Take the proper steps of narrowing down your independent living options in order to find the best fit for you or a senior loved one.

Evaluating Independent Living Communities

If you're considering relocation to an independent living community as a possibility for yourself or your loved one, you have a lot of choices available. Independent living communities of various types and sizes abound across the United States, so you can probably find what you're looking for in any region.

Start with online research to narrow down your choices and determine the type of community you're looking for. You may have friends or family who want you to check out their independent living communities. As you compile your short list, you'll be able to pick out which communities you'd like to visit in person.

Here's a template for evaluating independent living communities as well as a comprehensive list of questions to take with you as you make your visits. Once you have the information you need, and once you've gotten a sense of the vibe of each community you visit, you'll be better able to evaluate your choices and make your final decision.

Narrowing Down Your Independent Living Options

Independent living communities are all aimed at adults who are 55 and older and who don't need any assistance with the activities of daily living (dressing, bathing, grooming, and the like). Within that broad category, though, you have a lot of options.

Maybe you want an active adult community. These communities, designed to appeal to baby boomers, often host recreational amenities such as golf course, swimming pools, and clubhouses. They may include single-family homes, condos, and apartments available for both sale and rental. Some of them are strictly age-restricted.

Senior apartments are another option. These communities are designed to meet the physical needs of aging adults, with safety in mind and minimal use of stairs. They're typically age-restricted as well, and sometimes include common outdoor or indoor living space.

Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) combine independent living with other options that provide a continuum of care for aging adults. Should you or your loved one need extra care and attention somewhere down the line, a CCRC is ready to meet those changing needs by moving you to skilled nursing or assisted living nearby within the community. Being able to move from one level of care to the next within the same community can be reassuring to you and your family.

A few other alternative independent living options also exist, including co-housing, in which residents have personal living space but share dining, cooking, laundry and living space communally. Another viable option is joining the village movement, popular among baby boomers who want to remain in their own homes as they age, but who join together with a large membership-based community to share home health care, home maintenance and other services. Some active adults even opt for life on a cruise ship as they retire.

Start your independent living search by finding all of the communities near you. Enter your city and zip code in the search box below. 

Planning Your Tour of Independent Living Communities

Once you've chosen the type of independent living community you're looking for and you've narrowed down the geographic areas you're interested in, you can make a short list of communities that you'd like to visit.

Going in person provides you with a feeling for a community that you can never get from perusing photos and reviews online. You may sense immediately that a given community feels like home — or you may quickly realize that you need to keep searching. Making any move is a big step, so you want to get all the information you need up front to be able to choose wisely.

What to Look for on Your Tour

You want to examine every facet of the independent living communities you visit. Check out all the available living accommodations to see if they suit you and make you feel at home. If there are dining facilities, have a meal. Check out the various social activities and community events — and find out how many people in the community are actually involved with them.

The community may assign you a staff member to give you a tour. Take the opportunity to ask lots of questions (and we have plenty of good suggestions for what to ask below!). But don't stop there. Find opportunities to chat with the current residents, as well. If there are any hidden pitfalls to an independent living community, the residents will be sure to let you know. You'll also get a sense of whether these are the people you'd like as your neighbors and future friends.

Finally, make sure you have a full understanding of the costs involved in each community you visit. Look over the community's rules and restrictions, and review any rental agreements you'd have to sign.

Questions to Ask at Independent Living Communities

When you're visiting an independent living community, you should ask every question you can possibly think of. Ask your tour guide, if you have one, and sit down with a representative staff after your tour to ask more questions. Carrying a list of questions, either printed or on your phone, can make sure you don't miss a thing. Start with these questions, and add your own as you go.

  • What's the surrounding neighborhood like?

Is the neighborhood safe and comfortable? Is it a neighborhood you'd want to live in if you weren't in the independent living community? Ask how involved the residents are with the local neighborhood — Do they volunteer at local schools or participate in community activities? Check out the local shopping and entertainment options as well. You could very well find what looks like the perfect community on the inside, but if you love the hustle and bustle of city life, with all its dining and entertainment choices, you may be unhappy if that perfect spot is miles away from town.

  • What medical care is available?

Check out the top hospitals and medical centers in the area of your independent living community to know that care is available if you need it. In addition, ask whether the community can help you make arrangements if you or your loved one should need home care later on. Does the community allow in-home caregivers, or would they suggest moving to a new facility? If you're considering a CCRC, ask about the transition process from one stage of care to the next.

  • What do the monthly fees cover?

At most independent living communities, you're charged a monthly membership that's similar to a homeowners' association fee. What does this fee actually cover? Typically you can expect it to take care of outdoor maintenance and landscaping, but what other services and amenities are included. If your community has a golf course, are you paying for it even if you don't play, or does it carry an extra charge? If transportation is available to nearby shopping and entertainment centers, are the charges included? Make sure you understand all the details, because the answers at each independent living community will be different.

  • Are guests welcome?

If you're in an independent living community where you've purchased your own home, you can probably host any guests you please — though there may be restrictions on your minor grandchildren staying for extended periods. Other forms of independent living communities may place restrictions on overnight guests. If you share a common dining facility, you may have to make arrangements in advance or pay for guests' meals. If you plan on having frequent visitors or doing a lot of entertaining, better make sure you know what's acceptable — and don't forget to ask about parking availability for your guests as well.

  • What support services are available?

Some independent living communities include basic housekeeping and maintenance services, while others don't. See what help you have available to make life easier. Does your private living space contain laundry facilities, or do you have to share them with others in the community? What transportation is available to medical appointments and shopping? The community staff should be able to provide a complete list of all available support.

  • How safe and secure are the facilities?

Some independent living communities sit behind gates, with guards checking the ID of all vendors and visitors. Others may be content with a lock at the front door. If you have concerns about security, make sure you learn about all the precautions the community takes, from cameras to alarms to security guards. Ask as well about cybersecurity precautions if you expect to use the community's Wi-Fi. In addition, check your individual unit for security features such as handrails, intercoms, or emergency alert systems.

  • Are pets allowed?

While pets are typically allowed in larger independent living communities, there may be restrictions on the breed or size of certain pets. In smaller facilities where residents are sharing indoor common areas, you may experience even more restrictions. If you or your loved one is hoping to bring a beloved pet with you, or if you have various animal allergies, make sure you get the answer to this question.

Evaluating What You Saw on Your Tour

Once you've toured the independent living communities you've researched, it's time to assess what you've learned. Take notes while you're there, and pick up all the material they offer you, including floor plans, payment details, activity calendars, and promotional brochures, so you can keep straight what you saw and learned at each community. You may also want to take photos with your phone, or even take video with your own audio commentary to help you evaluate what you saw.

When you have the answers to your questions, you can evaluate your own needs and preferences (or those of your loved one) to make a smart decision regarding your move to an independent living community.

Review our other articles on independent living:

For more resources on senior living, click here.

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