A mature woman with coffee cup and older man with newspaper sit on couch.

Not all older adults need caregiver assistance or support during retirement. Still, active older adults often crave an environment to connect with peers, enjoy convenient amenities, and participate in programs that help them meet their wellness goals. Independent living is an ideal option for an active senior searching for a maintenance-free lifestyle in a beautiful, vibrant community. Here, we’ll define what independent living for seniors is and describe typical features of these communities, the services they provide, and more.

What is independent living?

Independent living is a senior living solution for active older adults who do not need caregiver support or assistance with activities of daily living. Independent living communities typically provide a maintenance-free or low-maintenance lifestyle in addition to amenities and services that help residents meet new friends, try new activities, or pursue their favorite passions. Independent living communities may also be called active adult communities, senior communities, retirement villages, retirement communities, 55+ communities, or 62+ communities.

How independent living differs from other senior living options

Independent living is one type of senior living environment, but it is important to understand that it is not the same as senior housing or affordable senior apartments. Independent living communities provide resort-style amenities and services, while senior housing and affordable senior apartments provide housing focused on economical rental prices and may have sparse activity calendars.

Independent living is also quite different from assisted living. The biggest differentiator is the assistance provided to residents. Individuals in independent living communities do not necessarily need support with activities of daily living, while residents in assisted living do. 

Who lives in independent living communities?

Independent living is ideal for residents looking for a social community among others with similar interests and goals. The typical independent living resident:

  • Walks or ambulates without any assistance from others. They might use a walker, cane, or wheelchair, but they can use it alone and without assistance.
  • Completes activities of daily living independently each day.
  • Has no diagnosis of dementia or other type of cognitive decline.
  • Can safely live in their own home, cottage, or apartment.
  • Can drive a vehicle or coordinate transportation services independently.
  • Wants to have the option of meeting new people, making friends, and connecting with peers easily.

The typical prospective independent living resident may also want to downsize their household responsibilities. They may want to cook a few times per week, for example, but also meet with friends at an on-site restaurant. They might be lonely living at home or struggling to maintain relationships with friends who are also aging.

Independent living communities may have eligibility requirements. The restrictions vary depending on the community, but residents are commonly required to be above 55 or 62 years old. Be sure to contact the facility’s manager to see if there are other eligibility requirements.

Features of independent living communities

Each independent living community is as unique as the residents who live there. This means that certain amenities are not available at all communities. In many independent living communities, you can expect to find resort-style amenities, including:

  • Heated swimming pools, hot tubs, and saunas.
  • Sports facilities, like putting greens and bocce ball, tennis, and pickleball courts.
  • Outdoor shared spaces, like gazebos, patios, dining areas, and hiking trails.
  • Apartments, cottages, or carriage homes with different floor plan options, modern kitchens, and lots of storage.
  • On-site restaurants and bistros.
  • Indoor shared spaces, like living rooms, libraries, movie theaters, and game rooms.
  • On-site convenience stores.
  • Pet-friendly accommodations, like dog parks.

Services at independent living communities

Amenities are often a draw for many independent living communities, but the services available in the community are what make life more convenient for the residents who live there. Services might include:

  • Grounds maintenance.
  • Regularly scheduled housekeeping visits.
  • Linen and laundry services.
  • Transportation services via town car and/or community bus.
  • Daily events and activities, including excursions off campus.
  • Physicians with on-site office hours.
  • Concierge services.
  • Dining services that include meals served in on-site restaurants or grab-and-go options served in the community’s bistro.

Services not included in an independent living lifestyle include 24-hour caregiving assistance. There is typically an overnight security guard on duty, but they are not equipped to medically assist in the event of any health crisis and will call 911 as needed.

Caregivers who assist with personal care are also not available at independent living communities. If a resident requires this type of assistance, they might be able to pay for a home care provider who goes to their apartment. This would most likely need to be approved by the independent living community in advance.

Costs of independent living

As with any senior living option, independent living costs vary greatly depending on the geographical region and the services and amenities the community offers. Generally, you can expect to pay a monthly fee that includes rent, utilities, and access to the services and amenities within the community. Communities may include a certain number of meals as part of the monthly fee and allow residents to purchase a flexible meal plan if they would like to eat more often in the community’s restaurants. Some communities require a one-time move-in fee as well.

Independent living is not covered by Medicare, and most do not accept Medicaid. This is because Medicare is health insurance and covers only medical services, and Medicaid is a needs-based program that helps individuals with low income pay for necessary services. Most independent living residents pay out of pocket using money from selling their homes and other retirement income. If moving to this type of senior living community is your goal, speaking with a financial specialist about how to pay for independent living can help you learn the available options.

If you or your loved one would like the convenience of downsizing and living a lower-maintenance lifestyle, having access to amenities and social opportunities, and living among other active peers, choosing an independent senior living community could be the best next chapter of retirement.