Independent Senior Living: 5 things that will surprise you

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Navigating the world of senior living options, whether for yourself or a family member, can be daunting and confusing. With a range of terms used to describe senior living options including independent living, assisted living, and nursing homes, it can be difficult to understand the differences between each level of care or housing option.

Independent living refers to living options such as apartments, condos or patio homes with a community or neighborhood specifically designed for those 55 years of age and older. Often, the term “retirement community” is used to describe an independent living community.

Independent living communities offer seniors freedom and flexibility, while providing various services and amenities such as transportation and housekeeping, to make life easier and more enjoyable. Read on to learn five things about independent living that you may not know.

1. Independent living is not a nursing home.

A skilled nursing facility, or “nursing home,” is a residential healthcare setting that provides long term care for those needing medical care and a high level of assistance. Independent living communities by nature do not provide medical assistance. Conversely, independent living communities are designed for active seniors who wish to enjoy living without the burdens of home ownership. “People often start off opposed to independent living, because they think it’s a nursing home,” says Tammy Ooft, property manager with Elderwood Residences at Wheatfield an independent living community in New York’s Niagara County. “By the time they leave, they are planning out where their couch will go in their new home.”

2. You can have a car, but you don’t need one. 

Many independent living communities offer the option of having a parking space or driveway with a garage, depending on the style of home you choose. For some seniors, having their vehicle and the ability to continue driving is very important to them. However, independent living communities offer regular transportation to grocery stores, banks, medical appointments and shopping centers. For those who prefer not to drive at all, they may find peace in ditching their car, the payments and maintenance that come along with it. Others may choose to keep a vehicle at their home, while taking advantage of the transportation options when weather conditions make driving unpleasant.

3. Independent living is maintenance free.

As we age, we picture our retirement as a time to relax and slow down. For some, it’s a time to travel, pick up a new hobby or give back to the community. We don’t typically picture the basic upkeep, maintenance and seasonal tasks that remain when you own a home. Mowing the lawn, raking leaves, cleaning gutters and shoveling snow don’t often show up in our retirement goals.

For homeowners, the constant upkeep and maintenance can take away from being able to enjoy life. For others, natural aging and physical impairments may make these tasks more difficult, or unsafe to perform. Independent living communities take care of maintenance and repairs for their residents including lawn care, trash and snow removal, housekeeping, and indoor maintenance, such as replacing ceiling light bulbs. For garden enthusiasts, many communities offer the freedom to plant flowers, maintain a garden and add special touches like lawn decorations or a bird feeder.

4. There is an added level of safety and security. 

While independent living homes don’t provide medical assistance, they do offer a level of security and safety for residents. Most communities provide on-site security 24-7 to help residents feel protected. Family members, especially those who may live out of town, can feel comfort knowing there is always a way to check in on their loved one. In terms of the home options, apartments offer accessible walkways and elevators, while patio home styles are all one floor, reducing the risk of falls. At Elderwood’s independent living communities, bathrooms are equipped with pull cords that notify staff in the case of a medical emergency. Staff will call for an ambulance if needed and wait with the resident until medical care arrives.

5. Your social life may blossom.

“Many seniors living at home feel isolated,” says Ooft. “They come here, and they make new friends and can take part in activities that they wouldn’t have access to otherwise and they just love it.” Independent living communities offer daily activities for residents including exercise classes, arts and crafts, music and entertainment and holiday events. They also provide transportation to arts, cultural and sporting events within the area. A majority of the events are free to residents, whereas off-site entertainment may require a fee to attend. For many seniors, independent living homes provide privacy, with a sense of community.

“The goal of independent living is to enhance your life and make it more enjoyable,” says Ooft. “The most common thing we hear from residents is, ‘I should have done this sooner.’”