Independent seniors looking to move into a retirement community may feel daunted in choosing someplace that is appealing, comfortable, and affordable. Often, these active seniors are more concerned with amenities and environment and less with care. After all, their move to a senior community is to facilitate and continue their full lives, not to take a giant step back.

So which factors should you consider when choosing a retirement community? There are several, but first, you must fully understand what independent senior living entails.

Life in an Independent Living Community

Senior living communities come in all shapes and sizes and also vary in which services are offered and what level of care (if any) is available. An independent living community—a term perhaps most closely associated with people’s concept of a retirement community—is where seniors live on their own, just as if they were in their own home. Some amenities and services, such as a full-service community dining room, might make their lives easier, but for the most part, independent living is indistinguishable from what active seniors might have been experiencing before they moved.

How Independent Living Differs from Assisted Living

At first glance, independent living might not seem all that different from assisted living. Both are for seniors who do not require skilled nursing or are not experiencing memory issues. Both promote active senior lifestyles as much as possible. And the amenities for both are often similar. However, assisted living offers a level of care, whereas independent living mostly just provides a place to live. Assisted living residents may need help with activities of daily life that isn’t otherwise available in standard retirement communities. Medical needs are fulfilled in assisted living, and a staff member is usually available for help if needed. The distinction is important: Independent retirees may not want to pay more for care they don’t require, and seniors with true needs must be confident the community they choose can provide assistance.

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Considerations for Choosing a Retirement Community

What factors are crucial when choosing a retirement community? Here are 10 important considerations:

  • Food: If you want a fine meal served to you every day, or if you simply know there will be times you won’t want to cook, dining services will be a huge factor in choosing a retirement community. Are there a dedicated chef and wait staff preparing and serving you meals, or is food mass-produced, like in a cafeteria? And what if you just want a quick snack or a cup of coffee in the middle of the day? These are important considerations as you investigate senior living communities.
  • The greater community: What opportunities for exercise, cultural pursuits, sightseeing, religious services, entertainment, and just plain fun are available in the neighborhood of the retirement community and the metro area as a whole (which you may not know that well if you are moving from another part of the country)? An independent living community shouldn’t be just a self-contained unit but, rather, an extension of the greater community around it as well.
  • On-site services and amenities: Here’s where choosing a retirement community becomes specific—what does a community offer to help you live the life you want to lead? Amenities such as hair salons, libraries, gardens, music rooms, housekeeping, exercise classes (more on that next), laundry services, and a concierge distinguish great communities from merely adequate ones.
  • Exercise and wellness: Active seniors want plenty of exercise and wellness options, and the best retirement communities should deliver those options. Yoga, tai chi, and strength training classes geared toward seniors keep residents fit. Community features such as exercise rooms and swimming pools also facilitate movement that promotes a healthy lifestyle.  
  • Pets: Retirement communities vary on their pet policies. If you do not currently own a cat or dog, this might not be an issue, but for seniors with a furry companion who might have to choose between bringing it to their new home or giving it away, pet rules are a big factor.
  • Help when it’s needed: Some active seniors who do not require much, if any, daily assistance, like the peace of mind of a community that offers assisted living—they know that if they need help moving furniture or carrying groceries or after a fall, it will be available. If this is you, think about a community that features both independent and assisted living options.
  • Transportation: If you plan on keeping your car, be sure the community you choose allows it and offers easy parking. No independent senior wants to be homebound, so if you aren’t driving yourself, ask about a community’s shuttle services and nearby public transportation.
  • The activities you are interested in: A move to a retirement community should give you the ability to better enjoy activities and hobbies. If an otherwise clean and well-run community doesn’t offer activities that you are interested in—art classes, music, gardening, movie nights, cultural outings, and so on—you risk becoming bored in a hurry.
  • Family focus: If your grandkids are in town and are an important part of your life, be sure the retirement community you choose welcomes them. Some communities—even with full apartments—may restrict family visits, so be certain you know the policies before you make a decision.
  • Cost: Costs cannot be overlooked when choosing a retirement community. You may have an idea of how much you are willing or able to spend, but you also may be prepared to spend more for the amenities you seek.

These are just some factors to consider when choosing a retirement community. Your priorities may differ, but what’s ultimately most crucial is that they are your priorities. Choose what considerations are most important to you and keep them top of mind as you investigate potential communities.

What factors do you think are most important when choosing a retirement community?

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