What is Independent Living and How Much Should it Cost?

A Comprehensive Guide to Independent Living

Perhaps the home you have been living in has a lot of stairs, a large yard and a steep hill that are becoming cumbersome. Maybe it the home that once housed your growing family and you simply do not need the extra space and burden of housekeeping. These are often situations which make a person consider alternative living arrangements. For many, it they are not in need of assisted living, do not want or need the care or supervision of a grown child and want to maintain their independence and privacy as long as possible. Independent Living communities may be an ideal choice.

Among the various levels of senior living, independent living options are the least restrictive, supervised or regulated. Independent Living communities are structured settings which are designed for older adults, usually 55 and over. As the name implies, residents in independent living settings are able to fully care for themselves. In some setting, like continuing care communities, independent housing is the first step in transitional programs, while others like subsidized apartments are designed for those with limited incomes.

This guide will give you information on choosing an independent living community that is right for you or your loved one.

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Continuing Care Retirement Community
The continuing care retirement community is a transitional setting that generally offers three distinct levels of care within the same community,independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing care. Most CCRCs are designed for those who are still able to live well independently but want the security of knowing their needs will be met as they age and may need more care. Some facilities also offer memory care settings for those with dementia.

The cost of CCRCs may be viewed by some as excessive. Most charge an initial, one-time entrance fee which varies based upon several factors including accommodations and care needs. These fees can range from $100,000 to $1 million in some areas. In addition to the entrance fee, most require monthly service fees or rent. Again, these are variable and may change as the level of care increases. The advantage: Most facilities have contractual obligations which ensure the resident maintains their residency even when their funds run out.

The Independent Living arm of the CCRC offers the same advantages of living in a private home but may provide some additional amenities, such as assistance with lawn care and other home maintenance chores. There is also comfort in knowing that higher levels of care can be provided within the same community.

In a 2002-2003 study titled, “Study of Independent Living Residents and the Communities in Which They Reside, ” published by American Senior Housing Association, it was found that there are several advantages to residing in a CCRC such as:

  • Promote active lifestyles
  • Support social involvement
  • Ensure proper medical care
  • Provide good nutrition
  • Encourage overall wellness
  • Are good for younger seniors

Some areas to consider when choosing a CCRC:

Contractual Obligations: There are three basic types of contracts which can be entered into when choosing a CCCRC. Each community may have variations of these and should be considered based upon impending care needs. They include:

  • Life Care or Extended Contract: This is the most expensive option, but offers unlimited assisted living, medical treatment and skilled nursing care without additional charges.
  • Modified Contract: This contract offers a set of services provided for a set length of time. When that time is expired, other services can be obtained, but for higher monthly fees.
  • Fee-for-Service Contract: The initial enrollment fee may be lower, but assisted living and skilled nursing will be paid for at their market rates.

Traditional vs. Refundable Entrance Fees: While the entrance fee varies based upon the services needed and the accommodations selected, the type of entrance fee is often up to the resident.There are generally two types: Traditional and Refundable. The traditional fee tends to be less expensive, but is non-refundable; whereas the refundable fee is more costly but can be prorated if the resident ever needs to leave the facility or passes away.

Accommodations: In some communities there are several choices for independent living accommodations, from three bedroom cottages and condominiums to one bedroom apartments. This is often a personal preference, but may be dictated by health care needs and by the entrance fees and monthly service fees associated with the various options.

Accreditation: Is the community accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities and the Continuing Care Accreditation Commission in 2003(CARF-CCAC). CARF-CCAC is the nation’s only accrediting body for Continuing Care Retirement Communities and other retirement communities that meet its standards of excellence in three critical areas: governance and administration; financial resources and disclosure; and resident life, health, and wellness. Accreditation is a rigorous voluntary process involving self-evaluation by the organization’s staff, residents, and board of directors. It also entails a meticulous on-site review by trained CARF-CCAC evaluators. The CARF-CCAC’s accreditation program is based on the belief that accreditation promotes and maintains quality and integrity in the retirement community industry

Miscellaneous Fees: Although most of the room and board needs will be covered by the entrance fees and monthly services fees, there will inevitably be more charges that will creep up. Be sure to speak with the community administrators about realistic costs that may be associated with the community.

Sustainability: Will the facility be around in 10-15 years? You don’t want the hard earned money that was invested into the community to be lost because of poor administration.

Retirement Communities

Much like CCRCs, retirement communities offer private, independent living residences. The communities, which are designed for those 55 and over, offer various types of accommodations. From single-family homes, townhouses, mobile homes, or condos, residents often have the choice of renting or buying.Outside of mortgage or rent, there may be fees for community organizations or elective services like housekeeping, lawn care or clubhouse dues.

The biggest advantage of a retirement community may very well be the socialization and camaraderie provided by being in a community of other retirees.Lasting friendships and support systems help prevent loneliness and depression which often affect aging adults, especially after the death of a spouse.

Often these types of settings are ideal for those who do not feel the need (of have the funds) for a CCRC.

Senior Apartments

On a smaller scale, senior apartments offer many of the same amenities as retirement communities. One or two bedroom apartments with full kitchens and bathroom allow for seniors to remain independent. These 55 and over complexes usually are able offer handicap accessible accommodations for those who may need to use a wheel chair or walker for mobility.

Often there are on-site activities such as exercise classes, cooking classes, group activities and meals. Some apartment complexes offer visiting physicians and medical services while others may offer visiting beauticians or other personal services.

The rent for these units is often much less than that of a townhouse or condo in a retirement community and often includes most of the maintenance.This is an ideal setting for someone who is no longer able or wants to care for home maintenance or lawn care. Some of apartments may also offer subsidized rent based upon income.

Subsidized Housing

As the name implies, subsidized housing, offers independent living at reduced rates based upon income levels and disability. These housing options are subsidized by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and may still require a portion of the rent to be paid privately.

Usually structured like apartments or town homes, these facilities often have waiting lists and strict criteria for residency. It is important to note,that some areas have extremely long waiting lists and you should plan accordingly if you think this may be an option for you or a loved one.

Regardless of the type of independent living you choose, there are some questions to consider when finding the place to call home:

First Impression

  • Do you like the facility’s location and outward appearance?
  • Is the facility convenient for frequent visits by family and friends?
  • Is the facility near a shopping and entertainment complex?
  • Can the resident access a medical complex easily?
  • Is public transportation available?
  • Are you welcomed with a warm greeting from the staff?
  • Does the staff address residents by their names and interact with them during your tour?
  • Do you notice the residents socializing with each other and do they appear content?
  • Can you talk with residents about how they like living there and about the staff?
  • Is the staff appropriately dressed, friendly and outgoing?
  • Do the staff members treat each other in a professional manner?
  • Are visits with the residents encouraged and welcome at any time
  • What percentage of the apartments has been rented and is occupied?
  • Is there a waiting list? If so, how long do they estimate it will be for a unit to become available?

Living Area and Accommodations

  • Is the floor plan well designed and easy to follow?
  • Are doorways, hallways and rooms accommodating to wheelchairs and walkers?
  • Are elevators available for those unable to use stairways and handrails to aid in walking?
  • Are floors of a non-skid material and carpets conducive for safe walking?
  • Does the residence have good lighting, sprinklers and clearly marked exits?
  • Is the residence clean, free of odors and appropriately heated/cooled?
  • Are the common areas in general attractive, comfortable and clean?
  • Is there an outside courtyard or patio for residents and visitors and can they garden?
  • Does the residence provide ample security and is there an emergency evacuation plan?
  • Are there different sizes and types of units available with optional floor plans?
  • Are single units available and/or double occupancy units for sharing with another person?
  • Does residence have furnished/unfurnished rooms? What is provided or what can they bring?
  • May they decorate their own rooms? Is there adequate storage space?
  • Is a 24-hour emergency response system accessible from the unit with own lockable door?
  • Are bathrooms private with handicapped accommodations for wheelchairs and walkers?
  • Do all units have a telephone and cable TV and how is billing handled?
  • Does kitchen unit have refrigerator/sink/cooking element and can food be kept in their units?
  • May residents smoke in their units or are there designated public areas?

Moving In, Contracts, and Finances

  • What’s involved with the moving in/out process?
  • Is there a written statement available of the resident rights and responsibilities?
  • Is a contractual agreement available that clearly discloses healthcare, accommodations, personal care, supportive services, all fees, as well as admission and discharge provisions?
  • Find out what the payment schedule is and if residents own or rent their unit?
  • How much is the monthly fee? How often can it be increased and for what reasons?
  • What happens if funds are depleted and full payments can no longer be made?
  • Is there any government, private or corporate programs available to help cover the costs?
  • What additional services are available if the resident’s needs change? Is staff available to coordinate these services?
  • Is there a procedure to pay for additional services such as skilled nursing care or physical therapy when the services are needed on a temporary basis?

Health and Personal Care Services

  • What health and personal care services are available? Who provides these services/what are their qualifications
  • How are medical emergencies handled?
  • Is there a staff person to coordinate home care visits from a nurse, physical or occupational therapist, etc. when needed on temporary basis?
  • Are housekeeping, linen service and personal laundry included in the fees, or are they available at an additional charge? Are on-site laundry facilities available and convenient?
  • Are pharmacy, barber/beautician and/or physical therapy services offered on-site or nearby?

Social and Recreational

  • What kinds of group/individual recreational activities are offered?
  • Does the facility schedule trips or go to other events off premises?
  • Do residents participate in activities outside of the residence in the neighboring community?
  • Are there supplies for social activities/hobbies (games, cards, crafts, computers, gardening)?
  • Are religious services held on the premises or arrangements made for nearby services?
  • Are there fitness facilities, as well as regularly scheduled exercise classes?
  • Are residents’ pets allowed in the residence? Does facility have pets?

Dining

  • Are meals provided?
  • What about special diets; does a qualified dietitian plan or approve menus?
  • Are residents involved in menu planning and may they request special foods?
  • Does dining room environment encourage residents to relax, socialize, and enjoy their food?
  • Is there flexibility in the dining schedule? Are snacks available?
  • How many meals are included in the fee? If a resident becomes ill, is tray service available?
  • Can residents have guests dine with them for an additional fee? Is there a private dining room for special events and occasions, if desired?

Independent living is the ultimate goal for most aging adults, whether it is in their home they have owned for 50 years or an apartment they have just moved in to. The choices may be dictated by funds, or by personal choice, but ultimately home is where the heart is. This guide is intended to make help make an informed decision on the various types of independent living communities.

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