave active seniors who want to transition to a residential community feeling like they’re out of options. But, there are alternatives to assisted living and nursing care.
Independent living is a different type of residential senior community specifically intended for those who want a low-stress lifestyle, but who are still active and independent. These communities cater to older adults who want to move to a community of other seniors and enjoy all that it has to offer, but who do not yet necessarily need to transition to residential care. Independent living communities handle interior and exterior maintenance for residents and offer services like prepared meals, transportation, and on-site activities and events. They do not offer medical care or personal care services.
With almost 30,000 residential care communities in the United States, choosing the right one can feel overwhelming. In this guide, we provide some more details on independent living and who is a good fit, how much independent living costs, and how to choose the best community for you.
What Is Independent Living?
Independent living communities are residential senior housing communities designed for independent seniors that desire the conveniences of community living. Independent living communities offer seniors a lifestyle filled with recreational, educational, and social opportunities.
While services such as housekeeping, prepared meals, and transportation are available at independent living communities, higher-level services such as assistance with the activities of daily living (ADLs) and medical care are not offered at these communities. This makes independent living a great option for seniors who are still active, social, and desire community living, but who do not yet need personal care or medical assistance.
What Are Some of the Benefits of Independent Living?
Independent living offers many benefits for seniors interested in a low-stress lifestyle for their Golden Years. Below are some of the main benefits of living in an independent living community.
Maintenance-Free Lifestyle: The community handles all exterior maintenance and landscaping, housekeeping, and interior maintenance and repairs. Residents can say goodbye to mowing the lawn or fixing the broken AC unit themselves, while still living in a well-maintained environment.
Socialization: Independent living communities offer common areas for residents to congregate, planned group activities, and communal dining so that residents can form strong relationships. This can be especially important for older adults who live alone and struggle with isolation.
Safety and Security: The safety of residents should be a top priority of any independent living community. To help keep residents safe, many have 24-hour security or a locked gate, as well as emergency features such as fire suppression systems. Some may also utilize personal medical alert systems so that they can swiftly help any resident who has an emergency.
Simplified Finances: Most independent living communities offer an all-inclusive lifestyle, meaning that meals, services, and use of amenities are included in one’s monthly payment. This can greatly simplify life for seniors who were previously managing complicated finances and billing.
Convenience: Independent living communities offer a number of conveniences, including on-site amenities like beauty salons, fitness centers, and prepared and served meals. Plus, residents are living in a community of their peers, providing plenty of options for socializing without needing to plan or travel.
Who Is a Good Fit for Independent Living?
Independent living communities are designed for active older adults who desire a maintenance-free lifestyle and the social benefits of living in a community with other seniors. Because there is no medical assistance or personal care assistance offered at these communities, residents tend to be more active and generally in better health than seniors who choose to live in other types of senior communities, such as assisted living or skilled nursing homes.
While most independent living communities can accommodate residents with a range of needs, you’re likely a good fit for independent living if the following apply to you:
Your current home has begun to feel cumbersome to maintain and you want to be free of housekeeping and maintenance duties
You enjoy socializing with other adults and want to live in a community of people who are in the same life stage as you and will participate in community activities
You don’t need daily assistance, but want the security of having staff on-site at all times to assist you in case of an emergency
You want to maintain your independence for as long as possible, but are ready to hand over some arduous tasks like laundry and home repairs to someone else
You want the convenience of having amenities like a fitness center, salon, and restaurant in the same community where you live
Who Should Consider a Different Type of Senior Living?
Independent living is not the right fit for everyone. If the following situations apply to you, you’re likely better suited for a different type of senior living community.
If you do not yet need or want any assistive services like transportation or prepared meals and are independent and active, consider a 55+ community. These senior lifestyle communities provide some maintenance services but have fewer amenities on-site and services available than independent living communities. Residents still benefit socially from living in a community of older adults in the same life stage.
If you need regular assistance with activities of daily living like grooming and dressing, you’re likely a better fit for assisted living. Though some independent living communities allow residents to hire their own personal care aides as needed, having these services built-in to the monthly cost and available around-the-clock is better for most people who need regular assistance.
If you want to remain in the same community for years to come, you may consider a continuing care retirement community (CCRC). CCRCs offer a continuum of care, from independent living through memory care and skilled nursing care. Residents can access different levels of care as their needs change over the years without having to relocate, making CCRCs an appealing option for those who want to avoid another move in the future.
If you need regular medical care or are recovering from a surgery or injury, look into skilled nursing homes. These communities offer around-the-clock medical care as well as access to therapy services for those who need a higher level of care.
If your loved one is living with dementia, they’ll be best cared for in a memory care community. These communities are specially designed for those with memory impairments and offer a higher level of care and security measures than assisted living to keep residents safe.
What Are Typical Independent Living Services and Amenities?
Though independent living communities do not offer medical or personal care assistance, they still provide residents with many lifestyle services and amenities. Some of the most common include:
Housekeeping services, including laundry
Interior maintenance and repairs
Groundskeeping and maintenance of all outdoor and common areas for an aesthetically pleasing environment
Prepared meals served in a communal dining area as well as on-site coffee shops or bistros
Transportation services for errands, appointments, and more
Planned activities and events on-site, such as visiting lecturers, concerts, and movie screenings
Planned group outings for errands as well as for fun, such as attending the symphony or taking a trip to a state park
On-site conveniences such as a beauty salon and barbershop, dry cleaning pickup and delivery, and a convenience store or commissary
An on-site pool, tennis courts, and/or fitness center, oftentimes with group exercise classes
Large common areas and party spaces for residents to congregate or host friends and family for celebrations
What Is the Average Cost of Independent Living?
The cost of independent living can vary dramatically depending on a community’s location, amenities, and services provided. Because of this high variation, estimating the average cost of independent living can be difficult. According to research done by Caring.com, one can expect to pay anywhere from $12,000 to $42,000 per year for independent living, making the average cost approximately $27,000 per year.
Compared to the national average monthly cost of assisted living, $4,051, independent living residents pay roughly 30-50% less per month than those living in an assisted living community. For example, if an assisted living community costs $4,500 per month, a comparable independent living community in the same area might cost approximately $3,000 per month. This cost difference is due to the higher level of care offered at assisted living facilities. If someone residing in an independent community does need personal care, they will need to hire their own aide and pay for those services separately, on top of their monthly rate towards the community.
When considering any independent living community, be sure to always ask what is included in the monthly cost. While many independent living communities include services like meals and housekeeping in the monthly cost, others may charge for these services individually or on an as-needed basis.
How Can I Pay for Independent Living?
Independent living communities do not administer medical care, and thus health insurance, including Medicaid and Medicare, does not cover the cost. If the cost of independent living is too high to pay completely out-of-pocket, there are options available to help lessen the burden of paying for independent living. Some of the most commonly used are:
Reverse Mortgage Loans: Reverse mortgages are a loan that one can take out against the value of their primary residence, without having to immediately sell the home. This enables older adults to transition to independent living without feeling rushed to sell their home in order to afford their new community. All loanees must repay the reverse mortgage, with interest, once the home does sell, however.
Long-Term Care Insurance: To be clear, it is very likely that long-term care (LTC) insurance will not cover the full cost of independent living. However, it may cover some of the services received in an IL community, such as prepared meals and transportation assistance, lowering your overall cost. Whether or not any independent living is covered will depend on the specific insurance policy.
Life Insurance: Though not its intended purpose, it is possible to use one’s life insurance policy to pay for later-in-life expenses such as independent living. Some insurance companies allow policyholders to access their “death benefit” prior to death, though the benefit will be of lesser value. Others may choose to “sell” their policy to a third party and receive a cash settlement. No matter which route one goes, it’s important to seriously consider the pros and cons of accessing one’s life insurance benefit early.
Annuities:Annuities are a fund in which a person deposits a lump sum and receives scheduled, regular pay-outs over a specific period of time. The benefit of annuities is that older adults know that they will still have a set amount of money coming in later in life. This money often comes in handy to pay for later-in-life expenses such as moving to an independent living community.
How Do I Choose an Independent Living Community?
Choosing an independent living community for yourself or a loved one will come down to several factors, including your budget, personal preferences, and needs. As a first step, identify any “must-have” amenities for you, your maximum monthly budget, and any services that are necessary for you, such as transportation for those who cannot drive.
Once you have a clear idea of your requirements for an independent living community, it’s time to begin your search. SeniorHousingNet makes it easy for you to find independent living communities in your area by following three simple steps:
Read local independent living listings. View descriptions, plans, photos, and even pricing information on many communities in your area.
Contact a local advisor to learn more. Call 800-304-7152 to talk to a trained local advisor for free. These trained advisors can provide one-on-one assistance to help you find independent living communities in your area that meet your needs.
What Should I Look for in an Assisted Living Community?
Not all independent living communities are created equal. Some offer a more basic environment with some activities and dining, but minimal other amenities. Others offer a luxe lifestyle with ample amenities such as a state-of-the-art fitness center, indoor and outdoor pools, beautifully-appointed common areas and courtyards, and even a golf course.
While the amenities and setting may vary between different communities, certain things should remain constant, like safety, security, and cleanliness. Below, we’ve outlined five key things to look for in any independent living community to help you find your right fit.
Transparency: Ask the community manager or representative you’re working with up-front about the community’s cost, cost structure, and any extra fees; the resident contract, if there is any; and its emergency plans for situations such as COVID-19. If it’s difficult to get this information or the representative is not forthcoming, it’s a sign that communication and transparency are lacking and you may want to look into different options.
Social Environment: If one of your reasons for moving to a senior residential community is socialization, be on the lookout during your tour for residents participating in activities, congregating among themselves, and using common areas and amenities. If you’re unable to take a tour in person, see if you can find any resident reviews online, ask to see an activity calendar/schedule, or ask if the community has a program in place for prospective residents to speak with current residents.
Cleanliness: Pay special attention to the cleanliness and condition of common areas, dining rooms, and the outdoor grounds while on your tour. If these common spaces are dirty, it may indicate that the overall housekeeping is lacking. If you’re unable to tour a community in-person, ask to do a “live” virtual tour rather than watch a pre-recorded tour so that you’re seeing the condition of the community in real-time.
Security and Safety: A high-quality independent living community will have security and safety measures in place to protect residents on a day-to-day basis as well as in the event of an emergency. For example, many communities have locked gates that require a key code to enter, or a security guard on-site around-the-clock. Make sure the community meets state requirements for emergency equipment like smoke alarms and fire extinguishers. If you’re worried about suffering a medical emergency, ask if the community uses an emergency medical alert system.
Amenities: As mentioned above, the amenities available at independent living communities vary. If there is a certain amenity that is on your “must-haves” list, like a pool for an avid swimmer, be sure to check that the amenity is available, and don’t assume that because another community in town had it that they all will. If you aren’t concerned about any specific amenity you have some more flexibility, but still be sure to ask about on-site amenities to ensure you’ll have enough entertainment and activities available to satisfy you.
In addition to focusing on the five points above, our Independent Living Community Checklist is a useful tool for seniors hoping to move into a community. The included checklist, which can be printed out and brought with you on community tours, will help you both get clear on what you want and remember the right questions to ask so that you can find a community that feels like home.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Independent Living Long Term Care?
Independent living is not long-term care. This is because long-term care services like assistance with the activities of daily living and nursing care are not provided in independent living communities. Other types of residential senior care like assisted living and nursing homes are considered long-term care because they offer higher-level services than independent living.
What Does an Independent Living Community Provide?
An independent living community provides lifestyle services and amenities such as prepared meals, transportation, interior and exterior maintenance, and planned activities. It also provides an environment for older adults to live in a community of their peers. Independent living communities do not provide personal care assistance or medical care.
What Is the Difference Between Independent Living and Assisted Living?
The difference between independent living and assisted living is that assisted living provides personal care assistance and independent living does not. Both types of communities offer on-site amenities and activities, interior and exterior maintenance, and prepared meals.
Does Medicare Cover Independent Living Communities?
Medicare does not cover independent living communities. This is because medical care is not an independent living service. For this reason, no form of health insurance covers the cost of independent living.
Can I Have Pets In an Independent Living Community?
You can sometimes have pets in an independent living community. Each community sets its own pet policy. Oftentimes, there are breed or size restrictions, so be sure to check each community’s policy if you hope to have a pet live with you.