Independent Living Myths

6 Top Myths About Independent Living

When you think about moving out of your home, worries come naturally. Who wouldn't feel trepidation when considering so many options and weighing so many priorities? Here's the thing, though -- every independent living community is different, and what's a new idea in one may be the most popular option in another. You can find the choice that's right for you. The best thing to do first is to throw out any misconceptions you may have about independent living in general. Here are six of the most common myths about independent living. Let's get them straight.

Myth 1: It's Going to Be Depressing

This is the number-one fear that most people have about independent or adult living, experts say. Some people have bad memories of dark, disinfectant-smelling nursing homes; others remember cramped quarters in overcrowded apartment towers. Happily, none of these fits the description of the modern independent living community, which is just as likely to resemble a tightly knit small town or a high-end spa resort. And the cure for this misconception is easy: Simply visit a few independent living communities near you. (They don't even need to be communities you're considering.) Talk to residents, spend an evening in a group activity, such as attending a lecture or concert, or tour the facilities. One afternoon spent playing tennis or one evening playing cards is about all it takes, experts say, to put this myth to rest.

Myth 2: You Can't Cook for Yourself

This myth has probably grown out of confusion between the variety of different living arrangements and kinds of facilities offered under the umbrella of senior living. In most independent living communities, you can choose to have your own house, apartment, or unit, with its own kitchen or kitchenette. Most communities have dining rooms or a choice of onsite cafes and restaurants, or both, but that by no means you're required to take your meals there. There are some senior living communities where rent includes regular meals in a communal dining room. If this isn't what you're looking for, you'll cross these communities off your list. In many senior living communities, if you start out cooking independently and later want to switch to a meal plan for some or all meals, you are welcome to do so.

Myth 3: You Can't Have a Pet

This may have been true in the past, but it is absolutely untrue today. A quick survey of many of the most popular independent living communities shows that cats are almost always allowed -- at least in most living arrangements -- and dogs are usually permitted too, at least up to a certain size. In addition, if you don't want the responsibility of caring for a pet but relish the companionship, many independent living communities have community cats and dogs happy to make friends with anyone who offers a lap, a treat, or a walk.

Myth 4: You'll Lose Your Independence

Many people resist the idea of moving into an independent living community because they fear losing the freedom to do as they like. But again, this concern seems to arise primarily because of confusion about independent living versus assisted living and nursing care. In reality, senior experts say, independent living typically provides people more independence because it frees them from the bulk of household chores and maintenance.

According to a 2011 survey conducted by AgeWave consultants (and sponsored by ViLiving), adults 65 and older who live in their own homes typically spend almost three hours a day on household chores such as cleaning, shopping, gardening, and home maintenance. (Women, on average, spend considerably more time than men, which may be why women often initiate the move to independent living!) Meanwhile, on average, they spend just 30 minutes a day socializing with friends and family and just 15 minutes a day exercising or participating in a sport or physical activity. By contrast, those who choose independent living report spending upwards of three hours a day socializing and two hours a day taking a class or participating in an activity, with just one hour a day spent on chores.

If continuing to participate in life outside an independent living community is your concern, that's not a problem, either. Coming and going is as easy as it is from your home. In fact, getting around may be easier if you prefer not to drive, since transportation is usually provided.

Myth 5: You Can't Have Overnight Guests

If having family and friends to stay is important to you, it shouldn't be hard to find an independent living situation where that's not only possible but comfortable. In terms of space, it's pretty much up to you -- it's going to be easier to have houseguests in a detached unit or apartment than in a studio, but the rules will typically allow it either way. If you cook for yourself or eat in onsite restaurants, hosting family for meals is easy, of course; if you usually eat in community dining rooms, most offer a guest meal payment option.

Myth 6: You Can't Host Social Events

In many independent living and retirement living communities, just the opposite is true; social events are encouraged. In fact, one of the fastest-growing trends in independent living communities is to provide multiple meeting rooms of varying sizes -- including access to kitchen and outdoor facilities -- so residents can host both small and large gatherings. Whether you want to invite 20 to Thanksgiving dinner or host an extravagant wedding anniversary celebration, there is likely a suitable space. (And you're free from the need to clean and spruce up your home beforehand.)

Many communities also offer activities and classes that appeal to all ages, and they encourage family participation. Crafting and art classes, hobby groups, swimming, and evening events are just a few of the family-centered activities that are popular in modern independent living communities. Invite your grandchildren to a family game night or an afternoon of swimming in the pool, and they may find your new home more inviting than your old one.

Melanie Haiken

Melanie Haiken discovered how important it is to provide accurate, targeted, usable health information to people facing difficult decisions when she was health editor of Parenting magazine. See full bio

almost 2 years, said...

This is an excellent article ... but a couple of the comments leave me dumbfounded. For openers, this article is about INDEPENDENT living -- NOT assisted living, not skilled nursing, and not memory care. Independent living is for those who are older than a given age (defined by the particular community, typically 60) and capable of living in their own homes but prefer not to. As the article says, independent living typically provides people more independence than living in their own houses because it frees them from the bulk of household chores and maintenance. (Yay!) Second, the article states, "Every independent living community is different, and what's a new idea in one may be the most popular option in another." This is very, very, very true. Each community has its own personality, even communities owned by the same organization and operated under the same basic philosophies. Do your homework. Some facilities offer multiple levels of care, which is certainly a question you'd want to ask if you're looking into independent living. If the community does offer multiple levels of care, another important question to ask is whether "aging in place" is available. Some communities have separate residences for independent and assisted living, and if you enter as independent but then start to require assisted living, you have to move to the residences where assistance is provided. With "aging in place," you stay in your own home and the additional services are brought to you. Eight months ago, I moved to a "CCRC" (continuing care retirement community) that offers all levels, and "aging in place" (including hospice.) This particular community has an apartment complex and approximately 100 charming cottages on a 24-acre campus that boasts a large pond with a fountain and waterfall, and a lovely rose garden with a putting green. It's beautiful, with plenty of places to walk and enjoy Mother Nature. As for the idea that there is no sense of community in an assisted living facility ... the best thing about the CCRC I chose is the intensely strong sense of community. Residents and staff go out of their way to welcome newcomers and help them feel at home right away. We care about each other and help each other, and we have all sorts of volunteer opportunities to make this a great place to live, and plenty of input into the types of activities we'd like to have available. We have a fitness center and classes including personal trainers, a computer center with classes and free WiFi in all residences, discussion groups, various hobby groups, games, on-site lectures, concerts, plays, and movies, scenic bus tours, and outings to theaters, museums, the symphony, various restaurants, shopping malls, and many special events in town. (I'm sure I'm leaving things out ... but you get the general idea.) The idea that we're all dropping like flies is ridiculous. In fact, if you choose a well-run community, odds are that you'll live a longer and healthier life because of all the socialization and mental stimulation. At 65, I'm one of the youngest here, and at the other end of the spectrum, we have several residents who are over 100 years old. One of my buddies is 97, on assisted living but very active, always out and about and finding something interesting to do. We went to the community's annual summer carnival yesterday, and it was great fun. Family and friends love to visit, so you'll find every age group here, eating with us and joining in on the activities. Degrading? I can't imagine an independent living community could be "degrading" and not promptly go out of business. What independent senior citizen would live there? We'd move. (For that matter, so would someone on assisted living unless he has cognitive issues and can't handle his own affairs. Why on earth would you leave your loved one in a facility that's as poor as the one BadgerWoman describes?) The staff here are beyond courteous, kind, and helpful, and I'm amazed at how many of them know the names of every resident within a day or two of our arrival. They all call us Mr, Mrs, Ms, or Dr, depending on which we prefer. (Well, except for my housekeeper. She's older than I am, and in her book, this means she can call me by my first name. She wouldn't do that if I objected, but I don't. She's purely delightful.) Everyone who works here goes out of his/her way to do everything they can for us, from hauling away our moving boxes to offering helpful tips on growing tomatoes (many residents participate in the annual tomato growing contest) to helping set up and repair our computers and learn to use the latest smart phones.

over 3 years, said...

it is almost impossible to sustain a sense of community in an assisted living facility since the assisted living community is aging out, to put it delicately, so rapidly. Many residents find it too difficult or worth while to invest in community friendships, for fear of losing their new friends in the near term. I watched one woman lose three table mates, within two months, soon after she arrived at an assisted living facility. Depression quickly set in as she realized there was no one with whom she could cultivate a friendship, who wasn't going to be gone within a matter of days or months. Even those who do live longer, often age out into memory wards, skilled care facilities, etc. within a short period of time. With the absence of a full range of generations in the community to choose from, there is no one, except for those in "heaven's waiting room", with whom to strike up a friendship, unless other family happens to live nearby. The reality that all relationships within the facility are short term, days or months, not years, quickly becomes apparent to anyone living in an assisted living facility. Due to these ever present indicators that everyone is aging out so rapidly, assisted living residents tend to fall into depression, or retreat into themselves, rather than trying to join a community since they find the rapid turnover, too painful and difficult to bear. Being around the young is the only way to sustain a youthful attitude and focus on the long term. This can also be a problem even within retirement villages, essentially independent living, where the residents are age restricted, to 55 (or similar age) or above. A full range of generations in a community is the only healthy way to continue living. Why our society has evolved in the direction it has, with facilty care being the only realistic and financially sustainable option for the older generations, is truly disheartening.

over 3 years, said...


over 3 years, said...

No matter how you look at it, whether it's independent or assisted living, it is still a degrading experience that strips the residents of their right to be treated with dignity and respect. None of the residents of my father's assisted living facility are called by their names. To the staff, including the director who should certainly know better, they are all "Honey, sweetie, dear" etc. This is called elderspeak and a wealth of information can be found on it by Googling. Soon after Dad moved there, he was repeatedly urged by a CNA (certified nursing assistant) to participate in the daily bingo games. Dad refused because he hates bingo. He was told "not to be a naughty boy" by the CNA, who was young enough to be his granddaughter. My father hasn't been a boy since Franklin Roosevelt was President. How dare she speak to him like that? What part of no didn't she understand? Do you know what the high point of the residents' day is? Mealtimes. They begin assembling outside the dining room at least an hour before it opens. The food at best is mediocre and the coffee is vile. An interesting fact I learned only recently is that the local taxi companies will not respond to calls from the facility. This is because in the past, residents would call for a taxi and leave without telling the staff where they were going. Since the facility is responsible for them, this put them at risk for a lawsuit. Privacy is non-existent. The CNA's do knock on the residents' doors but then use their master key to enter. My father has been caught in various stages of undress, which is humiliating to him. I was told that the CNA's don't have time to wait for the residents to open the door, since many of them use walkers and wheelchairs. Management seems to have an answer for everything. Don't even get me started on the lack of dignity afforded these elderly people. I witnessed a CNA loudly ask a resident, who was sitting in the lobby, if she needed to "tee-tee." The room was full of people and I'm sure the resident was embarrassed. If I had been her, I'd have tee-teed all over the place just for spite!

over 3 years, said...

My parents have been in an independent living community for several years and although we were initially concerned, it has been phenomenal. It offers fitness center and classes including personal trainers if desired, pool, lectures, concerts, tours, different dining rooms including one that is like an upscale restaurant, and levels of care on campus from totally independent to skilled care. They love it and so do we!

about 4 years, said...

Pets are more welcome than I thought

over 4 years, said...


over 4 years, said...

Hello, Thank you for your insight and comments regarding the independent living community your mother is living. If you the community is listed in's Senior Directory: www. and if you haven't already done so, please consider posting a review -- to help other families in their search for the best providers: Each year in January, we announce the Caring Stars: assisted living and memory care providers across the country who are recognized for service excellence through consumer ratings and reviews on More info about the program...Caring Stars overview -

over 4 years, said...

My mother is living in an independent living facility with modifications. She likes to stay active and loves being with people. She does have moderate dementia so it's important that she continue to have mental stimulation. I would like a list of activities that the current activities director should be offering. I don't think BINGO, cards and movies has a lot of appeal but this person has been doing this job for 16 years and some habits are hard to change.