A Comprehensive Guide to Choosing an Independent Living Community to Call Home


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As you consider independent living options, reflect on your personal needs, wants, and lifestyle.

“Start by identifying your preferred location, budget, and apartment size,” says Amy McLoughlin, a training specialist at A Place for Mom. “Then, consider whether you’re willing to compromise, if need be. From there you can start a list of needs and wants.”

“Make a list of your ‘must-haves’ and ‘would like, but can live withouts,’” says Shelane Barrett, former national account manager at A Place for Mom. “Make sure the community you choose checks the boxes on your checklist, and doesn’t sacrifice anything on your ‘must-have’ list.”

To help you determine which features and amenities are top priorities, we’ve compiled a list of the top 10 considerations, as well as questions to help you assess and compare communities. Additionally, you can print out this shortened independent living checklist for seniors to take with you while you tour.

1. Social engagement and activities

The majority of independent living communities create and share a calendar of events and activities for residents on a weekly basis. Some communities have an activity director to curate a lively calendar while others have multiple staff members planning out the details. In A Place for Mom’s network, over 80% of independent living communities have a designated activity director.[01]

To assess community engagement levels, find out what activities are available and how often they occur. During a tour, you can ask for an example of their weekly or monthly activities calendar.

Consider the following questions when gauging community engagement:

  • Do the activities seem fun, interesting, or aligned with your interests?
  • Does the activity director take individual residents’ likes or hobbies into consideration?
  • Are you able to bring friends and family to events or activities?
  • Are there any activities planned by residents, and can you help if interested?
  • Are there committees, clubs, or religious organizations you can join?
  • Do activities change week by week? How many activities are typically planned?

2. Meals and dining

The majority of independent living communities provide at least two home-cooked meals a day, along with snacks and drinks. Request to see a sample menu to see if it looks appetizing to you and ask these questions to learn more about your dining options:

  • Do they cater to individual dietary needs, like low sodium or diabetic-friendly diets?
  • Is there an on-staff nutritionist or dietician?
  • Are meals served cafeteria-style, or at sit-down tables with wait staff?
  • What are the rules for cooking in resident apartments? Which appliances are provided?
  • Do they offer vegetarian or vegan options?
  • Can you invite friends and family to meals? If so, is there an additional cost?

Within A Place for Mom’s independent living network, over 80% of communities offer restaurant-style dining and nearly 70% offer room service to accommodate residents’ preferences. Furthermore, about 85% of communities offer a kitchenette or full-size kitchen within residents’ apartments to allow them to cook when they’d like.[01]

3. Transportation services

Some older adults want to keep their cars and continue driving, while others are happy to maintain freedom without the hassles of vehicle maintenance and fuel expenses.

Consider the following to determine if the community’s transportation services are right for you:

  • Can residents keep their cars in the community? How many parking spaces can be reserved per apartment, and are there additional fees?
  • What type of parking is offered? Outdoor lots, carports, or garages?
  • Is transportation to and from medical appointments offered by the community?
  • Are regular trips to stores and activities available? If so, how often and where?
  • Are community drivers specially licensed for group transport?

In A Place for Mom’s network of independent living communities, nearly 95% of independent living communities offer parking for residents’ cars, and over 90% of communities offer on-site transportation services to help residents get around safely.[01]

4. Housekeeping and maintenance

A maintenance-free lifestyle is a huge plus of independent living. After 50 years of changing lightbulbs and shoveling snow, most seniors are ready for a hands-off experience! Regular or scheduled room cleanings, which can include vacuuming, dusting, providing fresh linens, and other convenient services, are common in independent living communities.

Ask the following to learn more about housekeeping and maintenance:

  • What laundry services are provided? Does the community wash linens, but charge extra for clothing? What about dry cleaning?
  • How often is housekeeping available? Is it part of the monthly rent or available for separate purchase as needed?
  • Is trash pickup in the apartment, or will you need to move bins to the hall or curb?
  • How does lawn maintenance work? Are residents responsible for their personal outdoor spaces?
  • If you love working outside, ask if the community allows residents to participate in planting beds or autumn raking.
  • What’s the policy on emergencies, like plumbing or electrical issues? Is someone on call 24/7?

Within A Place for Mom’s network, over 85% of independent living communities offer housekeeping regularly and nearly 75% offer laundry services.[01]

Are you a gardener, fitness buff, or someone who looks forward to their weekly poker night? Or, do you have a pet that you’d like to bring along? Most communities offer amenities that cater to all walks of life. Whether you’re interested in salon services or swimming laps, ask about features that matter most to you. Some common amenities include:

  • Fitness center
  • Library
  • Computer room
  • Beauty salon
  • Barber shop
  • Outdoor areas (courtyard, walking paths, or a garden)
  • Party, game, or entertainment room
  • Pet accommodations
  • Hot tub or pool

Here’s a breakdown of the most common amenities available based on A Place for Mom’s independent living network:[01]

  • Over 70% of communities have a fitness center.
  • About 85% of communities have a library.
  • About 90% of communities offer beauty services within a salon or barber shop.
  • Nearly 95% of communities have outdoor common areas.
  • Nearly 70% of communities have a game room.
  • Over 90% of communities allow residents to bring their pet cat or dog.

6. Safety and wellness

Safety and wellness are a top concern on any independent living checklist for seniors. Ask staff if they have protocols planned for various situations, including power outages, natural disasters, and medical emergencies. Also, ask how they help seniors maintain optimal health.

Although independent living communities don’t generally offer medical care, some do provide some on-site wellness services, like visiting physical therapists and other medical professionals. They also often have precautions in place for potential falls and injuries. Walk-in showers, grab bars in bathrooms, and emergency buttons or pull cords are standard amenities.

On your tour, you can ask if the community offers:

  • Accessibility features for seniors to prevent falls
  • Motion sensors or fall-detection technology
  • Security systems to eliminate break-ins
  • Emergency alert systems
  • 24-hour on-site staff in case of emergency
  • Natural disaster evacuation plans
  • Visiting or on-call medical professionals, like nurses, doctors, and physical therapists

Over 80% of independent living communities provide 24-hour staffing to help ensure resident safety, based on A Place for Mom’s network of independent living communities. Furthermore, about 80% of communities have visiting physical therapists and nearly 65% have visiting nurses to help ensure resident wellness.[01]

7. Staffing

Make a point to talk with staff on your visit. After all, you’ll be interacting with them every day once you move. It’s important to get a feel for how employees and leadership — the property manager or executive director — work together.

Ask community staff about the following:

  • Is the manager or director involved in residents’ everyday lives?
  • How do staff members communicate or manage emergency situations?
  • Are background checks performed during the hiring process?
  • Do staff members take extra time to get to know residents personally?
  • Does staff turnover run higher or lower?

8. Budget

The cost of independent living is generally influenced by three key elements:

  • Location
  • Floor plan
  • Amenities and services

The median price of independent living was $3,000 per month, according to A Place for Mom’s 2023 report on the cost of long-term care.[02] However, the price can fluctuate based on supply and demand, as well as the cost of living in your area.

Be sure to create a budget and ask these 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?
  • Are security deposits or administrative fees required upon move-in?
  • Are there renter’s insurance requirements or community maintenance fees?
  • How long is the lease? Does the price vary by length?
  • Are you offering any special deals or incentives?

To help you calculate your expected costs, you can use our senior living cost calculator. It accounts for your current expenses, location, and more. You can also talk to one of our local senior living experts to help you find options within your budget.

9. Environment

You’ll be able to tell a lot about a community at first glance. When touring a senior living community, look for signs that it’s thriving and operating well, Barrett suggests. Some details to look for include:

  • Are staff members friendly and welcoming?
  • Are residents well-dressed and well-groomed?
  • Does the building seem clean, especially the restrooms and dining area?
  • Are residents engaged or participating in activities?
  • Do you see happy and smiling faces?

Ask to sit down and chat with residents, or see if you can join them for an activity or meal. Residents who encourage others to move into their community is a great sign!

10. Instincts and advice

It’s important to trust your instincts when touring your options. After touring each community, you’ll likely get a gut feeling on whether you can make a happy home there. Be sure to take that into account when weighing your options and you’ll be ready to start the moving process in no time.

Once you’ve evaluated communities through virtual or in-person tours, you can confirm your decision by following these recommendations below.


Review your checklist

After you’ve made up your mind, be sure to double-check your list and ask yourself the following:

  • Does the independent living community meet the majority of your wants?
  • Have they surpassed your expectations or fallen short in some areas on your checklist?
  • Can you envision your daily routine there? Does it excite you?


Think about the future

If you’d prefer not to move if care needs arise, ask whether a community allows you to receive care services within your independent living apartment. In A Place for Mom’s network, nearly 65% of independent living communities contract with home care agencies to help seniors receive the care they need without moving.[01]

If you think independent living won’t be enough in the long run, you may want to consider a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) that offers multiple levels of care, typically including independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing. However, CCRCs are typically more costly, so you may prefer a community that offers both independent living and assisted living. These communities can allow you to live with a partner who requires round-the-clock assistance with daily activities, such as bathing or grooming.


Browse reviews

If you’re feeling nervous about your chosen community, you can turn to reviews. This can help you see how current and past residents feel. Positive reviews can reassure you, but negative reviews can help you see what communities do to accommodate unhappy residents. Many review forums include responses from the community to show you how they handle criticism.

“Responses to negative reviews can show you that community staff are willing to listen and that they care about their reputation,” says McLoughlin.


Get in touch with an expert

“If a community is far outside your preferred location or budget, or if a floor plan doesn’t satisfy your needs, just keep looking,” suggests McLoughlin. “The lure of one or two fancy amenities won’t outshine your basic needs for long.”

McLoughlin also emphasizes the importance of listening to expert advice because they may know about community policies that you may not think to ask about. She says to be open to expert advice, especially if they’re cautioning you about something particular.

This article originally appeared on APlaceForMom and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

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