Independent seniors looking to move into a retirement community may wonder how to choose 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 enhance their current lifestyle, 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. 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 homes. 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 an enhanced level of care, whereas independent living mostly just provides a place to live along with amenities and maintenance-free services.

Assisted living residents may need help with activities of daily life that aren’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.

Not sure which type of community, independent living or assisted living, is the best option for you right now? Speak with your physician to get their recommendation.

Independent Living: Is it the right time? Quiz

Important Factors in Choosing a Retirement Community

What factors are crucial when choosing a community? Here are 11 important considerations:

1. Dining

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 community. Are there a dedicated chef and waitstaff 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.

2. The Greater Community

What opportunities for exercise, cultural pursuits, sightseeing, religious services, entertainment, and just plain fun are available in the neighborhood 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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 policies are a big factor to consider.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. Family Focus

If your grandkids are in town and are an important part of your life, be sure the 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.

10. 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 need to be prepared to spend more for the amenities you seek.

Estimate Your Cost of Living With the Senior Cost Calculator

11. Relationships

Be sure to observe staff members and residents interacting with one another. You want to live in a community that is full of friendly neighbors and helpful team members who want to get to know you and create meaningful relationships.

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

Next Steps for Choosing a Community

You can choose a retirement community that will suit your lifestyle now and in the future by knowing what observations to make when you begin the touring process. Learn more by watching our webinar, “What to Look for When Choosing Senior Living.” Our conversation will give you more factors to consider as you make your decision.

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