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Independent Living vs Retirement Homes

You’re ready to find your next home, but how do you know what type of community is best for you? Too often, people aren’t sure of the differences between independent living communities and retirement communities. Here are some important differences to keep in mind as you make your decision.


Retirement Communities

Retirement communities defy any of the old stereotypes of being boring and quiet places. While you’ll find plenty of ways to relax in a retirement community, you can also maintain an active, social lifestyle that might be even more active than you had during your pre-retirement days.

Retirement communities focus on creating a comfortable, enjoyable experience that allows residents to have the benefits of living in a house or condo free from the hassles of homeownership.


Housing Options

Sometimes called retirement villages or retirement homes, retirement communities feel like typical residential neighborhoods. Some may have single-family dwellings, while others have more of an upscale condominium feel. Shared spaces in the community make it easy and enjoyable for neighbors to gather.


Age Restrictions

Some retirement communities are restricted to people over age 55, while others target this age demographic but don’t prohibit other people from moving in. Age-restricted communities are attractive to many people in retirement, especially those who seek to share their retirement with others who are enjoying a similar stage.



Costs for retirement communities vary widely, so it’s important to ask for a detailed breakdown of what is covered by the monthly fee. Typically, yard work and routine maintenance costs are part of the fee, but residents cover most other expenses. These costs include things like utilities, groceries and charges for trash and recycling services.

One important distinction of a retirement community may be à la carte pricing. For example, if you enjoy cooking, you may not have to pay a fee for meal preparation. If you’re ready to escape the kitchen, however, you can add that service for an additional fee. Retirement communities often offer more flexibility in pricing than independent living communities.

Consider, too, that you will likely keep your vehicle when you move to a retirement community. You can expect to continue taking care of car-related expenses, including registration fees, insurance, maintenance and repairs.



Retirement communities often attract active, adventurous and curious types. Residents may organize social activities on their own, or you may have access to organized activities like:

  • Group travel opportunities
  • Sporting event outings
  • Bike rides
  • Language classes
  • Yoga and Pilates classes
  • Educational lectures and seminars
  • Neighborhood barbecues
  • Cooking classes


Retirement community amenities vary by location and lifestyle. Some offer luxury, concierge-style benefits, as well as perks like poolside massages and other resort-like amenities. Typical amenities include walking paths, theater rooms, community pools, clubhouses and optional dining services.


Medical Care

Retirement communities usually do not provide on-site medical care. You can continue to see your usual medical care providers or, if you’re new to the area, find local providers. Many retirement communities have easy access to nearby hospitals and medical centers.



Some retirement communities offer a structured wellness program and amenities like gyms, swimming pools and walking trails. Or you may choose group wellness activities, such as exercise classes and group bike rides. You can continue to create nutritious meals in your own kitchen, shop at your favorite grocery store and explore new activities that promote wellness.


Independent Living

Independent living options have significantly increased over the past several years. As they’ve increased, the options for enriching services and quality amenities have grown.

While you may see the term “independent living facility” as you research living option, this term is outdated. A focus on home-like, comfortable settings makes the more modern “independent living community” a much more appropriate description.


Housing Options

Independent living communities are more contained than retirement home settings. You might find apartment-style units, single-room suites, detached cottages or a mix of housing options. Some independent living units include kitchens or kitchenettes, while others provide meals in a community setting. You are not as likely to have a yard in an independent living community.


Age Restrictions

Independent living communities rarely prohibit residents based on age, but most residents are over 65.



 Independent living fees are typically all-inclusive or close to it. Your monthly fee might include housing, meals, housekeeping and transportation. Unlike retirement communities, residents can’t opt out of paying for the amenities included in the monthly fee.

When comparing costs, remember that independent living fees cover more expenses than the base fee at a retirement community. Many residents forego vehicle ownership as well, since transportation to local shops and businesses is usually provided. This can represent significant cost savings.



Independent living activities might seem more subdued than those offered by retirement communities, but residents can still enjoy an active retirement here, too. You might see activity options like:

  • Art classes
  • Visits from hairstylists and manicurists
  • Exercise classes
  • Local musical performances
  • Card and board games
  • Visits from local youth groups

Medical Care

Medical care is more easily accessible in independent living communities. Medical assistance is a phone call away, and some may offer on-site medical care. Many independent living communities provide emergency pull cord switches as well. Independent living communities that are part of a connected system of care communities benefit from being close to medical staff who specialize in care for older adults.



Independent living communities provide nutritious meals. They also often offer enrichment opportunities aimed at improving physical health, as well as intellectually stimulating activities.


Making the Best Choice for Your Lifestyle

It’s important to visit retirement and independent living communities so that you can meet residents and see amenities and housing options in person. Try to arrange a visit during a meal service or recreational activity.

If you still have trouble choosing between the two, consider your answers to these questions. This exercise can help to narrow the choices:

  • Would you like to have space for overnight visitors?
  • Do you prefer an all-inclusive cost, or one with more customized pricing options?
  • Do you plan to keep driving your vehicle?
  • Are you drawn more toward a slower or faster-paced lifestyle for your retirement?
  • Would you feel more comfortable having more convenient access to medical care?
  • Do you want to be able to enjoy hobbies like cooking in your own kitchen?

Both types of communities offer enjoyable, enriching lifestyles. Choosing the right one for your retirement may be challenging, but as you decide, be sure to keep your goals and lifestyle preferences in mind to make the right choice.

Contact Us

With all of the decisions you need to make in choosing a Richmond independent living community, we want to make sure you and your family have the information you need. Submit a request for more information and our team will be in touch shortly.

5020 Sulky Drive

Richmond, VA 23228
(804) 286-1133

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