15 Questions to Independent Living Facilities

Updated

Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

As you or your loved one ages, things change. A large household is harder to maintain, and your children may be grown and gone; you may have lost a spouse and close friends. Social isolation and loneliness can increase, leading to mental health problems and a decline in cognition and physical function. Perhaps transportation is more challenging to access, or it has become too difficult to shop and cook.

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If you are still healthy and relatively independent, independent senior living is an option worth considering.  You may want alternatives to assisted living but enjoy some amenities and services that come with independent living.

What exactly is independent senior living? Here is where things get a bit complicated. The term independent living is broad and encompasses many different configurations, from stand-alone independent living facilities to continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs). Even some assisted living have independent living as part of their community.

Each scenario will offer slightly different services and amenities.  Knowing what you value and need is an important first step in choosing your independent living facility, and asking questions will help you narrow your search. 

Questions to Ask Independent Living Facilities During a Tour

The fancy brochures and online descriptions of an independent living facility are intended to give you a pretty picture of what to expect. For some communities, these marketing efforts may be accurate, but for others, not as much.

As a savvy consumer, asking questions is a great way to get a feel for what the facility does and doesn’t offer. Tours are generally well-planned and designed to show off features. We have some suggestions on questions to ask during the tour to ensure you get an honest portrayal of the community under consideration.

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1. What meals and snacks are provided and when?

Some independent living facilities have full kitchens in each apartment, and others don’t. Ask about what meals are provided and the cost. There might be an option to forgo the meal plan if that is what you want and reduce the monthly fee. 

If you are interested in the meal plan, ask about how many meals and snacks are included. Can you request meals “on-demand,” or are there set meal times? What about special diets like vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free? If you cannot attend congregate meals, can they be brought to your room, and at what cost?

2. Is transportation provided?

If the answer is yes, dig a little deeper to get specifics. For example, how far in advance do you need to schedule transport, and what appointments qualify for transportation? Many communities will only transport you to medical appointments and have limited hours. Also, ask about the transportation radius. There could be a geographical limit as to how far transportation services are willing to go.

3. What is the resident make-up?

Are the residents mostly couples or singles? What is the male to female ratio? Demographic information could be important to your overall comfort level, making friends, and socializing.  If most of the residents are couples and you are single, you might feel out of place. On the other hand, resident ratios change over time so keep that in mind as well. 

4. What services are offered and at what cost?

This question may be one of the most important because independent living facilities will vary according to the amenities they offer. Some communities will charge a flat monthly rent that includes a variety of services. Other communities offer a selection of services that you pay extra for depending on what you choose. 

Independent living facilities could include all utilities, including cable and internet, in the monthly fee, while others require you to set up your own accounts. Is housekeeping included in the rent, and what does that entail? Are there washers and dryers in the apartments, or are there communal ones available? Is there a nurse on staff to deal with minor issues? Find out what you will pay for out of pocket and what will be covered in your rent. 

5. What if you need help?

You would understandably think that in independent living that no help is available. That is mostly true but ask about aide availability for an additional fee. Some independent living facilities will offer aide service, and others won’t. If the one you are considering does not offer aide service, this is something you will need to arrange yourself. 

6. Are activities offered to independent residents?

Some independent living facilities will have a robust and varied calendar of activities for independent residents, and others won’t. If you are on a tour and there is an activity that is in process, ask to take a peek so you can get an idea of attendance. Request a copy of the activities calendar so you can take it home to evaluate more closely. 

7. What are the criteria for being asked to leave?

When an independent living facility is part of a larger continuum of care, such as assisted living, there could be rules that govern your ability to remain there. If you begin to decline physically and or mentally, the administrative staff may request that you consider a higher level of care. One example would be your inability to manage the apartment safely, or if you start to wander or can’t care for your personal hygiene and other needs. 

8. What is the pet policy?

If you have a pet, what kind of pet is it, and does the community permit the one you have? There is usually a size and pound limit for dogs, and you have to be able to take care of whatever pet you have. 

9. What is the emergency plan?

Ask to see a copy of the emergency plan that includes evacuation during a fire or natural disaster. Also, consider how the staff is notified and how many are staff available on-site 24/7.

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Questions to Independent Living Facilities While You or a You’re Loved One Lives There

Once you or your loved one moves into independent living, some questions might come up that you didn’t anticipate during the tour. This is normal, and don’t be afraid to ask for what you need as your situation changes.

10. What health services are available?

Does the independent living facility have contracts with preferred companies if you need home care or home health services? You always have a choice of providers, but sometimes when a facility has  “in-house” providers, the communication can be better.

There is also a trend in senior living to offer on-site physician or APRN service, so you don’t have to leave except during emergencies. Ask for a list of possible mobile medical groups.

11. Can I suggest alternative recreational activities?

If the activity schedule does not resonate with you and you have some ideas for alternative activities, can you suggest those to the activities director? You may even have spoken with other residents about a specific activity that everyone has an interest in.

12. Can I make menu suggestions?

Food has to be the number one complaint of senior living residents. It is almost impossible to satisfy everyone, but if you have specific suggestions for dietary services, can you suggest them? If you know of other residents that share your dietary needs, that can help your cause.

Questions to Ask a Loved One While They Live at an Independent Living Facility

If you have a loved one in an independent living facility, it is easy to think that everything is going well if there are no complaints. Asking direct questions can help you evaluate and solve any potential issues before they get out of hand. Frequent visiting is always a good way to see firsthand how things are going, but when that isn’t possible, ask your loved one the following questions.

13. Have you made any friends?

Expect that the answer may be yes, but this answer may not give you an accurate picture of what is going on. Try asking for the names of people your loved one has connected with and what they are doing together. If your loved one indicates that they feel left out or excluded, talk with the activities director about coordinating introductions and personal invitations to activities. 

14. What do you like most and least about living there?

This question can give you a good idea of what is working and what isn’t. An example might be that your loved one doesn’t like the food. You might be able to make some suggestions to the dining staff. 

15. What do you need help with?

This open-ended question is better than “do you need help with anything?” If your loved one is beginning to decline, they may need more help with showering, getting to meals, or laundry. Or perhaps they are struggling with taking care of a pet, and you will need to hire someone to help.

Ask Questions About Independent Living Facilities

As you go through the process of looking at available independent living facilities, the questions you ask will give you confidence in your choice. You can’t anticipate everything, but being prepared with a list of questions is a good start. 

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