Is Independent Living Right for You?

Couple sits on mountain

Independent senior living communities allow you to focus on what’s important to you.

In 2012, Rita and Ken Lossett packed up their home in Pasadena and moved into independent living at Westminster Gardens, a senior living community in Duarte, California. Rita said she was looking for an environment that was peaceful and that would allow her to remain in one location even if her health needs change.

“My husband is nine years older, and I wanted to be in a place where there would be services available for health care, exercise and well-being,” says Rita, 60. “There are patios everywhere, a swimming pool, tennis court—and if I don’t feel like cooking, we can go to the dining center.”

Rita also maintains an active lifestyle outside the community, working part time as a teacher, docent and lecturer at the Los Angeles Zoo.

If you’re considering a move into independent senior living, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of the lifestyle and when it might be ideal to make the transition. Independent living is a great way to make new friends and focus on the activities you love, while enjoying the benefits of added security, complimentary home maintenance and access to care should you need it in the future.

Why is an independent senior living community better than staying in my home?

Independent living (sometimes referred to as residential living) gives older adults a place where they can go about their day as they please or take advantage of the community’s activities. Think of it as a close-knit community with a built-in network of neighbors and friends. Independent living communities also offer added conveniences like housekeeping, transportation services, dining and access to wellness program and fitness centers with trainers.

“Often when seniors remain in their private homes, they don’t get out as much to visit their friends,” says Pat Guerrero, resident services coordinator at White Sands La Jolla, a senior living community in La Jolla, California. “Sometimes it’s because they don’t want to drive at night, or maybe they’re not motivated to go to their bridge club because they’re not feeling 100 percent.”

Guerrero says seniors often lead longer and happier lives when they’re in a community.  “You’re being fed emotionally as well as physically,” she says.

Some communities even offer travel programs where residents go on day trips or extended vacations together. Residents at communities have traveled everywhere from California’s Wine Country to farther-flung locales like New England, Ireland, Tahiti and Bora Bora. Guerrero says she leads her community on 10–12 trips each month.

“We offer many nearby activities like trips to the opera or the theater so no one has to drive on their own,” Guerrero says. “But we also take longer trips. I had two residents who went hiking in Utah today.”

When is the right time to move?

To be admitted into an independent senior living community, you must be physically independent (able to get around without assistance). You also must be able to manage your own medications and go about your day without supervision.

In other words, the time to take advantage of everything independent living has to offer is when you’re healthy and able to enjoy it. Rita says one of the biggest mistakes people make is moving to a community after health issues  have become overwhelming.

“That’s not to say that you can’t participate in senior living activities as you move into higher levels of care, but obviously you’ll be more restricted,” she says.

The other advantage of moving into a senior living community at the independent level is that you’ll be part of a family of residents and staff who will be there for you if and when a health need arises.

“We have many residents who have moved up through the various levels of care, and by the time they need 24-hour skilled nursing, they already have a whole group of friends who are able to visit and support them,” Guerrero says. “It’s wonderful to have family, but family cannot always be there when you need them. Here you have your community family.”

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