Independent-Living or Living Independently?

In the 40 years that The Danter Company has been conducting analyses of the senior housing market, we have noticed that the lines between the levels of  care at retirement housing developments have been slowly blurring.

There have generally been four types of retirement housing (in order of ascending level of care and services), as traditionally defined by the industry:

  • Independent-living: units may be either for-sale or rent in an age-restricted community with limited or few services. Project amenities at a stand-alone independent-living community may include a clubhouse, pool and recreational amenities (tennis, bocce, horseshoes, etc.), and organized social activities. Within a larger continuing care retirement community (CCRC), independent-living residents typically have access to community amenities, as well as priority placement at the levels which require more care.
  • Congregate Care: For-rent units with small kitchenettes, generally within an interior-corridor community, that include at least one daily meal in a community dining area in the fee, as well as access to all other community amenities.
  • Assisted-living: Includes all three meals and assistance with activities of daily living (ADL). May offer several levels of assistance.
  • Nursing Home: Around-the-clock nursing care.

Until the last few years, the above definitions have served the industry pretty well, clearly delineating the differences in the scope of services and expectations of residents at each level. However, recently we are seeing some CCRCs with congregate care vacancy issues trying to market their congregate care units by calling them “independent-living” properties with optional services.

Calling congregate care “independent-living” does not make it so, and consumers are smart enough to know the difference.  Bottom line: if meals are available, even on an a la carte basis, then you’re not really living independently.

With each community developing  its own meaning for “independent-living,” it is only a matter of time until the term loses its meaning entirely.  As the Baby Boomer cohort ages into the retirement living target market segment, we anticipate that many of them will look at many existing “independent-living” options and decide that no matter what it is called, it looks too much like congregate care and buy a single-story condominium or rent a ranch-style apartment instead so that they can truly live independently.

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