Are you trying to decide what the next phase of your life should look like? You may be wondering whether you should stay in your home or move into senior housing facilities. Independent living facilities are an excellent option if you are looking to retain the freedom and autonomy of living at home without the headache of home maintenance.
In this guide to independent living, we’ll cover the following:
- What is independent living?
- The difference between independent living facilities and assisted living facilities
- The difference between independent living facilities and living at your current home
- The pros and cons of independent living facilities
- Is independent living right for me?
- Independent living tips
What is independent living?
The term “independent living” refers to a housing arrangement designed for older adults, usually over age 55. These communities offer apartments or single-family detached homes, so residents can live independently and privately.
While residents live in their own space rather than in a communal facility, independent living facilities often offer amenities, activities, and services to make life easier and more fun. Recreational centers and clubhouses provide opportunities to participate in community events.
Some people choose to move into independent living communities because they offer a “campus” feel and being near others in a new space gives people a renewed sense of adventure. Independent living facilities can also give residents access to spaces they didn’t have access to before, like facilities for games or fitness spaces.
Independent living centers generally do not offer any assistance, medical care, or nursing staff, but you can hire in-home help or join thousands of others and use GoGoGrandparent services as needed. Independent living facilities are a great in-between option if you’re not sure your home will be able to meet the needs of your future self but don’t feel ready for the type of care offered in an assisted living facility. They’re perfect for those senior adults who want the extra support and community-feel of an assisted living center while still retaining the independence and privacy of living in their own space.
Note: Independent living facilities are also often referred to as retirement communities, 55+ communities, active adult communities, senior living apartments or senior housing, or continuing care retirement community (CCRC).
What is independent living vs an assisted living facilities?
Independent living facilities generally do not provide medical assistance to their residents. Although there may be a nurse on-call in the community for basic needs, most independent living facilities are aimed at older adults who need little or no assistance with daily living or medical care.
Another difference is the level of control you might have over your own life. In independent living, you can lock your own door and control your own temperature. It’s an apartment or condo that you own like any other home. In assisted living - sometimes access to your home, the temperature and related utilities are controlled and maintained by building management.
Assisted living facilities are the right option if you have particular medical or lifestyle needs that are too challenging to handle on your own, like if you can no longer cook or go out like you used to. Other indicators that it might be time to start looking at assisted living facilities include: you’re starting to get worried about maintaining the upkeep on your home, you have medications that are constantly forcing you to go to the pharmacy or you’re beginning to lose touch with your neighbors and friends.
A nursing home is another housing option if you require medical assistance or help with daily activities like dressing or using the bathroom. Nursing homes don’t always have a shared room, but typically come with a roommate. A nursing home would be right for you if you struggle getting around on your own, or eating food independently.
Want to learn more about the pros and cons of assisted living facilities? Check out our guide about home care vs assisted living facilities here.
What is independent living vs living at your current home?
Independent living facilities are similar to living in your own home; you have your own private space and retain all your independence and autonomy. The difference is where you’re living. Your current home likely isn’t built with senior accessibility in mind, and you still have to keep up your yard work and house maintenance. Independent living facilities for seniors make all this a lot easier. You have your own space, but you have support in home maintenance. The facilities may also come with a restaurant that offers free or heavily reduced cost meals so you don’t always have to cook.
Another difference is the community aspect. Independent living facilities foster a sense of community that can be challenging to foster in a traditional neighborhood setting. Staying social is an essential part of healthy aging, so this is often a major deciding factor for those looking to move to a 55+ community.
What are the pros of independent living facilities?
One of the greatest benefits of independent living facilities is that the homes are generally friendlier to aging adults. Accessibility needs are considered with lowered cabinets, bigger closets, accessible bathrooms, and chair lifts and safety steps (if there are stairs). The facility may also handle specific tasks, like home maintenance and yard work that are increasingly burdensome with age.
Independent living helps preserve your independence longer. You have the privacy of your own home – with your own furniture, possessions, and design style – and you can live your life as you usually would. You get to keep your autonomy while getting rid of the headaches of maintenance, upkeep, and social pressures.
Many seniors love moving into independent living facilities because of all the great amenities. These communities may have fitness centers, tennis courts, bocce courts, and swimming pools. Some even have golf courses, spas, and beauty salons. They may also run fun activities like arts and crafts, fitness classes, holiday parties, movie nights, education classes, and more. This is a great way to socialize, make friends, keep up with your favorite hobbies, and learn new skills.
Most independent living facilities have 24-hour staff who can quickly and easily provide help if you need it, like taking you to the hospital or stopping a leak in your house. Plus, you’ll have a community of neighbors to help too, so you don’t have to rely on friends or family for daily problems.
Independent living facilities may also offer household amenities and maintenance. For example, there may be a restaurant or small minimart, or you may be able to pay for basic housekeeping and laundry services through the facility. If your independent living facility doesn’t provide some of these services, or it does but only by appointment, you can supplement with GoGoGrandparent. Many GoGo users live in independent living facilities but use GoGo to have more control over their groceries, meals, prescriptions, and home care. Learn more about how to enhance your lifestyle with GoGoGrandparent’s services here.
What are the cons of independent living for seniors?
One of the biggest cons of independent living facilities is that it’s not the home you’re used to. Although you have your own home or apartment in the community, it may not feel like “home” until you make it your own. If you have grown comfortable in the house where you currently reside, moving into a new apartment or condo can feel unnerving. Moreover, adults at-risk for dementia may decide to stay in familiar surroundings to help strengthen memories.
The cost may also be prohibitive for some people. Depending on your location, insurance and the type of community, living in independent living facilities can range from $1,500 to $8,000 a month. There may be add-on costs (like meal prep or housekeeping), fees (like landscaping or HOA), and more. For seniors who have paid off their home mortgage, returning to monthly payments can feel daunting. (If you are interested in independent living facilities but concerned about the cost, consider looking into low-income or subsidized senior housing through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.)
Independent living facilities generally do not include medical assistance. If you or your partner require a lot of help with daily needs or medical concerns, you may want to consider an assisted living facility or nursing home. If you are healthy now but anticipate health problems down the line, you can learn about Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC), which offer a broader spectrum of care. You can also consider hiring an in-house aide at the independent living facility or in your current home.
A guide to independent living: is it right for me?
Ask yourself the following questions to determine if independent living is right for you.
- What is independent living? Conduct thorough research to understand what is and isn’t included with independent living facilities in your area. Write down your own list of pros and cons.
- Are you struggling to maintain your current home? If housework, yard work, and general maintenance are becoming a challenge, you consider looking at independent living facilities and GoGoGrandparent’s home services.
- How is your health or your partner’s health? If you require medical assistance, you may want to consider nursing facilities or an in-home aide. (You can also get an in-home aide or therapist while living at an independent living facility.)
- Do you want to make new friends and be more social? If you want to increase your social life but don’t know where to start, independent living communities make it easy to be surrounded by a strong community.
- What do you value most in a community? If you’re looking for lots of social activities, seek out independent living facilities that offer daily community building events. If you care most about getting your daily exercise, find a community that has a pool, gym, and fitness classes.
- What are the people like at the facility? Take a tour of the community beforehand. Speak to current residents. Get recommendations from friends. A key part of independent living facilities is the social aspect, so you want to make sure you’re going to like the people you’re around.
- How big is the community? Do you want something small and intimate or large and sprawling?
- How accessible is this facility in terms of my health? If you have any medical or disability concerns, will this community be able to address these needs? For example, are there plenty of ramps available if you can’t use the stairs? Are the streets well-lit for taking a stroll in the evening?
- How accessible is the community in terms of the local area? How close are you to stores you frequent, like your favorite grocery store or the local library? GoGoGrandparent’s Rides can help you catch a ride anywhere you like, so you don’t have to worry about driving.
- Do they allow pets? What is their pet policy? Find out if you can bring your beloved cat or dog with you.
- Is there a dining program? Is it optional or mandatory? What is the cost? Does their program fit with your dietary needs, restrictions, and schedule? Even if they have a dining program, you’ll likely have the freedom to supplement with your own groceries and takeout whenever you want.
- How does the on campus transportation work? Can you bring your own car? Does the community offer a shuttle? How far in advance do you need to book an appointment with the community’s transportation and how far can they take you? Can you get to the medical professionals you’re used to?
Independent living tips
If you decide this is the right solution, here are some great independent living tips to help you make the most of the experience.
- Before selecting a facility, take a tour. Ask residents their thoughts. Read reviews. This is a big decision, so you want to take the time to make sure it’s the right community for you.
- Downsize your belongings before you move. This will make the moving process more manageable and help you get a fresh start for this next chapter in your life.
- Decorate your space so it feels like home. Fill it with your favorite possessions and pictures that make you happy. This is one of our favorite independent living tips because it will remind you that, although you’re making a huge change, you still have control over your lifestyle.
- Give yourself time to cope with the change. Moving is never easy, and it will take some getting used to. But don’t worry, because most senior adults end up loving the autonomy and social aspect of independent living facilities.
- Take advantage of your community. You can partake in community events as much or as little as you like. We recommend trying every activity offered so you can make friends, discover what makes you happy, and get to know the community.
- Ask other residents for their best independent living tips. Ask which classes are the most popular, where everyone likes to hang out, and how they handled the adjustment period.
- Ask friends and family to visit more often in the early days. You may even want to throw a little housewarming party. Having friendly faces over will help you feel comfortable and at home in your new space.
- Supplement your lifestyle with GoGoGrandparent. Try our transportation service, so you can go to all your favorite stores and local haunts whenever you like. We also offer grocery, meal, and prescription delivery, so you always have food, supplies, and medicine on hand. Plus, if there are any household activities you don’t want to handle yourself, you can find vetted home care professionals through GoGoGrandparent. You can hire housekeepers, dog walkers, caregivers, hair stylists, and so much more – all with a quick phone call to our dial-in service.
- When you’ve been living there awhile, don’t be afraid to share your independent living tips too! You’ll be the expert in no time.
Guide to independent living
There’s no right or wrong answer when choosing a living situation. You have to make the decision that feels right for you. If you want a more social lifestyle, independent living facilities offer the freedom of living independently without the traditional hassles of home ownership. Register for GoGoGrandparent before you move. You can hire a vetted home professional to help you downsize, move, and clean your previous house. And you can also hire a pro to help set up your new home at the independent living facility! Plus, all GoGoGrandparent’s services streamline your life, so you can focus on those things that matter to you.