From the word independent, living in an independent facility gives seniors some freedom. As such, an independent living facility is a good option for seniors aged 55 years and above who are healthy and fit to live on their own but desire the experience of living in a community or neighborhood with other seniors. This is because, for most seniors, it has been established that seniors highly value social interactions.
Types of independent senior living facilities
There are several types of senior independent living facilities.
- Senior apartments. These apartments are specifically built to be occupied by seniors. Apartments vary widely in design and cost giving seniors varied options depending on their budget. Most do not offer care services but amenities like the gymnasium and swimming pool will be available.
- Naturally occurring retirement community (NORC). Such communities happen by chance when seniors who grow up together own homes in the same area and age together. They are not as regulated like the other options although seniors have the option of coming together and forming their own.
- Housing units. This refers to housing units both by the Department of Housing and Urban Development which are subsidized and those by agents in the private sector. Examples of other units include single-family homes, mobile homes, townhouses, cottages, or condominiums, and duplexes. Seniors can either buy or rent these houses.
- Housing co-ops. Under this option, seniors opt to come together and create a community, each one with his/her home but with shared amenities. This is different from other communities in that the homeowners are sole decision-makers and as such are not bound by third-party regulations.
Some of the services offered in an independent living facility include:
- House and yard keeping
- Entertainment and recreational activities
- Meals and dining
- Transport facilitation
- Help with ADLs
- Medical care
It is important to note, however, that independent living facilities will not provide assistance with healthcare and ADLs as a basic service like in assisted living facilities. This comes as an extra service charged separately.
Aspects of independent living
In general, an independent living community allows seniors their private residential space with access to in-house services and shared social amenities. Independent living facilities are also known as active adult communities, retirement communities, or retirement homes. Other distinct aspects of independent living include:
- Only seniors who are aged 55 years and above qualify to live in an independent living community.
- Seniors have access to services like housekeeping, yard keeping, laundry, and dining which are available to make life easier and more comfortable for them unlike in assisted facilities where custodial care is given throughout.
- Availability of shared entertainment, dining, and other recreation amenities like the gymnasium, swimming pool, holiday celebrations, and fitness activities to promote socialization among seniors living within the community.
- Most facilities have installed sophisticated security surveillance systems. Seniors appreciate being safe and secure because as they age they become more vulnerable.
- Seniors also have access to basic services like organized transport to ease access to important places like the health center, shopping malls/stores, and other places.
- The main cost in independent living facilities is the rent and utility bills accrued on a monthly basis. Other service costs vary widely depending on one’s needs and are incurred separately.
- Every service offered in an independent living facility revolves around improving the quality of life of a senior without interfering with their freedom.
Why should you consider independent senior living?
As we have seen, independent living facilities are only suitable for seniors who are physically and mentally fit to live alone with a little help with some of their daily activities like housekeeping and laundry. An independent living facility will be a good option for you if:
- You need minimal assistance or no with ADLs (activities of daily living).
- Your needs fall within what the independent living facility offers.
- You can manage tasks like medication management, running a home, handling finances, and making decisions well enough without outside help.
- You need an environment that gives you residential privacy but with an opportunity to engage with other seniors in a community setting.
- You want an improved quality of life without being concerned about daily duties like laundry, housekeeping, mowing the yard, and fixing your meals.
Costs associated with independent senior living
The main costs associated with independent living include rental and utility costs. Other costs include transportation, housekeeping, meals, medication management, in-house care, and others which an individual would need to live a comfortable life. Compared to other types of senior living facilities, independent living facilities are typically the most affordable option.
- These costs vary widely depending on the following factors.
- The type of selected community. A community can be high-end, low-end or average.
- Type and size of housing units available in the community
- Amenities available at the facility
- The service mix that a senior will choose to get
- Location of the community
Costs can vary from as low as $1,500 monthly for small, perhaps one-bedroom units to hundreds of thousand dollars for the larger more sophisticated units.
Just as in a typical rental apartment, seniors pay monthly rental fee and utility bills. Thereafter, they will pay for additional services as and when requested. However, other facilities will opt to include basic services in the rent, for instance, three main meals, transportation, and basic housekeeping.
Independent living for seniors on low income
Seniors on low-income can take advantage of the subsidized housing units offered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) of the United States. This is done through:
- Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program. This program allows beneficiaries, seniors included, to pay only 30 % of the house rent and the Federal government settles the rest of the amount. Usually, beneficiaries will be issued with a voucher after they have qualified for the program. To be eligible, one should be earning less than 50 % of the Area Median Income, also known as the income limit.
- Section 202. Under section 202, the Federal government, through the Department of Housing and Development, advances capital to nonprofit or private organizations to construct affordable housing units for the elderly who are 62 years old and above. Secondly, under this program, beneficiaries pay 30 % of the rental amount while the government covers the rest. To qualify for this program, an organization needs to raise 0.5 % of the capital investment.
Government subsidy housing programs are applicable for both independent and assisted living facilities. On the con, however, there is usually a long waiting time before one can secure a house since the demand for subsidized housing units is always very high.
What to look for in an independent living facility?
Making the right decision when choosing an independent living community is crucial because this is where you are bound to spend the rest of your life. For this reason, as you choose the community that you want to join, it is important that it meets your present and future needs.
Check the following aspects to determine whether the community has your best interest in mind.
- Location and size of the facility. Are you comfortable with the location of the facility? Would you desire to live close to your family and friends?
- Cost. How much per month will it cost you to live in the facility? Which services and utilities are included in the rent, which ones will you have to pay from your pocket? Based on your finances, can you comfortably maintain this cost for years to come without straining your finances? Are there hidden costs that you should be aware of? Check all the costs that you are bound to incur, including other personnel costs since you will be living independently, and be sure that you are comfortable with what you are getting into.
- Staff support. How supportive are the staff in the facility? Are they friendly? Do they understand the needs of the residents? How available are they to help?
- Social and recreational activities. Because each independent living community has its own mix of activities for the residents. It is important that most of the activities listed in their daily program and calendar of events interest you.
- Personal development activities. Are there opportunities to learn new things, perhaps a new skill or a new language. This would be the best time since you will have enough time to do this.
- Social amenities. Is there a library, a medical center, a store or mall, a pharmacy, and other amenities within the facility? How easily accessible are they?
- Meal plans. Check the dining program. What’s on the menu? Do they accommodate individuals on a special diet? Do the food items in the menu suit your needs? More than this, confirm that you will be getting quality meals and a run for your bucks.
- Security. With security being a crucial aspect, find out what the security system entails. Are individual units well secured, how is the surveillance, how fast is the response in the event of both security and medical emergency? How well have the shared amenities been secured?
- Services offered. Not all communities offer the same services. Confirm that your selected community offers all if not most of the services that you need along with favorable payment options. An independent community should offer basic services like housekeeping, laundry, and yard keeping among others.
- Transport. What transport options are there within the facility? Even with your personal vehicle, you will still need transport services, especially at night.
- In-house care. Find out their processes, procedures, and policies around getting in-house care services.
The benefits of independent living
In addition to retaining your freedom, choosing to live in an independent living facility comes with its own fair share of advantages.
- No chores or errands. In an independent living facility, seniors do not have to worry about housekeeping and other house-related duties at the expense of enjoying themselves.
- Opportunity to socialize. Independent living facilities are like social hubs where seniors get to interact with other seniors and create new social networks.
- Easy payment options. Independent living facilities give seniors peace of mind financially because most of them include the costs associated with utilities and basic services in the overall rental costs making it easy for seniors to settle their bills.
- Safe senior-friendly transportation. Seniors enjoy facilitation of transport to the stores, health centers, for a doctor’s appointment and to other places.
- A variety of activities to keep fit. Seniors have activities all planned out for them, they only need to engage and enjoy themselves doing the things that they love doing. This also helps them keep fit and healthy mentally and mentally.
- Personal enjoyment. Seniors can also take part in activities like golf, tennis, swimming, exercise, massage, movies, and others at their own pleasure.
- Dining facility. Seniors have an option to dine with others whenever they don’t feel like getting involved with meal preparation.
- Safety and security. Independent facilities have full control over matters like maintenance, safety, and security so that residents can have peace of mind.
- Independent living facilities do not have custodial or full-time care services. Seniors who need these services should opt for an alternative option.
- These facilities do not provide medical services to residents and as such is not covered by the Medicare and Medicaid plans. Residents have to pay for services out of their own pockets or arrange for private insurance.
- This option does not appeal to low-income earners who have to depend on scarce government housing options.
- Seniors who need full-time care have to make arrangements to have this service at an additional cost.
Clearly, the advantages of living in an independent facility far outweigh the disadvantages. However, because there are too many facilities out there, seniors need to exercise due diligence to choose the right facility. When visiting a facility, make a point of interacting with residents to find out how they feel about living in the facility. Secondly, as you make your decision, choose a facility that will meet your present and future needs. This is because settling down only to move to a different facility can be quite taxing. It also helps to involve your loved ones in your decision as their input is important to your comfort and peace of mind.
I’m glad you mentioned that one of the advantages of independent living for seniors is that there are plenty of opportunities for them to create social networks. My parents retired about two years ago, and they have been pretty bored lately because they have done everything that they have wanted to do with their extra time. I think it would be a good idea for them to move into an independent living community so that they can be with other like-minded people.
Totally agree with you, Henry. In my opinion, like-minded people are the greatest asset of such communities. Of course, medical care and other things are important, but at the end of the day, what matters is relationships between people.