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Independent Living vs. Assisted Living: What’s the Difference?

Healthy Living | April 26, 2024

A senior woman and her nurse taking a walk around an assisted living facility.

When you first begin your search to find a senior living option for you or your loved one, you may be overwhelmed and confused about the options available. Understanding what makes the most sense for your situation is the first step to finding an ideal living solution. However, not all communities are the same. Each offers different amenities, caregiving resources, and features. 

Many seniors and caregivers start by looking at assisted living facilities and independent living communities. While these two options are similar in some ways — offering lovely accommodations and quality amenities — knowing the differences between the two can help you determine which living solution is right for you or your loved one.

To help you navigate this process, we put together this comprehensive article on the major differences between assisted living facilities and independent living communities. Read on to find out what sets these two living options apart and what you need to know when making your decision.

Table of Contents

What is an Assisted Living Facility?

Assisted living facilities are designed for seniors who need additional assistance throughout the day to live the lifestyle they want to enjoy. These facilities give you or your loved one ongoing support while still maintaining an active lifestyle. The right environment can make a major difference for you or your loved one.

Assisted living serves as a bridge between independent living and living with full-time senior care. This allows seniors to get the care they need and give their family members peace of mind, all while helping residents maintain the active, independent lifestyle they are familiar with.

Assisted living facilities offer a wide variety of features and amenities to support their residents. While some of these services overlap with benefits found at independent living communities, including dining services, shuttles, and group activities – assisted living residents also benefit from a variety of other services as well. The exact services can vary from one location to another, but some common features include:

  • Private and semi-private apartments with kitchenettes..
  • 24-hour emergency monitoring.
  • Supervision and medication management.
  • Physical, occupational and speech therapies.
  • Recreational and social services.
  • Beauty salon and barber shop service.
  • Respite care.

What is an Independent Living Community? 

Independent living communities are age-restricted (typically 55+) residential neighborhoods or buildings with additional conveniences for seniors. These communities are meant for seniors who do not need additional help or assistance during their daily lives. Many seniors pursue this lifestyle option as a way to make the most of their golden years. 

Seniors seek out independent living communities for community involvement and maintenance-free lifestyle. Common amenities found at an independent living communities include: 

  • Organized activities.
  • Restaurants and dining services.
  • Transportation services.
  • Housekeeping.
  • Errand services.

While there may be some overlap between independent living and assisted living communities in terms of amenities, independent living usually means that residents are self-sufficient and don’t need hands-on care. Many independent living communities also allow, or sometimes offer, independent home care services for seniors having a scheduled medical procedure who might need extra help for a set period but don’t need to transition to an assisted living facility full-time.

Key Differences Between Assisted Living and Independent Living

To help find the right option for you or your loved one, let’s take a look at the major differences between assisted and independent living.

Cost of Independent Living vs Assisted Living

Both independent living communities and assisted living facilities can vary greatly in cost based on the type of facility and location. In most cases, but not all, the base cost of independent living is less than the cost of assisted living. 

Independent senior living communities are about lifestyle preferences and are not considered a form of senior care. While this means that they’re typically more affordable, they are also unlikely to be covered by Medicare, Medicaid, or long-term care insurance. In certain instances, assisted living costs can be covered by these programs to help lower the cost of care services for eligible older adults.  

Another option to keep in mind is affordable senior housing. Certain income-restricted housing options are available for both independent living communities and assisted living facilities. You can learn more about HUD subsidized housing and the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) and see if you qualify here.

Many assisted living facilities are built around a rental model where seniors will have monthly fees that include their housing, amenities, and daily care. While assisted living is an out-of-pocket expense, many people have Long Term Care Insurance policies that cover some portion of the monthly fee. 

Independent living fees tend to be a bit different. In most communities, residents pay an entrance or community fee when they move in and an additional monthly fee to cover maintenance, housekeeping, security, some meals, and programming. This can vary based on their apartment size and style, types of services needed, level of luxury offered by the community, and the community’s location.

Level of Medical and Supportive Care

One of the major differences between assisted living and independent living is the types of personal care services available to residents. Assisted living facilities are designed to help with activities of daily living (ADLs) as well as medication assistance, and some medical care. Independent living communities, on the other hand, do not typically provide care services unless arranged by residences through contracted services.

In an assisted living facility, each resident is assessed by a certified staff member either shortly before or after they move in. This determines the level of care each resident will require during their stay. Some seniors may just need medication reminders and one or two ADLs, such as bathing or dressing, while other residents may need assistance with several ADLs, including toileting or bed transferring.

Typically, independent living facilities are for seniors who don’t need much assistance or medical care, so most don’t offer ADL services. An independent living community may be the right decision for retirees who:

  • Are looking for a community of people their age.
  • Have the physical and mental capacity to live on their own with no assistance.
  • Want a maintenance-free lifestyle without having to worry about common household chores.
  • Enjoy a community lifestyle.
  • Want easy access to services and activities geared toward seniors.

Community Design

There are several important distinctions you will notice between independent living and assisted living communities in the design and layout of the community itself. Independent living communities are commonly built as campuses with homes and buildings connected via pathways to the main areas of the community. They are designed to give residents the privacy and familiarity of a small village as they commute to on-site amenities such as restaurants, the pool, or other shared spaces.

Assisted living communities tend to be a bit more compact with a self-contained footprint. Typically, the apartment homes and shared community spaces are all in one building. While there are still outdoor paths and spaces to enjoy, these facilities are designed to provide convenience to both residents and staff. 

Amenities and Programming

Both types of communities have a wide array of event programming and amenities available. In assisted living facilities, all meals are typically included, and residents are encouraged to eat in the dining room with friends. For activities, residents can expect various events, clubs, and classes to spend the time. From walking groups and movie nights to book clubs and bingo, there are plenty of on-site activities to engage in. 

Independent living communities offer several dining options from sit-down to casual take-out. Residents also have the ability to cook and enjoy homemade meals on their own. Activities at independent living communities are geared toward active adults and include opportunities like pickleball, yoga, outings, volunteer opportunities, and classes.

Find the Right Senior Living Community for Your Needs

Deciding on where to live as you or your loved one ages takes time and careful consideration. While you may prefer one option over the other, it’s important to consider your needs, preferences, and budget when making your decision. 

Every senior deserves to find the right place for them, but it isn’t always easy to figure out which type of senior living community is the best option. From independent to assisted living, it’s important to choose the right place to help you or your loved one enjoy these golden years to the fullest.

If you’re looking for some help navigating this process further, National Church Residences is here to help you find the best option for your needs. Not sure where to begin your search? Find out which senior living options are in your area or give us a call at 844-465-6063 to talk to one of our friendly staff members today.

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