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Independent living comes in many shapes and sizes. It’s the umbrella term for senior housing designed for those who are still mobile and active. Seniors who choose independent living don’t require custodial or nursing services but benefit from the convenience of certain amenities and activities. It’s also a great community network for seniors to make friends and enjoy recreation.
Let’s get the lowdown on this option so you can better understand what it is, the many types and how to pay for it.
What is independent living?
Independent living (also known as retirement communities or congregate care) is a wide-ranging term for senior-specific housing arrangements. Typically reserved for adults over the age of 55, this housing is designed to be senior-friendly, so that your loved one no longer has to worry about getting around or maintaining a home.
This type of senior housing varies greatly. The underlying feature is that residents don’t require medical assistance. These communities provide convenience for seniors, but not health-related care. Some daily upkeep may be provided, such as laundry or meals, for the comfort of residents. However, if your loved one needs around-the-clock assistance or nursing care, independent housing isn’t the right choice.
What types of independent living are available?
There is a huge range of different senior communities. Some simply provide senior-friendly living arrangements, while others include numerous amenities and activities.
These services are designed for residents to enjoy their final years. These communities may have clubhouses, fitness centers, community activities, continuing education, recreational classes and entertainment. Residents may be able to get on-site amenities such as laundry, meals, housekeeping and personal care (hair salon, dentistry, etc.).
Some options for senior housing include:
- Senior-only apartments (may include extras like recreation, meals, etc.)
- Congregate care units (may include extras like recreation, meals, etc.)
- Retirement communities (may include extras like recreation, meals, etc.)
- Low-income or subsidized senior housing (provided by the U.S. Department of Housing)
- CCRCs (Continuing Care Retirement Communities) (includes a continuum of custodial or nursing care for residents now or in the future)
Though these types of senior housing are distinct, you’ll find common features. Most of these features have to do with convenience rather than care, such as:
- Senior-friendly design and layout, such as no stairs
- Groundskeeping services such as maintenance and yard work
- Upkeep services such as laundry and housekeeping
- Other amenities such as personal care
- Recreational and entertainment services
- On-site meal plans
What are the benefits of independent living?
This option can be extremely beneficial for seniors looking to maintain freedom and flexibility in their older years. Those who choose this type of housing arrangement will experience benefits. In particular, they will:
- Enjoy independence with secure housing and on-site staff.
- Connect with new friends in a built-in network.
- Keep up physical and emotional health with a wide range of recreational activities.
- Get the convenience of on-site meals and upkeep amenities.
- Enjoy a wide range of social activities and entertainment.
- Stay mobile with transportation services.
- Have access to extras such as hosting areas, pet care, etc.
Depending on the chosen community, these benefits will vary. For example, retirement communities generally offer a larger variety of residence types, while CCRCs provide nursing home care.
How does independent living compare to assisted living?
Independent living is distinct from assisted living. Basically, seniors who choose this option are able to take care of daily tasks with no assistance. With it, they get the convenience of housekeeping and meals (if they want), but otherwise are mobile and healthy.
On the other hand, assisted living residents need some extra help with daily living, including eating, bathing, toileting, etc. They may also require basic nursing care. In this case, assisted living residents are monitored by health professionals and don’t leave the facilities on a regular basis.
What is the experience of independent living like?
Independent housing - whether a retirement community or senior-only complex - can be a great experience for seniors. In particular, many find new life in connecting with friends and trying out new activities. Instead of being isolated or lonely at home, they’re able to maintain their independence while enjoying a community feel.
Should I be worried about COVID and independent living?
With all community housing arrangements, you should be cautious about COVID infection. Because residents may interact with others in communal areas - such as a community center or during recreational activities - it’s important to know the COVID protocols. These communities may require facemasks, social distancing or other protocols to reduce the likelihood of infection.
How much does independent living cost?
Independent housing costs fall on a wide spectrum. Depending on the location, housing and amenities selected, these costs can quickly inflate. Generally speaking, the yearly cost of this type of housing ranges from $12,000 to $42,000. Because this option doesn’t include medical costs, it’s overall more affordable than assisted living or nursing homes.
How can I pay for independent living?
Senior housing isn’t typically covered by health insurance. That’s because medical or nursing services aren’t included in this housing option. If you have Medicare or private health insurance, you most likely won’t receive coverage for this senior housing.
However, there are still ways to pay or offset housing costs. You may be able to get coverage through these payment methods:
- Medicaid: Some Medicaid plans may offer coverage for long-term care. Medicaid is government-sponsored health insurance provided to low-income residents. Depending on your situation, they may subsidize some long-term care services. (You can check your eligibility on the Medicaid website.)
- Long-term care insurance: For those who don’t have Medicaid, long-term care insurance is another excellent way to pay for it. Long-term care insurance covers some services, such as meals, errands, transportation, etc. If this type of service is included in your housing contract, you may be able to offset some costs of this housing with this insurance.
- Life insurance policy: Life insurance can sometimes be used to pay for senior living costs too. This will depend greatly on your life insurance policy, so be sure to check with your provider. Often, you can get an “advance” on your life insurance to pay for costs accrued during your senior years.
- Veteran’s benefits: Veterans receive certain health benefits and may be able to offset some costs. You’ll need to contact a benefits specialist to find out what type of services are covered.
- Employer-provided assistance: Some private employers also provide extra benefits related to senior living. Contact your employer insurance provider to find out whether some services of this option may be covered.
- Personal funds: In the end, you can always use personal funds to cover housing costs. Many seniors end up selling their family home to use these funds for housing alternatives. You may also consider creating a special personal account for senior living costs.
No matter what, you should check your eligibility and coverage with your provider. This is especially important for knowing which services are and aren’t covered regarding your senior housing costs.
Why should I choose independent living?
When researching senior housing, it’s important to consider the needs of your family. Independent living is great for seniors who need little assistance. However, if you expect to have health issues down the line, a CCRC may be a good choice to prevent housing disruption later on. You may also decide that you extra help with daily tasks and that assisted living would be a better fit.
Overall, it's an excellent choice for seniors who are still highly mobile and active, but want the convenience of certain amenities. It’s also great for boosting the social life of seniors who otherwise would remain isolated and feel depressed alone.
How can I find the right independent living community?
There are plenty of independent housing options out there. You can start your search on MyCaringPlan. Just enter in your zip code and you’ll get a list of potential options. If you need more info, you can also check with the U.S. Administration on Aging, which provides tons of resources for seniors, including housing and rights.
Before you make the final decision, you should also visit the facilities to verify that it’s a good fit. Make a list of concerns and financial questions and be sure to get them answered during your visit. You might also request a break-down of costs to avoid any hidden fees.
Ultimately, independent living can be a wonderful choice for seniors who want to stay active in their later years.