Should Your Elderly Parent Move into Independent Living?


As people age, they often look into relocating. When an elderly person still has the physical and mental capacity to live independently, but wants companionship with others who are their age, independent living could be a good option. Independent living communities promote seniors' active lifestyles while offering a secure environment and providing specific services and amenities related to elderly people's needs.

Before spending time finding the right independent living community for your senior parent, first determine if your parent is a good candidate for independent living. Ask these questions:

  • Are they in good health?
  • Can they manage medications and doctor appointments on their own?
  • Would they enjoy living in a community with their peers?
  • Do they want "hassle-free" living?
  • Would they prefer the extra security provided by these communities?
  • Can they afford the costs for this kind of living? If not, are they willing to live in low-income senior housing?

If your elderly parent is not in good health, or cannot care for themselves without assistance, they are not a candidate for independent living. Assisted living or a nursing home, which provide access to healthcare and emergency medical services, would be a more suitable living option.

Seniors have options when looking for independent living communities. There are three major types and although they are somewhat similar, there are key differences in each option.

Retirement Communities

There are other names for these communities. Look for these:

  • Retirement Community
  • 55+ or 62+ Community

These housing communities usually offer the least in services and amenities and as a result, this is the most "independent option" in independent living. These communities are called retirement communities because they are just that; homes for independent and active retirees who want to live among peers.

Grounds maintenance is usually the only service provided, while things like cooking and cleaning are still done by the elder. Social activities are usually organized by the residents. Homes can be single-family houses, condominiums or modular. Although it depends on the particular community, usually seniors own their home individually. If renting is an option in the retirement community, it is usually done by renting from an individual owner, or renting as part of a co-op.

Senior Apartments

There are other names for these communities. Look for these:

  • Independent Living Community
  • Independent Living Facility
  • Senior Living Facility
  • Senior Living Community

Senior apartments, or senior housing, offer the same services as retirement communities; however, senior apartments offer a bit more. They are usually a part of a facility that provides varying levels of care, ranging from independent living to assisted living, and sometimes dementia units and skilled nursing. Services such as cleaning and transportation are usually offered and residents even have the option of eating in the community dining room, rather than cooking for themselves. Also, additional safety and security is inherent in senior housing facilities, simply because staff is generally available around the clock. According to Connie Hamin, marketing director of Heritage Woods in Winston, North Carolina, many of these senior apartments have emergency pull-cord systems, which are emergency devices, usually set up in every room of the apartment, that allow for the resident to alert the front office of an emergency or if they need assistance.

Senior apartments can be an ideal choice for active seniors who desire a "maintenance-free" lifestyle. They are still able to maintain their independence while having the added luxury of services and amenities that independent living provides.

Senior apartments are similar to assisted living, but have two key differences. Hamin explains, "For someone to live in independent living, they must be able to dress and bathe themselves, do their own laundry and are responsible for handling their medications. Seniors who live in assisted living also get the added bonus of 24 hour monitoring services." If an elder needs assistance with medications and/or personal care, but wants to maintain independent living status, they can use outside sources to receive this extra care. Usually this is done by hiring private-duty caregivers. Ultimately, the senior then is not really capable of independent living, but they still maintain the independent living status in their community.

Low-income Housing

There are other descriptors for these communities. Look for these:

  • Affordable
  • Government Subsidized
  • Supportive

This kind of senior living is similar to retirement communities and senior apartment facilities; however, rent is always below market rate. This is possible because the rent is subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and other charities. An elderly person must meet income qualifications in order to live in this type of housing. The individual cannot have income and assets that exceed caps and requirements set by the state (each state has specific regulations for this).

Who pays for Independent Living?

Unless your aging parent is eligible for low-income or government subsidized housing, he/she is responsible for footing the bill. In other words, Medicaid and insurance do not cover any of the costs for independent living. Independent living communities are either houses or condominiums bought by the elder or, according to Hamin, they are rentals, paid privately, on a month-to-month basis.

Association fees are another financial issue that need to be considered. Most communities charge fees and they can range from one-time, yearly, quarterly or monthly. These association fees cover many different costs associated with maintaining the lifestyle expected in independent living, including maintenance, activities and any extras.

By relocating to an independent living community, seniors are able to maintain or strengthen quality of life and live in a more secure environment, and their adult children can have peace of mind knowing that their parents are safe.

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What about the loss of control issue facing the family? Entire families are putting life basically on hold because an elder parent refuses to face reality or is afraid to make a change. It's all about fear. Elders hate change because they fear it. They pretend everything is okay when it's so clearly not. They lie. They keep secrets because they're afraid someone is going to find out they're driving without a license/insurance because they keep getting into fender benders. I am very respectful toward my elders and because I respect them I tell them the truth. My inlaws were declining rapidly until we move them into independent living. Yes, we FORCED them to move and now they both have what they need when they need it. While they were muddling along alone pretending like everything was alright it was the family that felt out of control with worry. We would stagger holidays because we didn't want them to be alone. We rearranged our schedules to accommodate their needs. This cost us time, money, sleep, enjoyment, and it also added stress, anxiety, and loss of control over our adult lives. It took nearly one year to make all the arrangements and would you believe when I tell you that according to my inlaws that was too fast??? They avoided everything having to do with their move until the very last second. Their plan was to avoid it so that they could say they're not ready and we'd give them more time. They asked for an extra 6 months. Then they asked for an extra 3 months, then 2, 1 and finally they were saying "but we only need two more weeks." Bulls***! The entire family - like 10 people - moved mountains to get them into the "safety" of independent living. And sometimes they're grateful and other times they're not. But I don't care because they have everything they need, live in a beautiful, safe, clean, well-attended building, and the family finally gets to enjoy visits with them whereas before we all left DEPRESSED. And not blue in a way that you throw back a cocktail and all is alright again. No, I mean depressed for days afterward until something else happened that needed to be addressed. Sorry for the long rant it's just that flippant comment about 'loss of control" flipped me out and I wanted to share the family's perspective. One last thing that's important is that my family is not dealing with elders who have serious mental issues or brain diseases like dementia. My inlaws are both frail, in different ways, but they still control their own affairs.
Lynn, Your parents can move to an Independent Living Facility, only if they want to. They're independent. If they choose to remain in the two-bedroom apt., then so let them. If going through another move is too much for them, then, and this is only my opinion, the shoud remain where they are now. YOU SHOULD NOT MOVE IN WITH THEM.
There are just so many variables to these living situations that it is difficult to accurately comment on these kinds of living situations. Each case is different which involves family, finances, individual preferences, physical status not to mention medical control. Its not a move that should be made quickly.