Independent Living


What is Independent Living or Retirement Living?

Seniors enjoy the freedom of independent living. Staying active and social is important in maintaining a well-balanced and healthy lifestyle. Independent living communities allow for all this while providing the comfort of on-site care as needed.

Is Independent Living right for you or your loved one?

Residents of independent living have the satisfaction of living comfortably, without the burden of home ownership. Independent living communities accommodate residents with fully equipped private apartments or cottages, and because residents live on their own terms, independent living communities do not assist with activities of daily living, such as dressing, bathing, and medication reminders. However, they may offer amenities such as housekeeping, linen services, transportation and social and recreational activities, included for an additional charge. Independent living may also be called Retirement living or Senior living.

Common terms that differentiate levels and types of senior living: 

  • Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs)- typically include independent living, assisted living, residential care and skilled nursing services all on one campus.  
  • Independent Living Communities – provide residents a setting without the burden of home ownership. Residents commonly live in fully equipped private apartments or cottages from a studio to large two-bedroom units.  
  • Care Home or Adult Family Care Home- are private residences in a home-like setting that provide care services to a smaller more limited number of residents (typically 5-12 residents, depending on each state’s regulations). 
  • Assisted Living- provides housing and supportive care in a community setting, but the residents do not require 24-hour nursing care. 
  • Memory Care- a care setting for residents with memory loss or confusion. The community typically has a “secured” entry for residents that may wander. This care can be provided in different care settings depending on the state licensing requirements. 
  • Skilled Nursing is state licensed to provide a safe, therapeutic environment for people who require rehabilitative care 24 hours a day.

Why Independent Living is different from Assisted Living and other levels of care.

Many people have the assumption that when the time comes to move out of their home and into a senior community the only option is a “nursing home.” This is far from the truth because of all the levels of care and housing available. Independent living is a first-rate option for seniors who want to cut down on home maintenance and simplify their daily living but do not need the attention provided by assisted living communities and other higher level care facilities.  

In addition to reducing household responsibilities, these communities offer great living options for residents such as:

  • Studio apartments
  • One-bedroom apartments 
  • Spacious two-bedroom apartments 
  • Duplexes 
  • Cottages 
  • And other stand-alone structures

To promote safety, many communities offer on site staff or a call system to reach staff or a manager. Management and staff are there to promote a safe and secure environment because the well-being of residents is priority number one.

What services and amenities do Independent Living Communities Provide?

Independent Living and Retirement Communities are all different. Some have traditional offerings such as yard and home maintenance, while others offer new ideas and strategies to enhance the comfort of residents. “Life Plan Communities” offer a full campus of different healthcare levels, starting with Independent Living.

A typical person looking for this type community setting is someone who requires little to no assistance in daily life. They most likely want to preserve their social interactions with others, and they like the peace of mind that comes with no yard maintenance and housekeeping. They may want to look out the window in the morning and say to themself, “Wow. The yard looks great, and I didn’t have to lift a finger.”

Independent living communities may offer a variety of services

The available services may vary greatly between different communities, or even between buildings on the same campus. Examples of possible services include:

  • Meal Plans– this could be a community kitchen to prepare your own meals, flexible spending accounts, 1 meal a day, or up to three meals each day. Some newer communities will even offer a restaurant, open to the public.
  • Housekeeping service– may be offered as an additional fee or included in the base rent.
  • Transportation– may be an option, including regular scheduled trips to the grocery or nearby stores.
  • Linen service – may be offered as an additional fee or included in the base rent.
  • Activities– Most Independent Living communities offer excellent ways for people to stay social and build relationships with their peers in common areas or at a clubhouse on-site. Events may be resident run only with no staff involvement. Or a community may have a staff member plan, schedule and lead activities. Planned life enrichment opportunities could be: entertainment and performers, arts and crafts, game nights, movie nights, cocktail hour, bus trips and other outings.

There may be a variety of amenities offered to residents

Amenities at an Independent Living Community can vary greatly. Typically the more the amenities, the higher the monthly rate. Learning about what amenities are offered and comparing them to the desires of your loved one will go a long way toward finding the perfect fit.  Offered amenities may include:

  • Recreational center or a clubhouse on-site.  
  • The type and variety of meals provided.
  • Swimming pools, steam room or sauna.
  • Sports facilities where residents can play bocce ball, racketball and tennis.  
  • Trails for walking.  
  • Covered parking.
  • Theater, library or billiards room.

Some of these communities may have a golf course. Other services may be on-site spas, beauty salons and barbers.  

Isolation and loneliness are serious concerns for seniors as they consider moving from their home into a new community, and because of these concerns it is natural they may be intrigued by this type of living arrangement.

To promote socialization, independent living communities offer a plethora of other benefits

  • Common areas that allow people to socialize as they wish. Their time is their time. 
  • Organized events which give residents the opportunity to engage in social activities on premises and or in a nearby town. 
  • Dining rooms with plenty of meal options. Because of the needs and desires of each individual resident, most independent living communities have great choices for everyone.  
  • Friends and family can visit anytime.  
  • Residents have autonomy to make their own decisions as far as coming and going. 
  • Independent living communities may offer amenities such as libraries and computer rooms; fitness centers and exercise classes. 
  • Some communities allow cats and small and medium sized dogs.

Because residents in these community are healthy and live independently, most do not offer medical or nursing care. However, some communities may have a contracted agency on site to provide scheduled assistance for Activities of daily living if needed. These home care agencies would provide services for an additional cost. Residents have the option of how to approach their medical care as needed and they may choose to bring on in-home nursing or care as they so choose. 

Are these Communities Licensed?

Independent Living communities are NOT typically licensed by the state. Some Assisted Living Communities may offer an “Independent Level of Care.” These residents may pay a lower fee because you are not requiring direct care. In this instance, the community would be licensed by the state, and you could add care as needed for the on site staff. This however, is not the typical model of Independent Living.

The Cost of Independent Living Communities

Independent living communities may cost anywhere from $1,500 per month up to $9,000 a month. That is a huge discrepancy, because costs depend on the specific community and region, and because of the available amenities. $10,000 per month might seem unfathomable, but this is the extremely high end of costs for an independent living community. The costs of independent living will fluctuate state by state and city by city. Let’s look at the range of monthly average costs across the United States.

On the lower end of cost for independent living: 

  • Missouri – $1,800 
  • Alabama – $1,900 
  • Utah – $2,050 
  • Georgia – $2,100 
  • Nevada – $2,150

States closer to the national average:

  • Arizona – $2,350 
  • Iowa – $2,450 
  • Michigan – $2,550 
  • Indiana – $2,650 
  • New York – $2,900

States on the high end of cost:

  • Vermont – $3,200 
  • Washington – $3,450 
  • Maine – $3,600 
  • New Jersey – $3,900 
  • Delaware – $4,050

However, on average (again, depending on the specific community) independent living may be a cheaper than several other forms of senior living. Living independently usually requires much less on hands medical care, which reduces costs. Nationally, it is estimated that independent living cost 30-50% less per month than assisted living. 

Paying for Independent Living, what resources are available to help?

Private Funds- YES: Most families pay for independent living with private funds. Private pay can be a combination of retirement funds, personal savings, and pension payments. Family members may also contribute funds toward a loved one’s care.

Tax Credit, section 202, HUD housing -MAYBE:

  • Occupancy in Section 202 housing is open to any very low-income household comprised of at least one person who is at least 62 years old at the time of initial occupancy.
  • The Section 202 program helps expand the supply of affordable housing with supportive services for the elderly. It provides very low-income elderly with options that allow them to live independently but in an environment that provides support activities such as cleaning, cooking, transportation, etc. The program is similar to Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities (Section 811).

Veterans Aid & Attendance -MAYBE:

  • Veteran aid and attendance allow veterans to receive financial benefits.   
  • A single veteran may qualify for as much as $2,050 a month in benefits.   
  • A veteran with a spouse may qualify for as much as $2,430 per month.   
  • A well veteran with an ill spouse may qualify for as much as $1,600 per month.  
  • A surviving spouse may qualify for $1,300 a month.

Long-term Care Insurance- NOT TYPICALLY: This type of insurance does cover independent living communities because the policy owner will typically need assistance with Activities of Daily living to start the claim process. This care level is not typically offered by the Independent Living Provider. Typically, long-term care insurance will only help off-set costs related to care provided by a licensed provider, and not rent fees or meal expenses. 

Standard medical insurance- NO: Health Insurance does NOT cover independent living communities because there are no direct medical treatments and services involved.

Medicare- NO: Medicare does not cover independent living, and rarely pays for assisted living level of care. Medicare’s main function is the coverage of certain expenses like short-term care, and rehabilitation depending on eligibility. 

Medicaid- NO: Medicaid does not cover independent living. Most state medicaid plans require a care need to be present, such as dressing assistance, bathing assistance, cognitive impairment, etc.

Additional Resources

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Look into your local government agencies as well. State resources have specific information covering your region/county/city.

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Written by The Care Availability Team
Experts in the senior care & retirement living industries

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