Independent senior living is any housing arrangement designed exclusively for older adults, generally 55+.
Typically, these senior independent living communities offer activities and amenities designed to support an active senior lifestyle and freedom from the hassles of home and yard maintenance. The various housing options are friendlier for seniors living independently, being more compact with easier navigation and no maintenance or yard work to worry about. Senior independent living communities often have 24-hour staff who can quickly and easily provide help if needed, offering safety measures to help older adults—particularly those living alone. However, most independent senior living communities do not offer medical care or nursing staff. In-home help could be hired separately as required.
Independent living is distinguished from other types of housing for older adults primarily by the level of assistance offered for daily living activities. Those who need help with eating, dressing, using the bathroom or require regular medical assistance, are usually better served by an assisted living facility or nursing home.
Benefits of independent living for seniors
Many independent living communities offer a resort lifestyle and residents—especially those who move into the community after living alone—may enjoy a wide range of benefits:1
- A decreased risk of social isolation.
- Freedom from housekeeping, home maintenance and the problems of homeownership.
- An abundance of services and amenities that promote healthy aging.
- Around-the-clock safety and security, giving residents and their families peace of mind.
- Organized opportunities to find new hobbies, new interests and travel the world.
Types of independent living facilities for older adults
In 2019, the not-for-profit senior living organization National Senior Campuses reported nearly 21,000 senior living units across the United States.2
Independent living options for seniors include:3
- Low-income or subsidized senior housing. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) subsidizes housing complexes for low-income seniors.
- Senior apartments or congregate care housing. These are apartment complexes restricted by age, usually 55, 62 or older. Rent may include community services such as recreational programs, transportation services and meals served in a communal dining room.
- Retirement homes/retirement communities. These are groups of housing units restricted for those over a certain age, often 55 or 62. With a purchased unit, additional monthly fees may cover services such as outside maintenance, recreation centers or clubhouses.
- Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs). CCRCs offer a spectrum of care from independent living to nursing home care in the same community. If residents begin to need help with activities of daily living, they can transfer from independent living to an assisted living or skilled nursing facility on the same site.
How much does independent senior living cost?
Costs range widely and depend on factors including location, amenities, size (of both the community and the individual residence) and number of occupants. Rental communities tend to have lower monthly rates but not everything is included in that cost, such as healthcare.
CCRCs generally require an upfront entrance fee, which can be $100,000+,4 and is frequently covered by the proceeds from selling a home. This is a way to prepay future medical costs.5 Many communities offer refundable options where the residents get a percentage of the entrance fee back if they leave.6
According to the National Investment Center, the average independent senior living monthly rate is around $3,200, although monthly fees can range from $1,500 to $5,000 or more.7
What to consider when selecting an independent living option
Think about what is most important, now and in the future. Consider the following factors:
- Hobbies and activities
- Types of required assistance
- Location (e.g., living close to family, in a particular climate, close to frequented places, such as libraries or medical facilities)
Visit communities of interest and notice if they feel comfortable. Take into consideration feelings of safety, as well as whether the indoor and outdoor spaces are accessible. Talk with residents and sample a meal, if possible.
Is an apartment or house preferred? When looking at potential living spaces, get a feel for future adaptability. Are there stairs inside or out, and if so, can ramps be added if necessary? How about adaptive devices like grab bars? Can they be installed easily?
Additional questions include:
- How often are social and recreational activities planned for the residents? Ask to look at the community’s monthly calendar.
- Does the community have meeting spaces to promote social interaction, like living rooms, porches and a communal dining room? Are amenities well-maintained and clean?
- Do convenience services, like laundry and house cleaning, cost extra?
- Is there an onsite maintenance team? How quickly do they respond?
- Does the community have enough staff to support their services and amenities?
- What type of dining packages are offered and what is the cost?
- Can the kitchen accommodate your dietary restrictions?
Why should older adults choose independent living sooner?
Many residents of independent senior living communities report that they wish they’d made the move sooner.8 While change can be daunting, and it might feel as though there is some stigma attached to moving to a retirement community, in reality, acknowledging limitations and accepting some assistance now may help older adults maintain independence.
Innovations in healthcare and a focus on prevention mean that seniors today can live longer, healthier lives. In the next 2 decades, the number of people over 65 will increase by 42%, and the number of people over 85 will increase by 111%.9 Independent living can help seniors stress less and enjoy more of that time.
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1“What is Independent Senior Living?” Where You Live Matters, last accessed June 18, 2022, https://www.whereyoulivematters.org/independent-senior-living/Opens in new window.
2“U.S. Senior Housing – statistics and facts,” Statista, last accessed June 18, 2022, https://www.statista.com/topics/4817/housing-for-seniors-in-the-us/#topicHeader__wrapperOpens in new window.
3“Independent Living for Seniors,” HelpGuide, last accessed June 23, 2022, https://www.helpguide.org/articles/senior-housing/independent-living-for-seniors.htmOpens in new window.
4“What is Independent Senior Living?”
5“What is Independent Senior Living?”
6“What is Independent Senior Living?”
7“What is Independent Senior Living?”
8“What is Independent Senior Living?”
9Emma Rubin, “2021 assisted living statistics,” Consumer Affairs, last accessed June 18, 2022, https://www.consumeraffairs.com/assisted-living/statistics.htmlOpens in new window.
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