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.

Independent Living Options for the Elderly

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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