For the sake of discussion, let’s imagine a retired couple. They are active and in good health. They can safely manage their personal care needs now, but they know a community offering on-site care will position them well for the future. They’d like to maintain their active lifestyle and even expand their social horizons. They’re looking for independent living within a continuing care retirement community. How should they go about choosing an independent living community? What questions should they ask?
That’s a good question to start with. Within the framework of a continuing care retirement community, independent living typically lets residents enjoy a private apartment or cottage, meals in a restaurant setting, housekeeping services, amenities for fitness and wellness, social activities, and potentially much more. These communities simplify life and add to one’s leisure time. The overall environment is safe and senior-friendly. Choosing an independent living community can provide more freedom to pursue interests with lifelong learning, wellness classes, clubs, resident interest groups, social events and outings. But the mix of services and amenities can differ from one community to another, along with other important variables. Personal preferences play a big part. Seeking and securing answers to the following questions and guidelines will make it much easier to choose the right independent living community for yourself or a loved one.
Some communities sit on vast acreage, while others are housed within one high-rise building. Some have apartments ranging from studios through one-, two- and three-bedroom floor plans with a patio or balcony. Other communities also offer free-standing residences — duplexes, cottages or villas — providing more space and privacy. Make sure you understand the size and location of all residences in the community, even if they’re not all currently available. It’s common for people to join a waitlist to be notified when their residence of choice becomes available.
How and when you’ll be eating will be a major part of the experience at any independent living community. Most provide one or two meals a day, with kitchens available for those who cook. But others may have more liberal dining policies and multiple dining venues. Be sure to find out. Ask about meal hours, whether seats are assigned, private dining room for special events, and other options. Who plans and prepares the meals, a food service or an on-site executive chef? Does the community accommodate special dietary requirements? If possible, arrange to share a meal or two with residents for a firsthand assessment of the quality of dining.
And what’s the level of resident involvement? Some communities allow residents to plan and organize groups and activities based on their interests. Other communities employ a dedicated director of life enrichment and are good at hosting interesting entertainment and educational events. Ask to see a monthly activities calendar and ask questions about what it tells you. Do the same activities repeat frequently throughout the week? Can you see yourself becoming enthusiastic about them? Part of what a good independent living community should offer residents includes a variety of meaningful activities.
Communities often claim that residents who’ve lived there a while take on the feeling of family. If that’s true, you’ll want to have some idea about your new family members. Try to attend resident mixer events early in your selection process. Ask if you can sit in on a particular class or workshop that interests you. Notice the average age, male-female ratio and percentage of couples versus singles in the community. You want to find a place where you can make friends easily and stay engaged in social events.
Most communities will offer some level of scheduled transportation to certain destinations like a shopping center or medical complex in town, but that might not address all your needs. Ask whether the transportation is just to certain places at certain times, open to other locales within a specific radius, or if there are time and distance limits residents must follow.
Are you seeing places where you want to spend time? Are the library and fitness center up to your expectations? Are there attractive and functional outdoor spaces for residents to enjoy? These days, communities for independent living can have their own screening room for movies; multiple dining venues for formal, casual and takeout food; an aquatic center with a heated swimming pool and spa; and more. If you’re not seeing the level of amenities you desire, inquire whether the community has expansion plans in the near future.
Some communities charge a flat monthly fee for a variety of services, and others provide additional services a la carte. Some include utilities, but others require you to set up your own accounts for electricity, cable TV and internet. What’s the extent of housekeeping? Is a complete change of linens included regularly? Do residences have washers and dryers, or is there a communal laundry room? Does a staff nurse deal with minor illnesses, and do their services cost extra? Find out what you’ll pay out of pocket and what is covered in the residency agreement.
Have your lawyer and financial advisor review any continuing care contract before you sign it. They should assess the community’s long-term solvency and financial stability as well. Be certain to understand the details of whatever type of care service agreement the community offers. There is a traditional Life Care contract, but there are also alternatives that include a modified contract or a fee-for-service arrangement. A detailed explanation of these options is beyond the scope of this post, but your legal and financial professionals should walk you through them.
With communities in Sunset Hills and Chesterfield, Friendship Village offers the only Life Care communities in the St. Louis area. Your entrance fee and monthly fee give you access to a full continuum of care. That means you can live the life you love now and have a smart plan for future care at predictable costs. We offer independent living, assisted living, memory care, rehabilitation and skilled nursing. If you have questions about your senior living options, and the Friendship Village difference, feel free to contact us — we’re here to help you make the decision that’s right for you.