When you discuss your future care options with your family, you probably can’t help wondering if “independent living” is a misnomer. A potential move into a community setting from a home you’ve lived in so long can seem downright frightening.
You might be worrying that independent living isn’t actually independent at all; that you won’t be able to set your own schedule, come and go as you please, or live the lifestyle you’ve chosen to lead. That may have even been the case in days past when seniors elected to move into retirement homes. But not anymore.
Modern retirement centers are not “old folks homes.” They are part of a continuum of care.
Let’s start off by addressing a common misconception: independent living centers are not assisted living facilities, nor are they nursing homes. Independent living, assisted living and nursing care are all different types of service along a continuum of future care.
Independent living is exactly as advertised: Residents often have their own vehicles, can have guests, cook for themselves, and do everything they would normally do on their own. The only difference may be that, just like in any other apartment complex, you’re freed from the necessities of house maintenance that with home ownership—with the added bonus of having certain aging services on premise.
Assisted living, the next level along the continuum, provides more intensive help with daily tasks— cooking, bathing, dressing and medication monitoring, for instance — but other than that, you’re able to go about normal activities as before. It’s like being cared for at home, without the worry of placing burdens on loved ones or of spending a lot of time alone.
Nursing care is advanced monitored medical care for people who can, temporarily or permanently, no longer care for themselves. It’s a step beyond assisted living, although modern nursing care is much more concerned with enabling a person to conduct their daily lives to the fullest extent of their abilities, and is far more concerned with maintaining a person’s dignity than were nursing homes in the past.
In a full-spectrum retirement community, one will typically find residents in the independent living category and in the assisted living category. And some retirement centers offer all three types of care so that a resident need not be moved from place to place, or separated far from a spouse, as needs change.
So what is independent living really like?
Frankly, it’s like moving into an apartment or condo.
You can often choose what kind of residence you would like to rent within the community— a small house, a townhome, an apartment or a studio. The community center provides maintenance. You won’t be responsible for mowing your grass, landscaping, fixing broken fixtures, or even housekeeping if you don’t wish.
Many independent living centers do have community dining halls or café-style food outlets, but you don’t have to use them.
If you enjoy cooking for yourself, most offer units with full kitchen amenities. Or, you might do some cooking on your own and mix in some meals taken at the center’s eateries— just like you might, after a long or busy day in your own home, opt to go out to eat instead of cooking. Some communities even have cocktail lounges or pubs where you can kick back, relax and share some laughs!
In an independent living setting, you can typically have everything you would have at home: parties for friends or family members, overnight guests, a parking space for your vehicle if you are still driving and often, even pets! Cats, fish, birds, and even dogs (subject to size or breed restrictions) can be found in many retirement center residents’ homes.
And most, if not all, retirement communities offer a full range of social events, day excursions and exercise activities to keep your calendar as full as you wish it to be.
Seeing is believing.
When trying to decide whether or not to make the move to an independent living community,schedule visits! Communities welcome prospective resident visits and will be happy to accommodate you and answer questions you and your loved ones may have.
The interiors of most independent living communities are bright and cheery, with big, open common areas where residents can chat, make friends, watch TV and movies and play games.
On your visits, make sure you take some time to stop by the commons and dining facilities and talk to current residents. You’ll find that the best way to alleviate your fears about going to new surroundings is to hear about others’ experiences