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Top Considerations in Choosing an Independent Living Community

Merritt Whitley
By Merritt WhitleySeptember 2, 2020
Elderly couple laughing and cutting vegetables for dinner.

Moving to an independent living community is a major life decision. Finding the right place to call home takes time and research. But where do you start?

Independent living amenities and services vary widely. While most communities offer diverse activities, housekeeping services, healthy meals, and transportation, all communities ultimately come with a different price tag, staff, and set of distinct features.

When beginning the process, it’s imperative to reflect on your personal needs, wants, and lifestyle, says Shelane Barrett, national account manager at A Place for Mom.

When considering independent living amenities and services, “make a list of your ‘must haves’ and ‘would like, but can live without,’” says Barrett. “Make sure the community you choose checks the boxes, and doesn’t sacrifice on your ‘must-have’ list.”

Learn more about the most important independent living safety features and amenities to look for, as well as the best questions to ask, and how to find the best long-term fit.

Consider your personal needs and lifestyle

To find the best fit, think about your personal needs as well as your health. For example, if mobility is a problem, a smaller community may be ideal, says Barrett.

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“Understand your abilities. Sometimes large communities can have long walks to the dining room or fitness center,” she says.

For active and mobile seniors who enjoy cooking, or for those who would like to bring a pet or car, be sure to ask about kitchens in apartments, carports, and pet guidelines.

A community’s ultimate goal is to provide seniors with worry-free and maintenance-free living. In general, you’ll find top independent living features and amenities make life easier, but it’s important to evaluate how you can benefit from each service personally.

If any of these common services are especially important to you, ask communities for details. 

  • It’s common to find buffet or restaurant-style dining options. The majority of independent living communities provide three home-cooked meals a day, along with snacks and drinks.
  • Many communities provide weekly transportation. Whether it’s going to the store or to medical appointments, this amenity allows seniors to maintain freedom without car and fuel expenses and hassle.
  • It’s common to have regular or scheduled room cleanings, which can include vacuuming, dusting, providing fresh linens, and other convenient services.
  • Lawn care and maintenance. Staff will help take care of cutting the lawn, shoveling snow, or fixing any plumbing and electrical issues.

Consider community engagement and social activities

The majority of communities create and share a calendar of events and activities for residents on a weekly basis. Find out what activities are available and how often they occur.

Consider the following:

  • Do the activities seem interesting, engaging, or aligned with your interests?
  • Is the activities director willing to plan activities that match your likes?
  • Are you able to bring friends and family to activities?

In addition to social activities, ask what kind of amenities are included, such as:

  • Fitness room
  • Library
  • Computer room
  • Nail salon
  • Barber shop
  • Laundry room
  • Party, game, or entertainment room

Evaluate essential safety features

Peace of mind can be found in different ways, but safety is usually at the forefront. Ask staff if they have emergency protocols in place for falls or natural disasters.

Also, consider the building’s safety features. Are individual rooms or communal spaces equipped with technology and different ways to prevent accidents and ensure protection?

Be on the lookout for:

  • Sprinkler systems
  • Emergency buttons or pull cords
  • A backup generator
  • Motion sensors or fall-detection technology
  • Walk-in showers
  • Grab bars in the bathrooms

Think about the overall cost and your budget

The cost of independent living is generally influenced by three key elements: location, room size, and services. In the U.S., the average cost of independent living is $2,522, according to A Place for Mom’s 2018 Annual Senior Living Cost Index.

The price can also fluctuate based on supply and demand and the cost of living in your area. Be sure to create a budget and ask questions to determine potential costs:

  • What’s the exact price? How often does pricing change?
  • What’s included in the cost? What typically costs extra?
  • How long is the lease? Are there any deals or incentives?

Best tips for touring an independent living community

When touring an independent living community, you’ll be able tell a lot about it at first glance. Look for signs that show the community is thriving and operating well, Barrett suggests, such as:

  • Friendly and welcoming staff members
  • Well-dressed and well-groomed residents
  • A clean building — especially restrooms and dining area
  • Engaged residents or people participating in activities
  • Happy and smiling faces
  • Residents who try to convince you to move to the community when you visit

Don’t forget to chat with staff on your visit. It’s important to get a feel for how staff and leaders — the property manager or executive director — work together.

Ask staff:

  • How long has the manager or executive director worked at the community?
  • Is there a high or low turnover with staff?
  • How do staff members communicate or manage emergency situations?
  • Do staff members take extra time to get to know residents’ personally?

How to know you’ve found the right place to call home

Take the time to find the right place so you can ease into a happy, fulfilling, and chore-free home. After evaluating several communities in-person or taking virtual tours, Barrett recommends you:

  • Review your checklist. Does the independent living community meet the majority of your wants? Have they surpassed your expectations or fallen short in some areas?
  • Trust your instincts. Many people know it’s the right place because it feels like home. Don’t ignore uneasy feelings.
  • Don’t settle or fret. If a community ends up not working out, you can always move. Although it’s not ideal to make a second move, sometimes you realize another community may be a better fit after all.

If you have questions about independent living communities, or feel overwhelmed in your search, contact our Senior Living Advisors for advice, information, or assistance at no cost. Open in Editor

Merritt Whitley
Author
Merritt Whitley

Merritt Whitely is an editor at A Place for Mom. She developed health content for seniors at Hearing Charities of America and the National Hearing Aid Project. She’s also managed multiple print publications, blogs, and social media channels for seniors as the marketing manager at Sertoma, Inc.

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