Independent Living: Your Definitive Guide for 2022

Independent Living: Your Definitive Guide for 2022

Stay independent, without the worry of home maintenance

Independent living definition

By Emma Rodbro, last updated August 8 2022

In simple terms, independent living is any housing arrangement for those 55+ that are looking to live in a more maintenance-free community. These communities are designed for seniors who don't require personal senior care assistance and would like to live independently in a residential setting.

Other common names for independent living can include:

  • Retirement communities
  • Senior co-housing
  • Villas or Villages
  • Retirement homes
  • Congregate care
  • 62 and over or 55 and over apartments or communities
  • Active adult or senior living communities
  • Senior independent living apartments, retirement living apartments, or independent senior housing
  • Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC)
  • Low-income housing or government-subsidized housing

Seniors that reside in independent living communities typically are active and healthy and do not need assistance with their activities of daily living (ADLs).  Seniors typically select independent living communities to live in because they want to avoid the hassle of maintaining their current home.

To make life easy and enjoyable for residents, independent retirement living provides plenty of amenities. These may include dining facilities, landscaping, maintenance, housekeeping services, social activities, clubs, and exercise facilities.

Photo: Solstice Senior Living at Joliet, Joliet IL

On-site amenities and delivery services make this an ideal choice for active adults. They can enjoy having services such as pet care, auto repair, or meal delivery available on demand.

When you choose independent living you will have a few housing options. Housing can vary from a private studio to a spacious two-bedroom apartment. Residences may be available for either purchase or rent, depending on the community.

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Types of independent living

All independent living residences offer a variety of services and amenities. There are several differences between the types of communities available for you to choose from.

Active adult communities

Active adult communities are aimed at people who are aged 55 and older. The target market for these communities is the baby boomer generation. This senior living option may consist of single-family homes, multi-family homes, townhomes, condos, or a mixture of different housing types.

Active adult communities can be quite large. Many have golf courses, clubhouses, common areas, pools, and other recreational amenities to appeal to the active adult lifestyle.

Active adult communities aren't set up to provide health care services. If you need medical care, you might want to explore a skilled nursing facility. If you only need personal care, you might want to explore assisted living facilities.

Some independent living communities offer transportation options, such as shuttles to nearby shopping and entertainment. Residents typically pay a monthly fee that covers the amenities and all outdoor maintenance.

Photo: Wellington at Hershey’s Mill, Westchester, PA

Continuing Care Retirement Communities

Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC) make it easy for seniors to age in place. This type of senior living community provides a continuum of care as your needs change. There are high entrance fees, but they provide a guarantee that your care needs will be met.

Often, today's seniors start their housing journey in independent living. Then they move to assisted living or memory care if needed. Finally, they move to a skilled nursing facility for nursing care or hospice, if required.

This happens within the same community. The change from one level of care to the next is far less jarring to the seniors in a CCRC.

Senior apartments

Senior apartments are designed to cater to the physical and emotional needs of seniors. They generally have minimal stairs and feature safety equipment such as handrails in bathrooms.

Because senior apartments are located in age-restricted buildings, they often foster a real sense of community. They can take the form of standard single-family apartments or condos. Individual apartments can be arranged in suites. Senior residents get private bedrooms and bathrooms, but they share a common living space and kitchen.

Age-restricted communities

Age-restricted communities, which are restricted to those aged 55 and over, are governed under the Fair Housing Act. According to the rules under this act, 80 percent of age-restricted units must house someone over 55. No minors are allowed to live in the community.

Age-restricted communities often feature a country club-style setting. You might find a golf course, tennis courts, clubhouse, and swimming pools, as well as other high-end amenities.

Photo: The Mather, Evanston, IL

The future of independent living: living alternatives

While the numbers of seniors in our population are growing, there is an expanded need for senior housing options like there has never been before. With this housing need, there has been an increase in living alternatives for seniors. There are more innovative options available than ever before.

Senior co-housing

Senior co-housing is a type of housing where residents enjoy both private and common living spaces with others. Co-housing is set up so individuals can live in a close-knit community that shares resources, while still living independently. Generally, a senior co-housing community features 20 to 40 homes centered around a central lawn or outdoor area. While everyone has personal living space, the entire community enjoys living space, dining space, a large kitchen, and shared laundry facilities. Sometimes, co-housing senior communities cater to residents who share the same hobbies or interests.

PRO TIP: Learn more about this age-targeted option further here: Cohousing Associate of the United States. 

Cruise ship life

There aren't any dedicated retirement cruises available, but increasing numbers of baby boomers have crunched the numbers and realized that they can enjoy life on a cruise ship. Their costs are about the same as they would spend on a retirement community on the land.

This independent lifestyle is ideal for couples (who can avoid the higher charges that singles pay on cruises). The numbers work best if you stick with the same cruise line to build up loyalty points. However, cruising retirees can't count on regular health care if they need it. Also, spending life at sea can eat into time spent with grandchildren and friends.

The Village Movement

The Village Movement is a rapidly growing alternative to retirement communities. They are designed to let older adults stay in their own homes as they age. The "village" in question isn't an actual village, but a membership organization located within a given neighborhood that works with local merchants.

The members pay annual dues to gain access to a network of discounted services. These include home healthcare, grocery delivery, and home maintenance services. In addition, the village often sponsors local social activities that draw the small communities together. Several hundred villages exist in various towns across the United States.

Multi-generational housing

A multi-generational house is several generations of family members living under the same roof. The main house is the living space but an add-on such as a room over the garage or a separate home on the same property can be built to convert the space into a multi-gen house.

Benefits of independent living

Independent living allows active seniors to live their golden years on their own terms. It also allows individuals to leave behind daily chores and responsibilities. These adults enjoy spending time with family members, new interests, and a stress-free living environment. Here are a few of the benefits for seniors with an active lifestyle:

  • Amenities. You can find a host of conveniences in most communities. Housekeeping, transportation services, a dining room, a fitness center, and more.
  • Recreational activities. Current residents of the community can enjoy a selection of activities such as outings to fine dining restaurants, movie theaters, religious services, and many others.
  • Community. According to the CDC, loneliness and social isolation in older adults are serious public health risks that put them at risk for dementia and other serious medical conditions. Socialization is key for seniors. Community activities allow seniors to enjoy social group activities with like-minded people. Moving to independent living will allow your loved ones to socialize with others around them. Having others to share with will combat loneliness and allow interaction amongst a variety of people every day.
  • No maintenance. Moving to an independent living community allows a maintenance-free lifestyle. The best part is no more house or appliance repairs.
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Independent living vs. assisted living

An independent living community may not be the right choice for older adults who need help with the Activities of Daily Living (ADLs). This includes assistance with dressing, bathing, and meal preparation. If these daily activities are something that you or your loved one need, you should look into assisted living options. Take a look at the basic differences between these two types of senior living:

Independent living vs. assisted living features

Assisted living communities generally provide:

  • Help with ADLs
  • Medication Management
  • Housekeeping
  • Meals

While both assisted and independent living communities often offer transportation, exercise facilities, and social activities, and sometimes meals and housekeeping services, independent living provides no help with ADLs or medication management. On the other hand, assisted living communities do not usually offer private apartments. There are pros and cons to both types of community, but the main concern is what level of help and care you or your loved one will need day-to-day.

The cost of independent living

The cost of independent living varies based upon factors such as location, amenities, and other features. In some independent living communities, residents may have the option to buy their homes rather than renting. This is most common in active adult communities or age-restricted communities. In some rental communities, a buy-in fee is required to join the community.

Costs can range as low as $1,000 in independent living communities designated for low-income residents. On the other end of the spectrum, there are high-end independent living communities packed with luxurious amenities. They can feature condos running as high as $1 million or apartments with $100,000 buy-ins.

On average, you can expect to spend somewhere between $1,500 and $6,000. This is for the combination of rent/mortgage plus amenities or association fees. Some services, such as housekeeping, transportation, or dining, may incur extra fees.

Independent living fees are typically not covered by any type of insurance, including Medicare or long-term care insurance. However, if independent living residents require home care for medical reasons, some of those costs may be covered by insurance.

Madison Meadows, Phoenix, AZ

Photo: Madison Meadows, Phoenix, AZ

How to pay for independent living

Independent living tends to be the most affordable senior living option. The communities are often this affordable because they don’t provide daily personal care or medical assistance in any way. Many options can be used to pay to live in these communities:

  • Social Security benefits and pension plans: Anyone receiving social security benefits or pension plan payments can use these monies to pay for their cost of living.
  • Home Equity: If you own a home and sell it to move into a retirement living apartment or any independent living community, you can use the profits from the sale of your home.
  • Personal Funds: At the retirement age most seniors have savings to fall back on. This could take on many different forms such as investments, dividends, interest, or liquidation of assets.
  • Bridge Loans: These short-term loans can help pay for your independent living lifestyle while selling your home.
  • Life Insurance: Some policies allow you to sell your life insurance for one lump sum.

Services provided in independent living

The services and amenities available vary from one independent living community to another. Still, many communities offer some combination of these amenities:

  • Gyms and exercise facilities
  • Swimming pools and hot tubs
  • Beauty salons and barbershops
  • Dining facilities with chef-prepared meals
  • A full social activity schedule
  • Movie theater
  • Transportation near the community
  • Housekeeping
  • 24/7 security
  • Religious services
  • Pharmacy
  • Private event areas
  • Activity center

Medical care in independent living communities

You probably noticed that the above list of independent living amenities and services doesn't include medical care. Most active adults who choose an independent living community don't have significant medical needs when they move into the community.

Many seniors in an independent living community don't want to leave their homes to enter assisted living or a skilled nursing facility. Even when their need for care becomes more urgent, they don’t want to move.

One solution for aging citizens who do need some regular medical or personal care is home care services. With home care, trained caregivers provide the services needed right in the senior's own home. 

It’s important to remember that many people mistakenly use the term “nursing home” when searching for any kind of senior living. That is a catch-all phrase for all senior living housing options. However, independent living is the farthest removed from what a searcher might be thinking of when looking for a nursing home.

At Seniorly, we have access to top home care services and are happy to connect you, if needed.

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How to choose the right independent living community

If you're considering an independent living community, start by determining which type of community is your best option. Options include an active adult community, co-housing, a CCRC, or other choices. Research the communities available in your chosen location, comparing their costs and amenities. Paying a visit is also highly recommended.

When you visit an independent living community, you'll be able to see which housing units are available. You can also check to see if the amenities and services are as advertised. Get a sense of whether the community is a good fit for you or your loved one.

While visiting, you should feel free to ask any questions that occur to you. You're making a big decision with this move and have the right to know all the important information about the community you might choose as your own.

Here are some suggestions of questions you might want to ask during your visit, just to get you started.

  • What social and recreational activities are offered?
  • How many residents participate in the activities you're interested in?
  • What options are available if you need regular medical or personal care in your home? Are you allowed to bring in an in-home caregiver?
  • Under what circumstances would you be asked to move to an Assisted Living community?
  • What's included in the monthly fee?
  • Is the monthly fee increased every year? If not, when is it increased?
  • What happens if a resident has difficulty paying the monthly fee?
  • What assistance will the Independent Living community provide to help you move and get settled there?
  • What's security like in the community? What emergency services are available?
  • Are any meals provided? If the answer is yes, how many meals are provided, and which ones? Are they included in the monthly fee?
  • Are any accommodations available if you need to follow a restricted diet (gluten-free, vegetarian, kosher, etc.)?
  • Are visitors allowed? What about overnight visitors? Are children allowed to visit? Is there a curfew for visitors (or for any other activities)?
  • Does the community allow residents to have pets?
  • Are there restrictions on the size or type of pets?
  • Is it possible to make arrangements for pet care if you need to travel away from the community for any reason?
  • What transportation is available in the community?
  • Does the community provide any kind of shuttles or private transportation for doctor's appointments, errands, or entertainment?
  • Do residents of the Independent Living community get involved with the surrounding community?
  • What's the relationship between the Independent Living community and the surrounding neighborhood?

Explore 74 Questions to Ask When Touring

How much is independent living?

The cost of independent living is as varied as the types of communities available. To begin, most independent living communities do require some kind of upfront fee to become a resident. If you're joining a CCRC, the fee can be sizable ($500,000 and up), because you're joining a system that involves medical services. In other types of independent living communities, the fee may be the equivalent of a security deposit on a new apartment. The fee is often larger or smaller depending on the types of amenities and services the independent living community offers and on the type of residential unit you're choosing. If you're buying a condo or other home within an independent living community, of course, you'll be subject to the down payment and other closing fees involved with any real estate transaction, and a membership fee may also be required.

What’s the difference between independent living and assisted living?

Residents in an independent living community do receive some help that makes life a little easier, but these are generally confined to areas like maintenance, yard care, and maybe housekeeping. Residents in assisted living facilities typically receive some assistance with the activities of daily living (ADLs), including medication management and often including meal preparation. Assisted living residents, however, usually don't need significant skilled medical care daily.

How many independent living facilities are there in the U.S.?

There are thousands of independent living facilities in the U.S. They range from large campuses to smaller, home-like settings. You can search for the independent living communities near you.

How old do you have to be for independent living?

Most independent living communities have a minimum age requirement of 55. These are known as age-restricted communities. As detailed above, there are many other types of independent living and their age requirements vary but never go below 55.

Are pets allowed in an independent living community?

Most independent living communities welcome pets, understanding how therapeutic they can be for older adults. Because some communities have restrictions on the type, breed, or size of pets allowed, make sure you ask about the policy if you want to bring a pet with you. Also, ask about any deposits or fees required.

What if I need more care in the future?

Most independent living communities are located along with assisted living communities. If you pick a location that has both, you can be assured that you won’t have to move even if your needs change. 

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Emma Rodbro is Head of Growth Operations at Seniorly and holds an MA in Social Work with a concentration on aging: Learn more about Emma and our other authors' qualifications

Emma Rodbro is Head of Growth Operations at Seniorly and holds an MA in Social Work with a concentration on aging

Learn more about Emma and our other authors' qualifications

Seniorly author bios and publishing guidelinesAll articles written by Emma