Resource Center / Senior Living Guides / Independent vs. Assisted Living: What's the Difference?

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

Get the lowdown on independent vs. assisted living with Seniorly. We'll help you understand the differences between these types of senior living communities so you can make and informed - and confident - decision.

By Arthur Bretschneider Updated on May 30, 2023

The abundance of senior living options available today signals a new era in senior living, as it empowers older adults and their families to find the perfect fit for their unique needs, preferences, and lifestyles. However, this vast array of choices can also be a double-edged sword, making it increasingly challenging for seniors and their families to navigate through the myriad possibilities and determine the best care solution.

If you or a loved one has started your search, it's fairly likely you've looked at both independent living and assisted living communities, and wondered about the difference between these two types of senior living options. Understanding the differences, levels of care, and costs can help families determine which senior living options are right for their loved ones.

Independent living: everything you need to know

While they both serve older adults who want age in a healthy environment with a sense of community and care, there are some major differences between an assisted living community and independent living facilities.

The pros of independent living communities

Independent living communities offer so many benefits for older adults who want to maintain an active, engaged lifestyle while enjoying the convenience of a maintenance-free living environment. These communities are specifically designed to cater to seniors' needs, providing comfortable housing, a wide array of amenities, and ample opportunities for socialization, activity and engagement.

In our view, one of the most significant advantages is the sense of community and companionship, fostering friendships and connections with like-minded peers through various activities, events, and common areas. To top it off, independent living communities typically offer essential services like housekeeping, laundry, and meal plans, removing the burden of routine chores and allowing residents to focus on pursuing their interests and hobbies - and on having fun.

Many communities also boast a range of onsite amenities such as fitness centers, swimming pools, spas, beauty salons and other recreational facilities that promote a healthy and active lifestyle. In addition, living in an independent community ensures greater peace of mind as there is usually 24-hour security, transportation services, and emergency assistance readily available.

Overall, independent living communities provide a perfect blend of autonomy and support, promoting a fulfilling, stress-free, and engaging senior living experience.

The cons of independent living communities

In our view, there really aren't too many negatives when it comes to independent living. If you are moving from or selling a primary a residence, then the monthly rent may be in line with your current mortgage. If you have paid off your mortgage, proceeds from a home sale could support the transition to independent living. If you're considering a home sale, be sure to check out our article about selling a home to fund a move to a senior community.

Depending on your care needs, independent living communities don't always offer assistance with daily living, medical and supportive care, or other conveniences that are common with assisted living amenities.

Finally, depending on the type of community you're considering, you may need to contemplate another move in the future should you need an increased level of supportive care. If the idea of moving again isn't appealing, then you could always consider a community that offers several levels of care; many assisted living facilities also offer independent living options - so you can have your cake and eat it too!

Our top 8 reasons to choose an independent living community

  • Maintenance-free living: These communities take care of tasks like landscaping, home maintenance, and repairs, allowing residents to enjoy a stress-free lifestyle. No more cleaning your gutters!
  • Socialization opportunities: With so many events, activities, and common areas, independent living communities promote a sense of belonging and enable seniors to form friendships and connections.
  • Safety and security: Independent living typically offers 24-hour security and emergency assistance, providing peace of mind for both residents and their families.
  • Access to amenities: Many communities feature a range of onsite amenities such as gyms, pools, clubhouses, and recreational facilities, encouraging a healthy and active lifestyle. We're also seeing an explosion in luxury amenity offerings in mid-market communities, so you don't have to choose between price and offerings.
  • Nutritious meal options: Dining services usually provide nutritionally balanced meals, freeing residents from meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking. With in-house restaurants and dedicated chefs, mealtime can feel like going out to a restaurant. Of course, you still have the option to cook at home if that's a passion.
  • Housekeeping and laundry services: Regular housekeeping and laundry services allow seniors to focus on enjoying life without the burden of routine chores.
  • Transportation services: An independent living community often provides scheduled transportation services, simplifying access to doctor's appointments, shopping, and outings.
  • Personalized living spaces: Independent living residents can personalize their living units to create comfortable, homelike environments that reflect their personal tastes and preferences.

5 types of independent living communities

Here are some of the most common types of independent living communities that allow older adults a combination of independence, community and activity:

  • Retirement Communities: These communities are specifically designed for seniors who are fully independent but seek to downsize while enjoying a maintenance-free lifestyle, social opportunities, and amenities such as clubhouses, fitness centers, and swimming pools.
  • Senior Apartments/Over 55 Communities: These age-restricted apartment complexes or housing developments offer residential units specifically tailored to seniors' needs, incorporating age-friendly designs and shared spaces. They often include amenities and services like housekeeping and laundry for added convenience.
  • Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs): CCRCs cater to all stages of the aging process by offering a full range of care on a single campus. Seniors can choose between independent living, assisted living, memory care, or skilled nursing facilities as their needs evolve over time.
  • Senior Co-housing: This type of community promotes shared living with private units for seniors and communal spaces such as kitchens, dining areas, and living rooms to foster a sense of camaraderie and cooperation among the residents.
  • Low-Income/Subsidized Senior Housing: These communities offer affordable housing options for seniors with limited financial resources. They are often sponsored by government agencies or nonprofit organizations and provide reduced rental rates and essential services while featuring age-friendly designs and communal spaces for socializing.

Assisted living: everything you need to know

Assisted living communities offer so much for older adults who want to balance support and independence in a community environment. Assisted living communities typically provide tailored assistance with activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, grooming, and support for daily medication.

This supportive approach allows residents the freedom to maintain their autonomy while receiving care and support as needed. One key aspect of assisted living is the prioritization of safety and well-being, with accessibility features, security measures, and round-the-clock staff ensuring a secure environment for seniors and their families.

Like independent living, most assisted living communities also focus a lot of energy on social engagement and foster a strong sense of camaraderie by offering various activities, group events, and shared spaces designed to contribute to residents' mental and emotional well-being. And with so much research supporting the benefits of socialization in the aging process, assisted living communities can often re-engage older adults who have become isolated at home.

With additional services such as dining, housekeeping, laundry, and transportation, seniors can concentrate on a hassle-free and enjoyable life. Moreover, many communities grant access to healthcare professionals, rehabilitation services, and wellness programs, ensuring that residents receive comprehensive, personalized care within an inviting, home-like atmosphere.

4 reasons to choose an assisted living community

Along with everything that independent living offers, an assisted living community can also provide a few added features:

  • Tailored assistance: Assisted living communities offer personalized support with activities of daily living (ADLs) such as bathing, dressing, grooming, and medication management, enabling seniors to maintain their independence with the required care.
  • Onsite healthcare professionals: Many assisted living communities provide access to healthcare professionals and specialized services like nursing, occupational and physical therapy, and memory care, ensuring that residents receive comprehensive medical care as needed.
  • Cost savings: Assisted living communities often provide a more cost-effective care solution compared to full-time in-home care services, as residents benefit from shared amenities, resources, and staffing, allowing them to receive the necessary care and support at a lower overall cost.
  • Family Communication: Quality assisted living communities understand that care for the resident includes communication with family members, and will communicate concerns, progress and updates to loved ones as needed.

4 types of assisted living communities

  • Traditional Assisted Living: These communities provide assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs), medication management, nutritious meals, and recreational activities for seniors who need assistance with their daily routine but do not require specialized medical care.
  • Memory Care: Designed for seniors with cognitive impairments such as Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, memory care communities offer a type of assisted living with a secure environment, specialized programming, staff training, and support services tailored to address the unique challenges faced by these residents.
  • Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs): These communities provide a continuum of care on the same campus, allowing seniors to seamlessly transition between independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing or memory care as their needs change over time.
  • Residential Care Homes/Board & Care Homes: Typically set in smaller, home-like environments, these facilities offer personal care services, meals, and assistance with ADLs in a more intimate setting, accommodating a limited number of residents. Board and care homes typically offer a higher level of assisted living care and support for older adults - something in between assisted living facility and skilled nursing care.

Evaluating independent and assisted living costs

The cost differences between independent and assisted living primarily stem from the level of care and services provided in each type of community.

Independent living communities are geared towards seniors who can manage their daily activities without much assistance and primarily focus on providing maintenance-free living, socialization opportunities, and access to shared amenities. As a result, independent living costs associated with independent living are typically lower than those of assisted living.

In contrast, assisted living offers a higher level of care and support for seniors who require help with activities of daily living, medication management, and access to healthcare professionals when needed. This increased support and care come at a higher cost, as assisted living communities typically provide staffing, medical supplies, and additional resources necessary to cater to their residents' individual care needs.

While cost is an essential factor to consider when choosing between independent and assisted living, it is crucial to evaluate the specific care needs and preferences of seniors and their families to make the best decision for their well-being and peace of mind.

Choose a senior living community that supports your needs

In our “Seniorly Conversations” video series, Seniorly Founder & CEO Arthur Bretschneider discusses the differences between independent living and assisted living communities.

This video provides comprehensive information on the types of communities available so that your family can have all the resources they need to make an informed decision when it comes time to choose a senior home they will love.

From assisted living services to an independent senior living community, your loved one will have everything they need to make an informed decision.

“While statistics say that people over 65 want to age in their own homes, the reality is that as people age, their health conditions change, and sometimes so do their preferences,” says Bretschneider.

Maybe you want to be more socially connected and get involved in community activities. Maybe you want to live independently, have luxury amenities, or maintain an active lifestyle.

Maybe you're in need of a living space that offers walking paths, housekeeping services, a dining room, and more. Or maybe, you just want to be closer to family or spend less money on in-home caregiving services.

Whatever the reason, moving into an elder care community can offer a range of benefits for people hoping to remain happy and engaged as they age. Not to mention, by finding a community that meets your needs, you'll be one step closer to living your best life.

Ready to start your search?

Here's the video transcript for those who would prefer to read along

Hi. My name is Arthur, and I'm the founder of Seniorly. I'm a third  generation senior housing operator, and I've worked with thousands of families, helping them with the transition into senior communities.  And while statistics say that people over 65 want to age in their own homes, the reality is that as people age, their health conditions change, and sometimes so do their preferences. I'm now going to talk about the two different types of senior housing, known as independent living and assisted living.

What is independent living?

Independent senior living communities take many different forms. There’s age-restricted apartments, properties that have hotel-like amenities and services, and there are also continuing care communities that allow people to age in place.

There are several reasons why people move into independent living communities. Sometimes it can be as easy as wanting a maintenance-free lifestyle or living closer to family. Some people choose to move into continuing care retirement communities. Now, these are properties that allow people to age in place, and no matter what their care needs are, they can be taken care of in the same place.

Of course, the most important reason why people move into independent living communities is for the socialization aspect. It's common that a spouse will pass away, and then people will move into communities to not be isolated in their own homes and to stay engaged.

What is assisted living?

Let's now talk about assisted living. Assisted living communities offer 24-hour non-medical care. There are many different types of assisted living communities. They can be as small as a six-bedroom home that are known as board and care homes, or they can be as large as 100 units with hotel-like amenities. Compared to the cost of 24-hour in-home care, that's more than $14,000 a month, assisted living provides 24-hour care for less than $4,000 a month on average in the United States.

Assisted living offers support for the following needs, assistance with activities of daily living, such as showering, bathing, could be medication management. It also offers support and assistance for people who have chronic health diseases. Another big piece of assisted living is helping people who have Alzheimer's or other dementia-related illnesses. Taking care of a loved one can be very difficult, and everybody needs support. And sometimes assisted living communities offer short-term stays and this allows family caregivers to take a much-needed break and sometimes even a vacation.

So whether you're looking for a community for yourself, and you want to find the best fit so you can show off your social butterfly skills, or you're looking for a community to take care of a loved one, the Seniorly team is here to help you.

written by:
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Arthur Bretschneider is CEO and Co-Founder of Seniorly. As a third generation leader in the senior living industry, Arthur brings both deep compassion and a wealth of practical experience to his work at Seniorly. Arthur holds an MBA from Haas School of Business and has been featured in the New York Times and Forbes Magazine as a thought leader in the senior living space. Arthur is a passionate and vocal advocate for improving the lives of older adults through community, and believes strongly that structured senior living environments can positively impact the aging experience.

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View other articles written by Arthur

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