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What Does “Independent Living” Mean in the Senior Living World?

By | 2019-06-03T13:27:26+00:00 June 3rd, 2019|

As a follow up to my recent blog posts on the challenges of comparing continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) and comparing rental retirement communities to CCRCs, I wanted to share with you the different ways that the term “independent living” is used in the senior living industry.

Spoiler alert: It is a phrase that is used for an array of senior living scenarios, which, understandably, can cause some confusion. For example, both rental retirement communities and CCRCs may reference their “independent living” residences, but they may not always be referring to the exact same thing.

>> Related: Is “Aging Independently” a Myth?

Independent living in a CCRC

While, by definition, a CCRC provides its residents with a continuum of care services if and when they are needed, the seniors residing in the “independent living” portion of a CCRC—typically in apartment units or patio-style homes—are often living truly independently, without the need for long-term care services. (Long-term care services, also called assisted living services, refers to help with activities of daily living [ADLs] like dressing, bathing, using the toilet, food preparation, and so forth.)

This is particularly true at the point in which they move into the community since most CCRC contracts specify that residents must meet certain health requirements. In fact, many residents may still lead very active and independent lives.

Having said this, the health and mobility of a CCRC resident can change over time, so it isn’t uncommon for those in independent living to have caregivers come into their home or apartment once they do begin to need a little bit of help. Although CCRCs typically provide separate assisted living and nursing care apartment for residents whose care needs have advanced considerably, almost all residents prefer to stay in their own apartment or home for as long as possible.

>> Related: Remain in the Home You Love: The Continuing Care at Home Model

Independent living in a rental retirement community

When it comes to rental retirement communities, the term “independent living” may be used slightly differently than it is by CCRCs. In fact, some rental retirement communities refer to themselves as “independent plus” communities. This means a resident of a rental retirement community may have certain care needs (this is the “plus”) but still be considered independent simply because they are still living in their apartment, as opposed to moving to a separate assisted living community or nursing facility. As mentioned above, this same scenario also happens at many CCRCs when a resident, who was previously living totally independently, now requires a bit of help with activities of daily living.

In other words, “independence” in the context of a rental retirement community is largely based on where the person lives and their ability to live as independently as possible, even when it requires some help. Therefore, rental retirement communities are sometimes confused with assisted living communities, though it may not be licensed as an assisted living provider.

Of course, not every resident of a rental retirement community requires support services, and the number of residents requiring such services will vary from one community to another.

>> Related: Why Every Retiree Should Consider a Retirement Community

A term with multiple meanings

In summary, “independent living” may sometimes imply an active and independent lifestyle, free of the need for assistance with daily needs. In other cases, it may mean that a frailer senior living resident is receiving the support services necessary to help them remain as independent as possible, for as long as possible.
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About the Author:

Brad Breeding is president and co-founder of myLifeSite, a North Carolina company that develops web-based resources designed to help families make better-informed decisions when considering a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) or lifecare community.