Independent Living Facilities: Pros, Cons & How They Work

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Long-term care is a term loaded with possibilities. As older adults who are making decisions about where to spend their years of retirement, they have to navigate the system that supports long-term care in all sorts of ways. These decisions are also difficult for family members coordinating care for their loved ones. 

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Today long-term care exists on a spectrum, from assisted living communities, retirement homes, intergenerational housing, to cohousing arrangements. There are also a number of aging in place options that enable people to stay in their own homes and neighborhoods for as long as possible.

And lastly, another popular option for many seniors is independent living facilities which have gained more and more popularity over the past couple of decades.

What is an Independent Living Facility for Older Adults?

Independent living is among one of the least restrictive and assistive residential options for older adults. If you or a loved one is able to care for themselves with little assistance and are looking to live in a community with like-minded people your age, this could be a good option for you. Independent living facilities provide useful amenities and offer a sense of community that makes seniors’ lives more enjoyable. 

There are a variety of housing opportunities when it comes to independent living, from apartment-like communities to housing co-ops. In these arrangements, residents can live in their own private space. They also have access to common areas that they share with other residents of the community. Independent living communities can also go by terms such as retirement villages, 55+ communities, and senior apartments.

Common amenities of independent living facilities include housekeeping and laundry services, restaurant-style dining areas, and group activities and/or trips. A number of independent living facilities are located within a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) and offer independent living, assisted living, and higher levels of care all on the same campus. This enables residents to be able to transition between settings as their needs may increase.

Difference between independent living and assisted living

Independent living communities are quite different from facilities that strictly offer assisted living. Unlike independent living facilities, residents in assisted living are provided 24-hour supervision by designated medical care professionals. These individuals also receive assistance with daily activities such as eating, bathing, or other health care services.

Seniors in independent living are much more active and independent. If they are in need of home health care, they tend to arrange it themselves. Folks in independent living are also much more capable of performing instrumental activities of daily living such as managing medications, transportation, and finances on their own.

Looking to compare assisted living to more housing options? Read our guide on assisted living alternatives.

ยป MORE: Your loved one is never far. Honor their legacy with this post-loss checklist.

 

What are the Pros and Cons of Independent Living Facilities?

It’s important to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of different long-term care options for yourself or a loved one. Some questions you’ll want to consider include: What is important to you and what are your needs? Do you want to live in a particular location or reside close to family members? Are you in need of physical therapy, memory care, or transportation assistance? Below are a few of the most common pros and cons of independent living.

Pros

  • Amenities. Enjoying your retirement years can be a lot easier when you have downsized into an independent living community and are able to have many of your mundane chores taken care of for you. Without having to spend time with housekeeping duties, you have more time to do what you love and explore other new hobbies and interests. 
  • Socialization and a sense of community. Independent living communities are great for people looking to move into a community of like-minded individuals who are that of a similar age. It’s also perfect for those looking to join a closer-knit type of neighborhood/community because of the closeness in corridors, shared common spaces, and activities arranged. 
  • Privacy. Compared to other long-term care options out there, living in an independent living facility offers a lot more freedom for residents. Independent living facilities don’t require the same level of supervised attention and medical care provided at other locations for seniors with increased needs. With independent living, you have your own space and can participate in the activities that interest you, while also being able to come together and share common space and time with other residents when you choose.

Cons

  • No comprehensive medical care. Independent living communities for more active seniors do not provide assisted living or health care services and oftentimes there are no on-site health care facilities. This type of living arrangement is comparable to aging in place. It is optional to arrange for in-home care and some active adult communities may even have contractual arrangements in place with third-party home care service providers. Each facility is different. If you like the peace-of-mind offered by an independent living community that is equipped to provide on-campus long-term care or nursing care services if you should need them then you may want to pursue an independent living facility that is a part of a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC).
  • Lack of age diversity. Since independent living communities usually require a minimum of one person being at least 55+, there is a lack of age diversity within many independent living communities. While this may be appealing to some older adults, for others it can be a turn-off. Others manage just fine with being able to visit and socialize outside of the community or having people come to visit them.
  • Socialization and sense of community. With some communities, socialization and sense of community can be jeopardized for some individuals if a large majority of its residents are seasonal and only there for a portion of the year. If you are someone who plans to live in the community full-time, this may be something to think about. 

How Do You Pick the Best Independent Living Facility?

With so many different options, it might be difficult to know where to start. Here are some tips about how to make the most informed decision and help you make the best decision for you or a loved one.

Visit the facility’s website and social media pages

You can start on your long-term care investigation by visiting different communities’ websites and social media pages.

Explore websites for levels of care offered, a calendar of events, and pictures of what life is like living in that particular community. Social media pages such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram also offer updates about current happening and social events.

Visit the facility in person

It’s never too early to start visiting different facilities to give you a better idea of what they are like and to help you start making comparisons.

Most facilities frequently give tours to prospective residents and their families. Visiting the facility in person can give you an idea of what a residential space could look like. The visit can also serve as a great way to ask questions from staff and residents that currently live there. 

Check out online reviews

Online reviews are a great tool to review what residents, family members, and employees have to say about individual facilities. However, you’ll want to take these reviews with a grain of salt, as they can be either extremely positive or negative.

This is why visiting the facility in-person is always a good idea because you can talk to residents about their current experience. Some examples of places to look for online reviews are Yelp and Facebook. These options may also give you a better indication of what’s going on within these facilities. 

Consider cost

More often than not, people, people don’t realize how much long-term care costs, until they are in a time where they need it.

That’s why it is especially important to be proactive in thinking about cost of care. Independent living can be much less expensive compared to other options out there. However, depending on the amenities offered and the location things can get very expensive. 

Planning for Independent Living

As you consider different long-term care options for yourself or a loved one, it’s important to keep in mind that every option is unique. There are plenty of books on aging that can help you with your aging journey and later-life planning, especially when considering housing. Each housing and care option offers different levels of assistance with different kinds of tasks. With that in mind, it’s important to consider what your wants and needs are currently, in addition to anticipating what your needs may be in the future. 

While it’s often difficult to think about what you may need later on, you may want to consider different options for any potential scenarios. You may also want to think about where you would move to afterward if you were to need greater help. Independent living facilities are not the be all end all, but making sure you have a plan in place for whatever might happen can help you in the long run.


Sources

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  2. Freedman, V. A., & Spillman, B. C. (2014). The residential continuum from home to nursing home: size, characteristics and unmet needs of older adults. Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 69(Suppl_1), S42-S50.
  3. Huefner, J. C., James, S., Ringle, J., Thompson, R. W., & Daly, D. L. (2010). Patterns of movement for youth within an integrated continuum of residential services. Children and Youth Services Review, 32(6), 857-864.
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  5. Pratt, J. R. (2010). Long-term care: Managing across the continuum. Jones & Bartlett Publishers.
  6. McGrail, K. (2011). Long-term care as part of the continuum. HealthcarePapers, 10(4), 39-43.

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