Independent Living Facilities: Types, Cost, Benefits, & More

Key Takeaways

  • Independent living facilities cater to active seniors, offering communities with convenience and numerous social activities.
  • Residents of these communities maintain their independence but can access in-home care if necessary.
  • Unlike assisted living or skilled nursing facilities, independent living does not provide personal or medical care.
  • While these facilities don’t offer medical services and aren’t typically covered by insurance, residents can hire in-home assistance, which may be insured.

Independent living facilities are fantastic opportunities for active senior adults to live together in communities that provide both convenience and an abundance of social activities.

The older adults who live in these communities are usually still quite independent, and can access in-home care within these communities if the need arises.

Independent living communities can be the right choice for a lot of retired seniors, especially those who are looking to stay active, meet new friends, and make the most of their time with loved ones.

What Are Independent Living Facilities?

Independent living facilities differ from other types of elder care, like assisted living or skilled nursing facilities, in that they do not provide any level of personal care or medical care.

What they do provide is a great deal of convenience and socialization, with frequent social events and activities, as well as important amenities, shops, and services located nearby.

Because independent living facilities do not offer medical services, they are not generally covered by any type of insurance.

However, residents of these communities may still hire their own in-home assistance or skilled nursing if they require these services, and different types of insurance often do cover portions of this care.

Types of Independent Living Communities

There are a couple of main types of independent living communities, depending on what a person is looking for and what stage of life they are in.

Retirement Communities

Retirement communities are for individuals who are age 55 and over and who are looking to either buy or rent a home in a community of other retired individuals.

In this type of community, residents typically pay a monthly mortgage or rent fee, and have additional fees for maintenance and utilities that are similar to an HOA fee.

Senior Housing Communities

Senior living communities allow seniors to live independently while also providing them with quick access to skilled medical care when needed.

These types of communities are often referred to as continuing care senior housing communities (CCSHC). They can often provide multiple levels of care within the same community.

Because of this, CCSHCs often make great transitional homes for seniors who are moving through levels of care as their condition either worsens or improves.

What Do Independent Living Facilities Offer?

Independent living facilities have a lot of attractive offerings for older adults and are a great fit for those who love to be active, adventurous, and social.

Supportive Living Environment

Independent living communities are meant to be inviting and welcoming toward all seniors, and many people find this sense of community and support to be one of the biggest benefits of this type of senior living.

Residents of independent living communities can also feel safe and comfortable knowing that they are around others who share similar lifestyles and interests.

Onsite Amenities

Amenities will vary at each community, and can range from providing basic necessities to offering more luxurious extras, such as onsite tennis courts or golf.

Amenities that can be found in independent living facilities include:

  • Housekeeping services
  • Laundry services
  • Daily meals
  • Communal dining rooms
  • Community pools
  • Fitness center
  • Fitness classes
  • Salons
  • Tennis courts
  • Golf course
  • Restaurant-style dining
  • Transportation services
  • Community events and field trips
  • Home maintenance and landscaping services

Remember: independent living communities with more luxurious amenities will often cost much more than those with more basic amenities.

Community Activities

Independent living communities are known for providing an abundance of activities for residents, usually both onsite and offsite through community outings for shopping or to visit local attractions.

Community activities can include sports like bocce ball and badminton, table games like bridge and mahjong, arts and crafts, book clubs, yoga, live entertainment, movie nights, and holiday events and parties.

Who Needs Independent Living?

No one exactly “needs” independent living – these types of communities are more of a lifestyle choice than about aid or assistance.

Independent living can, however, satisfy a lot of living needs, making them attractive and ideal for certain older adults.

Independent living is ideal for older adults who:

  • Would prefer not to live alone
  • Do not want to maintain a house or yard
  • Are looking for a sense of community with other seniors
  • Would prefer not to prepare their own meals
  • Want to feel independent but still feel help is close by
  • Have recently lost a spouse or close loved one
  • Want to stay physically active as they age

Top 9 Benefits of Independent Living Facilities

There are many benefits to independent living facilities which make them more appealing to seniors over a different type of senior community or nursing home.

1. Housekeeping and Home Maintenance

Older adults, even ones who are still active, may struggle with the movements and level of mobility involved in housekeeping and home maintenance.

Independent living communities often include housekeeping and home maintenance services as part of an all-inclusive rent fee, so residents can always feel comfortable in a home that is clean and in good functioning order.

2. All-Inclusive Rent and Monthly Expenses

With all-inclusive rental agreements that include monthly expenses, such as water, trash pickup, and electricity, seniors don’t have to spend time worrying about paying their bills or managing their finances.

This also means that seniors never have to worry about forgetting to pay important utility bills or being without necessary services.

3. Other Financial Benefits

Residents can also save money by living in independent living communities.

Ways that independent living community residents can save money include:

  • No car payments or car insurance costs
  • No home maintenance or repairs to pay for
  • No need to buy groceries or dine out at expensive restaurants
  • No need to pay for cleaning or laundry services
  • Social activities hosted by the community are often free

4. Meal Service Options

Even some seniors who are active and capable of preparing their own meals would still rather not spend time cooking and cleaning, especially if they live alone and are only preparing meals for themselves.

Most independent living communities offer multiple choices for meal plan packages, as some seniors may not eat three meals a day or may prefer to cook for themselves on a regular basis.

5. Transportation Services

For seniors who are no longer able to drive or no longer feel comfortable driving, independent living facilities usually offer complimentary transportation services.

These transportation services can be available to take residents to and from doctor’s appointments, or may be used to offer communal transportation for errands and shopping trips.

6. Retaining Privacy and Sense of Independence

Independent living communities allow older adults to get exactly the level of help or convenience that they need, while still maintaining a sense of independence.

By living in single-family homes or small houses, independent living residents can also still feel like homeowners, without having to cover any repairs that their house needs.

7. Safe Community

Not only are independent living communities often gated and secure, but individual homes within communities are often designed with senior safety in mind.

Homes and communal buildings are accessible and have floor plans that take the needs of older adults into account.

8. Social Engagement

It is not uncommon for seniors and older adults to experience loneliness, especially if they have recently experienced the loss of a spouse or close family member.

In independent living communities, there is always something for seniors to do to get out of the house and around other people who share similar interests and lifestyles.

9. Pet-Friendly Living

Moving to an independent living community often means being able to bring your pets along with you.

Communities usually have regulations, however, about types of animal, breed, size, and number of pets, so always check in advance before bringing your furry friends.

Cost of Independent Living Facilities

Independent living facilities are typically paid for through a single monthly fee, similar to a rent or mortgage payment, which is usually all-inclusive.

The average monthly cost for an independent living facility in the United States is around $3,750, but this number can be much higher or lower depending on numerous factors.

Factors that affect independent living costs include:

  • Location of the independent living community
  • Size of the independent living community
  • Amenities offered
  • Whether housing is private or semi-private
  • Whether the community charges an entrance fee in addition to monthly rent

Does Long-Term Care Insurance Cover Independent Living?

Long-term care insurance coverage does not generally cover the costs of independent living, though it may possibly be used for in-home care.

It is generally not possible to find independent living communities that can be paid for with any type of insurance, even Medicaid or Medicare, as these communities are considered rent and board, not medical costs.

What to Look for in an Independent Living Facility

Every independent living facility is different and will offer its own unique amenities and services, though it can be hard to tell them apart in terms of quality.

The following are some characteristics of a quality independent living community.

CPR-Certified Staff

While independent living facilities do not offer medical or nursing staff, many of them do offer staff that are certified in CPR and other types of basic first aid.

While these are not medical services, having CPR-certified staff members can make all the difference in saving the life of a resident during an emergency.

Licensing & Accreditation

Independent living facilities are not required to be licensed in most states, but they may still choose to be.

Independent living facilities may also be accredited, which can be an important mark of quality care.

One notable accreditation that many retirement communities strive for is CARF accreditation, which comes from the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities.

Member Reviews & Testimonials

Try to read as many reviews and testimonials as you can from both community residents and their family members, to get a well-rounded view of the independent living experience.

It can also be a good idea to talk with current residents of the community you are interested in, if you have any opportunities to do so. This can be a great way to make new friends before even joining a community.

Various Amenities

Amenities at independent living centers range in varying levels of luxury, but there are a few things you can find pretty standard.

Try not to be impressed by luxurious or expensive amenities, and instead choose a facility that has amenities that are personally important or convenient for you, such as transportation options and laundry services.

Tips for Choosing an Independent Living Facility

There is a lot to consider when choosing an independent living facility, and a lot of pressure involved in choosing what could be your home for several years.

Tips for choosing an independent living facility include:

  • Visit multiple facilities in person so that you have many options to compare and choose from.
  • Always meet multiple staff members in person to get their personal views about the community.
  • Look for a facility that offers a lot of social activities for residents, and also activities that are interesting and fun to you.
  • Choose a facility with dining options that are appealing to you, and one that can make modifications for any special dietary needs you have.
  • Look for a facility that fits within your budget and allows you to have plenty of spending money left over for extras or emergencies.
  • Try to find a community that is close to family members so you have loved ones to spend time with regularly as well as a local support system.
  • Trust your gut — if a facility doesn’t feel like the right place for you, there is a good chance it is not.

When choosing an independent living facility, be sure to find a good balance between your wants and your needs.

Top Questions to Ask Independent Living Facilities

You should never choose an independent living facility without visiting numerous communities in person and meeting with administrative staff.

It can be helpful to take with you a list of questions to ask, in case you forget or become intimidated during your tour.

Questions to ask independent living facilities include:

  • How, when, and where are meals provided in the community?
  • What type of security does the community have?
  • What are the demographics for the community?
  • What can residents do in the event of an emergency?
  • Am I allowed to bring my pets with me?
  • What are my options if I have special dietary needs?
  • How long is the average stay of a resident in this community?
  • What kind of transportation services are provided?
  • What types of social activities are provided and how often are they offered?

How to Prepare for Moving to an Independent Living Facility

Moving is never easy under any circumstances, but it can be even more vital to be prepared in advance when moving into a place for the rest of your life.

Here are 7 tips for moving to an independent living facility:

  1. Visit your community multiple times before moving so you have an understanding of where things are and the layout of your new home.
  2. Make sure your finances are in order and you understand the costs of your new community.
  3. Meet and familiarize yourself with all community staff members.
  4. Pack all your belongings in advance and label everything.
  5. Enlist the help of loved ones or family members.
  6. Give yourself time to process the move emotionally.
  7. Get acquainted with new neighbors as soon as possible.

It can be an emotional experience to move, but it can be helpful to remember that there is a community of warm and similar people waiting to welcome you in your new home.

Independent Living Facility FAQs

No, independent living facilities do not need to be licensed in most states, as they do not usually provide any sort of medical care to residents.

They can receive accreditation from CARF, which is a sign that an independent living community is of very high quality.

It is rare to find independent living facilities that have doctors or nurses on staff, as these types of communities are not meant for older adults with serious medical conditions.

Residents of independent living communities are allowed to and encouraged to have in-home caregivers if needed.

To live in an independent living community, it can cost as little as $1,500 a month, to as much as $10,000 a month, depending on multiple factors.

Factors that can affect this pricing range include location, size and quality of housing, quality and quantity of amenities, and what services and utilities are included in the monthly fees.

Yes, independent living facilities are regulated on both a public and private level, though these regulations will vary with each state.

Regulations found in independent living homes are usually based around factors like accessibility of homes and food services.

It will depend on the independent living facility, but most of them offer either private kitchens within each residence, or communal kitchens for multiple residents to share.

The homes within independent living facilities are generally like small apartments or condominiums, and thus come with all the basic amenities you would expect in a small home.

Many independent living facilities do come with security, and are sometimes even gated, and cameras are often included as part of this security in communal areas.

Residents may also have the option to add their own cameras or security systems, after checking with their community office.

Independent Living Facilities vs. Other Types of Elder Care

While independent living facilities offer one of the highest levels of privacy and independence, there are many other senior living options to choose from.

Assisted Living

Assisted living communities are a step up in care from independent living, and are for seniors who need assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs).

Seniors in these types of homes typically don’t have serious medical conditions or dementia, so they don’t need to be around skilled nursing staff every day.

Assisted living facilities are often partially covered by different types of insurance, depending on the level of care a person requires.

Skilled Nursing Facilities

Seniors will find the highest level of care offered at skilled nursing facilities, where they have access to 24/7 medical care in addition to assistance with ADLs.

Some skilled nursing facilities specialize in care for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. These are called memory care facilities, as they offer different types of memory therapy and treatments.

Active Adult Communities

Active adult communities are for active individuals who are retired and looking for fun and social activities with others in similar positions.

These types of communities can be either:

  • Age-restricted — 80% of community must be 55 and over
  • Age-targeted — marketed to people 55 and over but not limited or exclusive to them

Some active adult communities are built around specific interests or lifestyles, called “niche” active adult communities.

Types of niche active adult communities can include those which center around golf, yoga and meditation, fitness and wellness, or a specific religion.

Senior Apartments

Senior apartments are essentially independent living communities that are found in apartment buildings with multiple single-bedroom apartment residences and communal areas for socializing.

One of the largest benefits of senior apartments is that the apartments are designed and laid out with seniors in mind.

This means that the rooms in senior apartments are accessible for elders and people with different disabilities, with modifications like wheelchair-friendly doors, grab bars, adjustable beds, and walk-in showers and tubs.

Can You Leave Independent Living if Your Support Needs Change?

Yes, you absolutely can leave independent living if your support needs change, and many people do when they need to transition to assisted living or skilled nursing care.

Leaving an independent living community may be complicated, depending on whether you are renting or buying your home within the community.

Because most independent living situations involve renting, leaving is usually a matter of ending a lease or contract.

In many instances, an independent living community may even provide assistive or supportive services to help people transition into higher levels of care service.

Find an Independent Living Facility Near You

If you are a senior who is active, social, and looking for a community of like-minded individuals with similar lifestyles and interests, an independent living facility may be the right choice for you.

When you are ready to start thinking about independent living services in your area, reach out to us or browse through our directory of senior living options.

The peace of mind and sense of community that you are looking for are out there if you give yourself the chance to find it.

Written by: Aging with Care Editorial Staff

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