Interested in moving to a retirement home or retirement community? Explore your options and learn how to make the best choice for your needs.
Independent living is simply any housing arrangement designed exclusively for older adults, generally those aged 55 and over. Housing varies widely, from apartment-style living to freestanding homes. In general, the housing is friendlier to aging adults, often being more compact, with easier navigation and no maintenance or yard work to worry about.
While residents live independently, most communities offer amenities, activities, and services. Often, recreational centers or clubhouses are available on site to give you 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 facilities may also offer facilities such as a swimming pool, fitness center, tennis courts, even a golf course or other clubs and interest groups. Other services offered may include onsite spas, beauty and barber salons, daily meals, and basic housekeeping and laundry services.
Since independent living facilities are aimed at older adults who need little or no assistance with activities of daily living, most do not offer medical care or nursing staff. You can, however, hire in-home help separately as required.
As with any change in living situation, it’s important to plan ahead and give yourself time and space to cope with change. By using these tips, you can can find an independent living arrangement that makes your life easier, prolongs your independence, and enables you to thrive in your retirement.
Types of independent living facilities and retirement homes
There are many types of independent living facilities, from apartment complexes to separate houses, which range in cost and the services provided.
Low-income or subsidized senior housing. In the U.S., for example, 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. These are apartment complexes restricted by age, usually 55 or 62 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. Retirement communities are groups of housing units restricted for those over a certain age, often 55 or 62. These housing units can be single-family homes, duplexes, mobile homes, townhouses, or condominiums. If you decide to buy a unit, additional monthly fees may cover services such as outside maintenance, recreation centers, or clubhouses.
Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs). If you or your spouse are relatively healthy now, but anticipate significant health problems down the line, you may want to consider a CCRC. These facilities offer a spectrum of care from independent living to nursing home care in the same community. If residents begin to need help with activities of daily living, for example, they can transfer from independent living to an assisted living or skilled nursing facility on the same site. The main benefit of a CCRC is that you only need to relocate once to a new environment and can maintain your independence for as long as possible.
Is independent living the right choice for you?
As you get older, any housing change can seem like you’re losing some independence. However, as the name suggests, independent living is more about making your life easier than giving up your independence. Sometimes, acknowledging your limitations—that you’re unable to manage the upkeep of your existing home, for example—and accepting some assistance now may help you maintain your regular independent routine for longer.
To help decide if independent living is a suitable choice for you, answer the following four questions:
1. How easy is it for you to maintain your current home?
Maintaining a home may be a longstanding source of pride for you, but it can also become a burden as you age. Perhaps your home has a large yard which requires constant maintenance, or maybe it’s becoming more difficult to clean those extra rooms that are rarely used. If your home is difficult to access, such as on a steep hill or up several flights of stairs, it may be harder for you to leave your home as often you’d like, leading to more isolation. Or increased crime may mean that your neighborhood is now too dangerous to walk around safely.
Some of these challenges may be partially remedied by hiring outside help, remodeling parts of your home, or by other family members lending assistance. However, if you’d like a place that does not require a lot of maintenance and upkeep, independent living may give you more freedom and flexibility in the long run.
2. Is it difficult for you to connect to friends and family?
The more isolated you are, the greater your risk for depression and other mental health problems. You may have a difficult time getting out of the house, perhaps due to trouble driving or increased mobility issues. Or your friends and neighbors may be busy with other work or family commitments, or the neighborhood may not be easy to get around. While the phone and Internet can help, nothing can take the place of face-to-face human connection.
Independent living facilities can give you a built-in social network of peers, while many also provide structured activities such as sports, arts, or field trips.
3. How easy is it for you to get around?
You may live in an area where you have to drive to attend social activities, visit friends, and shop. If you find yourself less comfortable with driving, you may find yourself relying more and more on public transportation or family and friends to get around. It may be harder to visit others, pursue activities you enjoy, or keep doctors’ appointments.
As well as onsite amenities, many independent living or retirement communities also offer convenient transportation options to outside activities.
4. How is your health (and the health of your spouse)?
It’s important to consider your current and future health. For example, if you have a health condition that makes it difficult to stay active and will most likely worsen with time, it’s good to consider your options carefully. It’s also important to consider the health of your spouse if you are married. Can you manage the activities of daily living, such washing, showering, and eating? Can you manage your finances? Can you manage medications and doctor appointments?
If you see needing only minor assistance with activities of daily living, independent living may be right for you.
Coping with a move to independent living
Moving home is a major life event and can be a stressful time for anyone. Despite the many advantages of independent living, making the decision to move can still be difficult. You may feel angry or embarrassed that you’re no longer able to maintain your current home, or regret that it simply feels “too big” for you now. Even if you’re looking forward to the increased social opportunities and companionship offered by independent living, you may still grieve for the loss of a home filled with memories or a neighborhood filled with familiar faces.
The thought of leaving everything you know can also make you feel vulnerable and anxious. You may feel like you’re losing control of your life or yearn for the way things used to be. It’s important to realize that all of these feelings are normal. Take some time to acknowledge these feelings of loss. Sometimes talking to someone who is sympathetic can help. Reach out to trusted family or friends, or talk to a counselor or therapist. Remember that you’re not alone in this. Most of us over the age of 65 will require some type of long-term care services, so there’s nothing to be ashamed about in admitting you need more help than you used to.
Aging is always a time of adaptation and change but it’s important to give yourself time to mourn the past and get used to the idea of moving to a new home. For many older adults, moving to an independent living facility can open up an exciting new chapter in life, full of new experiences, new friendships, and new interests.
Marvin Jones26 Apr 2020, 8:30 pm
Very helpful article really!
Nathan Scobles26 Apr 2020, 8:30 pm
I will definitely show it to my mother. It would really help her moral up