Taking a Closer Look at Independent Living

Our guest blogger Michelle Seitzer

Editor's note: This is fourth in a series of posts by guest blogger Michelle Seitzer.

If you've been following this series, you now have an overview of the basic levels of senior care and housing, a guide to knowing when and how to initiate a conversation about options, and tips on how to search for the best senior care. Today's post will explore the independent living category of care in greater detail.

Now more than just a concept, independent living is a distinct category of senior housing that is adding new options all the time.

A few of the current venues classified as independent living available today are:

Also emerging are a host of niche communities; some serve LGBT older adults, others cater to the unique needs and preferences of Asian-American seniors, and still others promote lifelong learning, offering residents the opportunity to attend college classes.

Such diversity makes it difficult to generalize what services you'll find in each setting. However, most offer:

  1. Transportation options, either through public transit or a community-furnished service.
  2. Basic housekeeping services.
  3. Limited healthcare/personal care services, particularly if it is part of a continuing care retirement community.
  4. A variety of meal plans.
  5. Social programs for engagement, which may be resident-run or coordinated by a full-time employee hired by the community.

All of these are typically charged a la carte or rolled into the monthly rent. The style and layout of living space varies too, ranging from spacious apartments to efficiency suites to condos, studios, cottages, and more.

  • Who qualifies for independent living? Each community may have specific guidelines about age and health status but, on the whole, any older adult who can live without assistance qualifies (though many allow you to bring in private duty home care or other ancillary services should the need arise).
  • How do you pay for it? Most are private pay only, which means residents pay out of pocket, via long term care insurance policies, proceeds from home sales, retirement/pension plans, or other means. Medicare does not cover independent living costs. (AARP has a great long-term care calculator where you can do a side-by-side comparison of housing options in all states plus the District of Columbia)
  • Who provides care and services? In this housing category, staff members include the social director, management team (i.e. CEO, marketing personnel, comptroller, etc.), and those within the housekeeping, transportation, and dining departments. If healthcare is offered, care providers must be certified or licensed in accordance with state regulations.
  • Who licenses this level of care? Because most providers do not offer healthcare services, they often do not have to be licensed by a state or federal agency (though some choose to be accredited privately). However, government-subsidized housing options, like HUD senior housing, may have certain regulatory requirements.
  • Where do you find independent living options? Check out Eldercare.gov or the senior information section on HUD.gov.

In the next post: Learn more about the assisted living category of care. Here's the Closer Look series to date:

 Editor's Notes: Michelle Seitzer has blogged for the senior living search site SeniorsforLiving.com since 2008, and is the co-moderator of #ElderCareChat, a bi-monthly Twitter-facilitated discussion group for family and professional caregivers passionate about quality senior care.

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