Independent living communities are geared towards older adults who can still live safely on their own but want less household responsibilities and more social and recreational opportunities close by. Features and amenities provided in these settings vary, but residents usually enjoy a laidback lifestyle with optional housekeeping services, assistance with meal preparation, restaurant-style dining and the peace of mind that comes with around-the-clock security.

These residences come in a variety of sizes, shapes and price points. Some follow the traditional senior housing model, which consists of an apartment-style building and centralized services, while others take a more inventive approach. Many seniors have gotten creative with their plans for aging in place. Below are several types of innovative independent living options designed to meet the specific needs and interests of aging adults.

Unique Independent Living Options

  1. Learning Is a Lifelong Process
    Studies have shown that mastering new skills and concepts keeps the brain active as one ages and can play a pivotal role in preventing certain kinds of cognitive decline. It's unsurprising, then, that a growing trend in the independent living arena is communities that offer college-level courses for residents who don't want to stop learning. Some facilities bring in professors to instruct residents in everything from public policy to physics, while others are built directly on university campuses.
    For example, Lasell Village in Newton, Massachusetts, is an educational retirement community that is located on the campus of Lasell College. Seniors living at Lasell are required to participate in at least 450 hours of academic and physical activities each year. While this may sound daunting, most residents exceed the minimum requirement. Acceptable activities include taking courses at Lasell or another academic institution, independent study, fitness programs and mentoring Lasell College students and organizations. “American Revolutions and Revolutionary Thought,” “Lovers of Literature” and “Our Foreparents, Ourselves: Facing Life's Difficult Challenges and Finding Renewal” are just a few of the courses offered at the college. This unique combination of keeping the mind and body active as well as participating in intergenerational activities helps seniors stay engaged and maintain a high quality of life.
  2. Nurturing an Elder's Inner Artist
    Art has immense therapeutic value for individuals of all ages, but tapping into one's inner creativity can be especially beneficial for older adults who are dealing with chronic health conditions and the emotional challenges that accompany aging. For this reason, a growing number of independent living communities are geared towards seniors who are professional artists, aspiring art lovers and long-time patrons. One such community is the Burbank Senior Artists Colony in California. An on-site film-making studio, theater, multiple art studios, a gallery and a sculpture garden are all meant to foster seniors’ creative endeavors. In fact, much of the artwork throughout the facility and grounds was created by its residents. The colony also offers lifelong learning courses in various disciplines such as writing, acting, painting, poetry and sculpture.
  3. Celebrating Seniors' Roots
    Many aging Americans with deep cultural ties to their community feel they must choose between this connection with friends and family and the support of independent living. To solve this dilemma, niche senior housing complexes that cater to specific cultural and religious preferences are becoming increasingly popular. ShantiNiketan and Aegis Gardens are two such communities. ShantiNiketan in Tavares, Florida, caters to elderly individuals of Indian descent, offering vegetarian and non-vegetarian Indian cuisine, televisions equipped with international channels, a prayer room for practicing Hindus, and movie nights with a Bollywood theme. 
    Long-term care provider Aegis Living has built two Aegis Gardens communities in Newcastle, Washington, and Fremont, California, that cater to Chinese-Americans. Both Aegis Gardens communities infuse Chinese culture into all aspects of daily life. Residents can enjoy calligraphy classes, buildings and apartments that have been designed according to the principles of Feng Shui, authentic Asian cuisine, mahjong tournaments, tai chi classes and staff members who speak multiple Chinese languages and dialects. 
    While a cultural senior living facility may not be a good fit for everyone, these unique features help many retirees feel more comfortable in their new homes and enjoy a greater sense of community with fellow residents and staff.
  4. Combining Camping and Care
    When it comes time to retire, some seniors decide to take to the road. Many sell or rent out their homes and invest in RVs to drive around the country. But, being on the road can be risky for older individuals. The nonprofit Escapees RV Club CARE Center in Livingston, Texas, is a perfect fit for aging adults who want to continue living in their RVs but need some extra assistance and supervision.
    CARE is like a campground and an adult day care center combined. Seniors live in their own RVs and enjoy on-site amenities, activities and assistance. The center offers meals, a doctor's appointment scheduling service (complete with transportation to and from the office), weekly supervised shopping trips, a part-time nurse, and a facility where elderly RV-ers can gather and participate in games, exercise classes, events and discussions. Volunteer staff members are also available to assist with RV maintenance and light housekeeping.
    Traveling in a camper is an important way of life for many retirees. CARE allows seniors who have experienced health setbacks and those who wish to slow down a bit the ability to retain a sense of adventure and comradery while getting the short- or long-term care they need.
  5. Care with a Waterfront View
    Cruises offer older adults the opportunity to travel to exotic locations in a relatively safe, efficient manner. Some seniors (like Beatrice Muller) have taken cruising to the extreme by setting up near-permanent residence on-board. Now, certain cruise ships are being converted into floating retirement communities, complete with hospitals, meal preparation services and housekeeping staff. These ships may stay docked in one place for an extended period or residents can vote on which destinations to sail to.
    The expense of cruise ship retirement varies, but the typical financial arrangement involves purchasing an apartment onboard and paying for a share of the communal costs, such as laundry services, meal preparation, healthcare services, ship maintenance, etc.
    Of course, there are cons to constant cruising. Small living spaces, an increased risk of contracting communicable diseases and limited access to highly specialized healthcare are the main drawbacks. But, for healthy seniors with a sense of adventure, cruise ship living could be an exciting retirement option.

Would you consider any of these independent living options for an aging loved one or yourself?

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