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What’s the Difference Between a 55+ Community and an Independent Living Community?

Americans are living longer and in better health. In fact, for those interviewed who were age 65 and over, 74.5% reported being in good to excellent health between the years of 2006 to 2008. That’s just one of the many interesting facts released by The Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics in their report, Older Americans 2010: Key Indicators of Well-Being. The report also shared:

  • Older adults are more active. Approximately 22% of older adults reported taking part in regular physical activity.
  • Americans are living longer. In 1960, the average lifespan was 69 years; whereas, today the lifespan is 78.5 years.
  • Housing is an issue with which many older adults struggle. Between 1985 and 2007, the housing burden cost for older adults increased dramatically – 30-37%. Additionally, in 2007, 40% of older adults had one or more of the following housing issues: physically inadequate housing, housing cost burden and/or crowded housing.

These statistics show that an increased number of Americans are living more active and longer lives than ever before. They’re also looking for better housing options to meet their needs.

This brings us to 55+ communities and independent living communities – both meet the needs of active older adults. First, we’ll look at each of the housing options individually and then comparatively.

Two Housing Options for Active Older Adults

Senior living has come a long way since the nursing homes of old. Today’s active older adult has options like 55+ communities and independent living communities. These two options are very similar but do have subtle differences. Let’s look at each of them a little more closely.

55+ Communities

55+ communities are one of the newer housing options available to active older adults. It’s a smart choice for those who want to live in a residential neighborhood that is designed for active adults who can still care for themselves but want to live a low-maintenance lifestyle. They’re typically quiet and peaceful and are great for older adults interested in the social benefits of living among their peers. Sometimes referred to as an active adult community, age-restricted community, age-qualified community or retirement community, they’re typically a planned community built close to hospitals, dining, shopping and local attractions. 55+ communities are great for independent active older adults who want to downsize and are seeking smaller living spaces.

There’s usually a mixture of housing types in a 55+ community. These residences can vary from single-family homes, cottage homes, townhomes, condos, apartments and sometimes even mobile homes. Homes in a 55+ community may be privately or corporately owned. A variety of purchase options may be available including purchase, lease or rent. The homes are usually situated on smaller lots, often with zero-lot lines. Residents are typically required to be 55 and older; however, a younger spouse or significant other is generally permitted to live in the home as long as one of the two meets the 55+ age requirement. Some 55+ communities are completely age-restricted to older adults who are 55+ — meaning adult children and grandchildren are not allowed to permanently live in the community. Other communities require only that a minimum number of residents fall into the 55+ age group, making it possible to have young families as neighbors.

Amenities and benefits of a 55+ community often include:

  • A gated community entrance and/or on-site security patrol
  • Homes designed and built to accommodate the needs of an older adult
  • Surrounded by peers
  • Calm and peaceful environment
  • The care and maintenance of your property is taken care of for you — no more mowing the grass, raking the leaves or fixing a leaky gutter
  • All taxes, insurance, utilities and other expense fees wrapped up in one convenient cost

With a focus on an active lifestyle, a wide range of recreational, educational and social opportunities may be offered. Amenities may include:

  • Fitness center with fitness classes and exercise machines/equipment
  • Indoor and/or outdoor swimming pools
  • Community center/clubhouse
  • Athletic courts such as basketball and tennis
  • Golf course
  • Hobby- and activity-based clubs
  • Walking trails
  • Community parks
  • Billiards room
  • Lifelong learning classes
  • Demonstration kitchens

Activities and amenities can vary greatly between communities and locations.

55+ communities are designed to enable active adults to live with their peers. Some 55+ communities are nestled in a suburban setting offering some of the general amenities listed above. Other 55+ communities are built specifically to focus on a particular lifestyle or location. Examples include:

  • Golf and resort communities
  • Luxury communities
  • Religious specific or faith-based communities
  • Single only communities
  • RV retirement park communities

Independent Living Communities

Independent living communities are another option available to active older adults who are able to live independently but desire the social benefits of living among their peers. Independent living communities often exist as part of a larger senior housing community that provides increasingly greater care for older adults, which may include assisted living, skilled nursing care and memory care.

The residences in independent living communities are typically one- or two-bedroom apartments whose layouts include a living area and a small kitchenette, although some communities also offer small cottages or duplexes. After paying a one-time entrance fee, accommodations may be rented, leased or purchased depending upon what is available at a given community. The monthly cost of the residence generally covers meals, housekeeping services, maintenance, security, some transportation and enrichment programming. Should the need arise, residents typically have access to personal care and healthcare services through a third-party service provider.

Independent living communities offer a variety of services and amenities to provide a carefree lifestyle and support the needs of older adults. Benefits, services and amenities may include:

  • Housekeeping and laundry services
  • Household and grounds maintenance
  • Custom-designed meal packages served in communal dining areas
  • Enrichment program offering activities, social events and exercise classes
  • Most services, amenities and utilities are included in the cost

Given that a wide selection of programs and social events covering a broad range of interests are planned, it’s easy for residents to stay active, to cultivate new hobbies and interests while continuing to enjoy current interests and to socialize with others and make new friends.

Independent living communities focus on the active lifestyle of the modern older adult, making every effort to support each resident’s physical, mental and emotional well-being. To accomplish this, they may also offer:

  • Around the clock on-site staff and security
  • Fitness center with classes and exercise equipment
  • Swimming pools and hot tubs
  • Athletic courts (basketball and tennis)
  • Community center and clubhouse
  • On-site laundry facilities
  • On-site hair salon
  • Pavilions and picnic areas with outdoor grills
  • Some form of transportation
  • On-site convenience store

Benefits, services and amenities can vary greatly between communities.

What’s the Difference Between a 55+ Community and an Independent Living Community?

Since 55+ communities and independent living communities are both designed to provide for the needs of active older adults, they share many similarities. But there are subtle differences between the two. The population in independent living communities is usually more mature and may be less active than those found in a 55+ community.

Housing options for 55+ communities tend to be single family homes; whereas, apartment-style residences are more the norm for those who choose to live in an independent living community.

55+ communities can be age-restricted or age-targeted. In age-targeted communities, their marketing targets older adults who are 55 and older, but anyone can move into the community. In age-restricted communities, 80% of the occupied units (percentage set by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development) must have at least one person who is 55 or older residing in the home and no one under the age of 19 can be a permanent resident. Most 55+ communities are age-targeted and do not have formal age restrictions and, although they do tend to attract those over the age of 55, young families with children can move into them. Residents living in independent living communities, however, are older adults only — usually 65 and above.

Although yard and house maintenance may be provided, everything else is similar to living in a normal residential neighborhood for those who choose to live in a 55+ community. Residents in independent living, however, are more likely to encounter staff and security team members as they go about their daily activities. This is because more services are provided in independent living that are not provided in a 55+ community, such as housekeeping, laundry, meals, transportation and enrichment activities.

Although a calendar of activities is planned in both communities, the activities are typically planned and directed by staff in an independent living community; whereas, in a 55+ community, the activities are typically planned and directed by the residents themselves.

Residents in independent living may have access to medical care, especially if they are part of a larger community that also provides assisted living or skilled nursing care. 55+ community residents do not have access to this type of care. Both types of communities are often located close to a hospital should the need for emergency care arise.

Whichever option you choose, you can rest easy knowing that both 55+ communities and independent living communities are great choices for active older adults, providing lots of opportunities to socialize and to remain active.

Retirement Living at Aspire at Carriage Hill

At Aspire, all the work of home ownership is done by us, but all the joys of life ownership are yours to relish. We take care of it all — from weekly housekeeping and maintenance to landscaping and snow removal, it’s all part of our amenities and services — giving you time to create a future as interesting and exciting as your past.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’d love to chat with you and give you a tour of our retirement community in Richmond, VA.

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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