5 W’s of Independent Living for Seniors
Expert Answers to the Most Commonly Asked Questions
When older adults think about the aging process, most hope to live as independently as possible for as long as possible. It could be said that independent living is the ultimate goal for aging adults. But beyond having that sense of independence, there’s more to achieving health and happiness throughout these precious years. Ultimately, seniors hope to embrace a lifestyle that enables them to truly thrive.
For seniors focused on both independence and a thriving lifestyle, the environment in which they live is a fundamental aspect. That’s why many older adults begin to consider the potential of moving to an independent living community. Of course, this is an extremely personal decision—one typically accompanied by many questions. To help seniors and their families navigate the realities of such a decision, we are breaking down some helpful insights and information about independent living in a senior community.
WHAT is an independent living community?
Sometimes also known as retirement living, independent living basically refers to a place of residence located within a community that’s geared specifically for seniors. Residents of an independent living community rent a living space (typically an apartment or cottage) in the same manner as other housing options, with the difference being that they have convenient access to services and support when desired. Independent living communities are also set up to encourage—not compel—socialization by offering entertainment options and various opportunities for engagement with other residents.
These types of communities provide residents with valuable services in areas such as dining, medical care, home maintenance, housekeeping, laundry, and more. The independent living lifestyle affords seniors a safe and carefree living environment with the availability of various points of hospitality and connection—and without needing to give up their independence and privacy. The best independent communities offer a variety of apartments in different sizes so seniors can choose the best living space to meet their individual needs.
WHO is best suited for an independent living community?
Independent living is ideal for seniors who can still live independently but appreciate having access to assistance and socialization when warranted. Independent living communities are usually limited to individuals aged 65 and older. Residents are generally in good health and able to care for themselves with little to no assistance. They take full advantage of being self-reliant.
Seniors who need support with daily activities or additional care services, on the other hand, are not well suited to independent living. In those cases, an assisted living community is a better option, as this type of offering caters to more involved needs for assistance, like help with bathing or medication management.
WHY do some seniors choose to move to an independent living community?
If a senior is fully capable of living on their own, why would they choose to move to a senior community? Often, they do so for the convenience, enjoyment, and peace of mind that come with living in this type of residential community. The independent living experience offers a host of amenities that make seniors’ lives fuller and more pleasant. Instead of spending this season of life on chores and responsibilities, residents can spend it enjoying themselves in a home-like setting at an independent living community.
Let’s explore some of the most notable ways moving to an independent living community can benefit seniors and have a positive impact on their everyday life.
Safety and Security
For some seniors, the experience of living alone can be worrisome and unnerving—for both themselves and the family members who care about them. One advantage of moving to an independent living community is the sense of safety that comes with residing in a well-monitored and well-protected environment. Many of these communities have staff members on-site 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with security personnel actively monitoring the area.
Independent living communities also support a level of injury prevention. Keep in mind that lots of homes (especially older ones) are not designed to be handicap- and/ senior-friendly, and often present greater risks for falls and related injuries. While you could renovate an entire home to achieve the necessary level of safety, many seniors prefer to move into an independent community built specifically for those needs. These communities are designed to minimize safety risk, and they bring the added peace of mind that comes with having access to staff when needed or in an emergency.
Health and Wellness
Managing one’s own health and wellness can be a challenge, particularly when a senior lives alone. In an independent living community, however, there are abundant outlets and opportunities for maintaining an active, healthy lifestyle.
For many seniors, preparing meals for themselves (and a spouse) may feel like a lot of work, especially if they must manage health conditions, like diabetes or heart disease, that require strict diets. In an independent living community, seniors have access to prepared meals and community dining. Keep in mind that the inclusion of nutritional meals each day may or may not already be included in the total cost of rent, so be sure to inquire about this at any community you may be considering.
Quality independent living communities also provide opportunities for maintaining fitness—ones you may not have access to while living at home. There are usually scheduled exercise classes and maybe even a calendar of fitness events for participation from residents. Options like water aerobics and yoga help seniors promote physical wellness and increase mobility, all while stimulating mental engagement and fun. Not only are these offerings a great way to stay active, but they’re also ideal for meeting and staying connected with other residents.
Socialization and Personal Connection
Speaking of connection, one of the biggest draws for independent living communities is the chance for socialization. Let’s face it, living at home can be lonely, especially if a senior is driving less than they used to. In an independent living community, there are more chances to socialize and have fun than ever before.
These communities offer various types of activities on an ongoing basis, plus shared spaces and amenities like day rooms, craft rooms, libraries, and media rooms. From book clubs and gardening clubs to movie nights, game nights, seasonal celebrations, and more, there are so many ways to stay connected and engaged. Some communities even offer transportation services for seniors to go on outings to museums, shopping malls, or other attractions. Of course, nothing is forced, so residents have the freedom to decide when they choose to engage in social activities and when they are content to enjoy their privacy at home.
It’s important to note that human connection is essential to the well-being of seniors. Mental and emotional health experts have emphasized the benefits of socialization, supported by strong evidence that this kind of human connection is linked to greater overall health as well as a longer lifespan. For some seniors, staying social and active in the community can be a challenge, especially because their years of working, raising children, coaching teams, or participating in other group-related pastimes are behind them. But that doesn’t mean they have to spend their golden years alone, or feeling lonely. Independent living communities offer the opportunity to build new relationships every day—with increased potential for conversation, camaraderie, meaningful activities, and fun events.
Housekeeping and Maintenance
Home upkeep is a common reason active seniors choose to move into an independent living community. Maintaining a yard, keeping the house clean, staying on top of laundry, and managing other physically demanding tasks can become quite a burden. In an independent living community, seniors can shed these responsibilities of home ownership and spend that time on more desirable activities or relaxation.
Cost is another reason seniors turn into independent living, as living alone can be financially difficult. Over the course of paying bills, repairing and remodeling, and arranging for other necessary services, the expense may become more than a senior’s budget can realistically handle. That’s why many seniors eliminate the financial burden of living alone, and choose independent living as the more affordable option.
Seamless Transition Planning
Moving to an independent living community can kickstart an exciting new season of life for seniors. More than that, it can be a great way to ease any future transition to assisted living accommodations if changes in physical or mental health warrant such a move down the road.
Some senior communities offer a range of care levels. So if you begin in an independent living apartment, you can easily move to another space within the community if or when the need for a greater level of care arises. This ease of transition should not be overlooked, as the move from one’s home to an assisted living community after a decline in health can be a stressful affair—for both the senior and their loved ones. Thinking ahead by making the move to an independent living community now is often a smart decision.
WHEN is the best time to consider an independent living community?
Regardless of the circumstances, the move to an independent living community is always a personal decision. The truth is most seniors who are fully capable of taking care of themselves will not wake up one day and suddenly decide to move out of their long-time home. It takes a certain mindset, one often influenced by factors such as the passing of a spouse, a realization of the risks of living a sedentary, reclusive lifestyle, and/or proactive thinking—particularly by those who plan for their retirement and seek to be in a home environment that will accommodate their needs as they age.
Moving to an independent living community before illness, injury, or a severe decline in mobility occurs is a great way to maintain overall health and prevent a crisis. This is a move toward greater independence, not less. The offerings provided by this type of community give seniors the freedom and luxury to live their best life without being weighed down by extra responsibilities and worries of older adulthood.
WHERE should a senior begin looking for an independent living community that meets their needs?
If independent living is something you’re interested in exploring more, the best thing you can do is contact the communities in your desired location and tour the properties. Ask all of the questions on your mind, and get clarity on important elements like housing options, amenities, transition opportunities, financial realities, and more.
At United Methodist Homes, options like Wesley Heights Cottages offer complete independence in a manageable setting, paired with perks such as social opportunities, snow and trash removal, and access to a library, hair salon, and wellness center. In short, this kind of residential experience strikes a nice balance between the privacy and independence you desire and the undeniable advantages of community living.
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