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How to Choose an Independent Living Community

senior couple sitting on the couch in a senior apartment

If you’ve decided your current home and lifestyle no longer support your goals, and the type of senior living you’re looking for is an independent living community, this blog post is here to help. It will show you how to choose an independent living community that’s best for you, including the features to look for and questions to ask. 

Choosing a Senior Living Community

What’s important? Make a list of your goals. You may also want to consider what living options you’ll need in the future — like long-term senior care — and pick the option that will give you both. Because, after you make a decision, if your health needs change, you don’t want to have to move again. As you begin your research, here are some questions to help you choose an independent living community:

  • Is the community in a town or community that you like or have heard good things about?
  • Is the location convenient for family and friends to visit?
  • Is this a locally operated community or part of a regional or national chain?
  • If it’s part of a chain, is it a well-respected name you trust? (Check reviews of the brand, not just the individual community you’re considering.)
  • Is the community gated or open?
  • Is the community close to shopping, restaurants, a medical center and other services? 
  • Is it a continuing care retirement community (CCRC)? Do they offer higher levels of care like assisted living, memory care, skilled nursing and rehabilitation on-site?
  • What is the cost range, and is there an entrance fee?

Talk with the residents and staff. You may be surprised at what you can learn by asking staff members and residents these simple questions: 

  • How long has the community been around? 
  • What is the staff-to-resident ratio? 
  • What do the residents/staff like most about living/working here?
  • How is the food? 
  • Can I see the financial records? 

Social networks: As an older adult, it’s not always easy to meet new people. But independent living communities offer daytrips, dances, happy hours, clubs, educational lectures, classes and shopping excursions. To help you get a better understanding of the available activities, ask these questions:

  • What services and amenities are included in the price?
  • What services are available for additional fees?
  • Are there classes, clubs and educational lectures to help develop new hobbies and interests? 
  • Is there an active residents council? If so, what role do they play in the community? 
  • Are there evening events like movie nights and outings to local theater, dance and music groups?
  • Are there media and computer rooms available?
  • Are there religious services in the community or nearby?
  • Is there a barbershop and beauty salon in the community or nearby?
  • Does the activities director take individual residents’ likes into consideration?
  • Are you able to bring friends and family to activities?
  • Are some activities planned by residents, and can you help if interested?
  • Do activities change week by week?

Housing options: At some senior living communities, residents live in just one building with apartments and common spaces under one roof, while others utilize a campus setting. To get a feel for the types of residences a community offers, ask these questions:

  • Does the community have a wide range of housing options, including stand-alone cottages/houses as well as smaller apartments or studios? What floor plans are currently available?
  • Is it possible to view all the different types of units available?
  • Is there adequate storage space in the unit, or is additional storage provided?
  • How are the views — do windows face a garden or other green space?
  • Are dogs, cats and other pets allowed and, if so, are there limits on type or size?
  • Will you be allowed to have visitors at any time and overnight, or are there curfews or other rules?
  • Is there a homeowners association with membership fees?
  • Are there homeowner rules about upkeep and decorating?

Dining: Because you eat two to three times a day, food is a very important aspect of choosing a community. Request to see a sample menu, and ask these questions to learn more about the community’s dining options:

  • Is there a meal plan, and how flexible is it? 
  • What meals are provided?
  • Can you invite friends and family to meals? If so, is there an additional cost?
  • Are there a variety of dining venues? (Restaurant-style, grab and go, bistro, coffee shop, etc.)
  • Is there a private dining or community room available for family and other large events?
  • Does the culinary team cater to individual dietary needs like low-sodium or diabetic-friendly diets?
  • Do they offer vegetarian or vegan options?
  • Is there an on-staff nutritionist or dietitian?
  • Do the residents seem to like the food?

Health and wellness: Fitness is essential to remaining active and engaged. Senior living communities often feature wellness centers, as well as health and fitness areas with fitness classes and coordinators and walk-in clinics. They may also include walking trails and putting greens, tennis courts, and more on their grounds for those who enjoy exercising outdoors.

  • Is there a gym or fitness center?
  • What types of additional recreation facilities are offered?
  • If there’s a sport you enjoy, such as swimming, tennis, or golf, is there a pool, courts or a course?

Safety and security: One of the big benefits of independent living is the ability to go on a trip and know that everything will be OK when you return. It’s also good to check on the safety and security of the community by asking these questions.

  • Does the community have an emergency alert system?
  • Does the community have plans in place for power outages, natural disasters and medical emergencies?
  • Is someone on duty 24 hours a day, or is there an emergency call service? 
  • Are medical services available around-the-clock? What does that cover? For instance, can the medical staff place intravenous lines, or do you need to go to a hospital for that? 
  • Are there nurses on staff and a doctor on call? 

Community transportation: If you’re tired of dealing with traffic or looking for a parking space, make sure you confirm whether the community offers scheduled transportation and if the options fit your needs. If you plan to keep your car, be sure to ask about that too:

  • If I keep my car, how many parking spaces can be reserved per apartment, and are there additional fees?
  • What type of parking is offered? Outdoor lots, carports or garages?
  • Is transportation to and from medical appointments offered by the community?
  • Are regular trips to stores and activities available? If so, how often and where?
  • Are community drivers specially licensed for group transport?

Housekeeping and maintenance: After decades of mowing, cleaning, raking, shoveling, repairing and maintaining, you’re probably ready to leave the household chores to someone else. To give you a better understanding of what is and isn’t included, ask these questions: 

  • Which laundry services are included? Does the community wash linens but charge extra for clothing? What about dry cleaning?
  • Are housekeeping services available? Is it included in monthly rent or paid for a la carte when needed?
  • Is trash pickup in the apartment, or will you need to move bins to the hall or curb?
  • Which maintenance issues are you responsible for, and which are included with the unit?
  • How does lawn maintenance and leaf and snow removal work? If I have a cottage, am I responsible for my personal outdoor spaces? 
  • What’s the policy on plumbing and electrical emergencies? Is someone on call 24/7?

Cost: The cost of independent living is generally influenced by four key elements: location, floor plan size, services and number of people living in the residence. To help you budget, be sure to ask these questions:

  • What’s the exact price? How often does pricing change?
  • What’s included in the cost? What typically costs extra?
  • Are security deposits or administrative fees required upon move-in?
  • Are there renters insurance requirements or community maintenance fees?
  • How long is the lease? Does the price vary by length?
  • Are you offering any special deals or incentives?

We Have the Answers to Your Lifestyle Questions

Jefferson’s Ferry is located on 50 acres on Long Island. Our lifestyle offers access to thousands of miles of coastline, and all the options of the Big Apple are just an hour away. To come see everything we have to offer for yourself or to learn more about how to choose an independent living community, contact us here.

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