What is The Difference Between Independent and Assisted Living?

January 28, 2021 by Katie Davis

the difference between independent and assisted living

As older adults begin the search for senior care, they may encounter independent living or assisted living communities along the way. While some of these communities may look similar, they do in fact offer very different services.

In this blog, we’ll discuss the main differences between independent and assisted living communities. And we’ll provide some insight into what the best fit for you or your loved one may be.

Independent Living Communities 

An independent living community is a retirement community that typically does not provide any health care amenities or services. Most often, individuals pay a monthly service fee similar to rent. In addition to covering the cost of their home, this fee often includes access to any community amenities (like a pool or gym), and in some cases, a meal per day.

As a rule, independent living communities do not provide any healthcare services as part of their monthly fee. The people who move into these communities don’t require additional healthcare support. If they do, they bring in support using outside home care or home health services not affiliated with the community.

One subset of independent living communities is what’s called an “active adult” or “age-restricted” community. These communities are just what they say they are, restricted by age. Usually that age is 55+. In active adult communities, individuals may purchase their homes. Most live in a single-family residence, as opposed to an apartment or studio.

Assisted Living Communities 

Unlike independent living, assisted living communities offer some healthcare support for residents. Assisted living residents live in a communal building and while many choose their own room, some communities may offer the option to share a room with another resident.

Assisted living communities are regulated by the states in which they operate. Guidelines around staffing, services, admission and other key areas differ by state. Assisted living communities typically operate on a month-to-month contract basis. 

In general, assisted living communities are staffed by certified nursing assistants around the clock. Most assisted living communities also have some nurses on staff in addition to an Administrator responsible for ensuring compliance and good care.

Residents can expect assistance with activities of daily living, such as bathing, grooming and dressing, and assistance using the bathroom. Staff will also bring residents their medication at various times of the day.

Pricing varies per community. Some communities charge a flat fee for their services while others have a tiered approach so that individuals who need more hands-on care pay more, and vice versa.

Which is Right for Me?

Before you decide on any senior care community, you should visit in person first. One of the most important things to observe when you visit is the general age, physical condition and demeanor of the residents who live there.

In general, the best community for you or your loved one is a community of peers. In our experience, residents who may need more support and care often feel isolated among more active residents. And residents who are more independent and don’t need any healthcare support might feel out of place in an assisted living community.

Regardless of which setting you chose, it’s important to check with the community first to determine what happens if your loved one needs more care. Are they allowed to stay, or will they need to find a new home in the future? Given how difficult it is to make any senior care decision, you’ll want to know if you have to move again should your care needs increase.

Remember, there is no wrong decision – there’s only what’s right for you or your loved one.

The senior care industry is growing with new communities and companies launching every day. If you do your research and identify your needs, you’ll make an educated and competent next step.


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