Independent living communities are aimed at seniors who need little or no assistance with activities of daily living. Most senior housing or senior apartments do not offer medical care or nursing staff. As with regular housing, you can hire in-home help separately as required. The residents are seniors who benefit from convenient services, senior-friendly surroundings, and increased social opportunities that independent living communities offer.
While residents live independently, most communities offer amenities, activities and services. Often, recreational centers or clubhouses are available on site to give seniors the opportunity to connect with peers and participate in community activities, such as arts and crafts, holiday gatherings, continuing education classes, or movie nights.
Independent living communities may also offer amenities such as swimming pools, fitness center, tennis courts, even a golf course or other clubs and interest groups. Other services offered in independent living may include onsite spas, beauty and barber salons, daily meals, basic housekeeping and laundry services. You'll want to know if they cater to your favorite hobbies or interests. Is there a fitness center, game room, or coffee shop available onsite? Perhaps there are some activities that you’ve never explored before. Some independent living or retirement homes, for example, partner with nearby universities to offer academic classes and cultural events.
There are many types of independent living communities, from apartment complexes to separate houses, which range in cost and the services provided.
In the U.S., there are senior housing complexes subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for low-income seniors.
Senior apartments or congregate care housing are apartment complexes restricted by age, usually 55 and older. Rent may include community services such as recreational programs, transportation services, and meals served in a communal dining room.
Retirement homes/retirement communities are groups of housing units restricted for those over a certain age, often 55 or 62 and older. These senior housing units can be single-family homes, duplexes, mobile homes, townhouses, or condominiums.
What you need from an independent living or retirement community depends on your own unique situation. With so much variation in services, think about which are most important to you now and in the future.
No matter what type of independent living community you consider, you want to make sure you connect with peers and feel comfortable in the community. When you visit the area, talk with some of the residents. Are they people you’d like to know better? Are support services timely with a staff that's friendly and accessible?
There is no set size for an independent living community, so it’s up to you if you prefer a smaller size community or a busier place with more people and opportunities for socialization. Some residents may want to change their location to a warmer climate such as California, Arizona or Florida.
Look at how accessible the retirement community is, both inside and outside. Do you feel safe coming and going at different hours of the day? Are amenities outside of the facility within walking distance, or do you need transportation like a car or cart to get around? Can you easily get to the places you frequently use such as a library, college, or medical services?
In your potential senior housing unit, get a feel for future adaptability. Are there any stairs inside the unit or outside? Can ramps be added if necessary? Check to see if adaptive devices like grab bars can be easily installed in bathrooms. If you have a pet, are pets welcomed?