Independent Living vs Assisted Living – What’s the Difference?

Independent Living vs Assisted Living Infographic

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Maintaining a house as you age can start to feel like a burden. Some seniors have embraced the work involved in aging-in-place, but others opt to take advantage of the communities, activities, and extra help available in senior living facilities.

When you start to consider the option of moving into a senior living home, you’ll find yourself faced with a number of different types to consider. Two of the most popular options out there are independent living and assisted living.

What’s the Difference?

There are many similarities between the two senior living options – both will mean you’re surrounded by other seniors likely to become friends, you’ll have regularly planned activities you can take part in, and many homes include certain amenities you can appreciate, like pools or fitness rooms.

The main way the two types of senior living differ is in the level of care provided.

Independent living communities are for seniors who are pretty comfortable taking care of themselves. They often offer help with some of the typical day-to-day activities but on the whole most of the seniors could feasibly take care of themselves in their own home if needed, and choose to move there for the sake of community and ease of living.

Services typically provided:

  • Making meals
  • Landscaping
  • Housekeeping
  • Social events
  • Transportation
  • Wellness programs
  • Security services

Assisted living communities are for seniors that have reached the point where they need help with basic day-to-day tasks. When things like getting dressed each day, bathing, and keeping up with medications become a challenge, assisted living homes are a good choice. There’s typically a medical professional on staff and someone available 24 hours a day to help with whatever needs the senior has.

Services typically provided:

  • Getting dressed
  • Eating
  • Bathing
  • Using the restroom
  • Health services and medication management
  • Transportation
  • Wellness programs
  • Social events
  • Housekeeping

Which Option Is Right For You?

Both types of communities try to provide seniors with a certain amount of independence in how they live their life, but independent living tends to offer more (it’s right there in the name, after all). The fact is, once you become more dependent on others for everyday tasks, there will be some limitations placed on how you can live your life, but many assisted living communities really do their best to make sure seniors will be happy, comfortable, and won’t feel too inconvenienced by their daily needs.

If you’re not sure which option is best for you, consider a few things:

What do your daily needs look like now?

Do you take a lot of medications? Have trouble taking a shower? Are there tasks you know you’d have a much easier time tackling each day if you had help? Life doesn’t have to be hard; there’s no shame in admitting that some help would make your life easier.

What does your doctor think?

It may be that right now at this moment, you have no need for the level of services an assisted living home offers – but in 6 months to a year you will. You don’t want to get settled in and comfortable at an independent living facility, only to have to move again within a year of getting there.

What do my loved ones think?

As strange as it sounds, you might not be the best one to recognize the level of your own need. Talk to the people who care about you and see what they think.

Not every assisted living facility is the same, and not every independent living community is either. Sometimes, identifying which place is right for you isn’t all about its label – it’s about the people working there, the amenities offered, and how well it fits with the life you want to be leading. If you’re really not sure which option might be best for you, check out options that fall in both categories and see if any of them just feel right. If you want expert help, SeniorAdvisor.com has Senior Living Advisors located all over the US and Canada. Call us for free at (866) 592-8119 and we’ll help you sort through your options based on your needs and budget.

Independent Living vs Assisted Living Infographic

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Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based copywriter and lifelong student with an ongoing curiousity to learn and explore new things. She turns that interest to researching and exploring subjects helpful to seniors and their families for SeniorAdvisor.com.

18 Comments

  1. Joyce December 29, 2015 Reply

    Kristen – One of the most important details in making a choice for any senior residence is observing its “culture”. Just as a corporation develops a culture within its walls so does any senior residence. From the resident’s perspective, this has a HUGE impact on daily living. You wouldn’t choose a mate by a check list. Don’t choose a senior residence that way either.
    –From one who lives in a senior resident.

    • Karen Shaffer September 12, 2018 Reply

      Hello Joyce,
      My name is Karen.,I am currently looking for a living option for my mother-in-law. We live in St. Louis. She is in Ohio but will be coming to St. Louis. As a person who’s been through the decision making process, do you have any tips from your experience that you could offer?

  2. Nash Rich February 17, 2016 Reply

    I thought this page was really good at giving advice to help find what’s best for you. We had to move our grandparents to assisted living and at first they didn’t like it, but now they love it, especially since they need more and more care with every year. I think the advice about checking with what your doctor thinks was something important to consider. Doctors are professionals and they usually know what’s best for their patients.

  3. Kairi Gainsborough February 25, 2016 Reply

    I didn’t know that there is a big difference between independent living and assisted living in senior housing facilities. My sister and I have been thinking about helping our grandma move into a facility like this. She is having trouble keeping up with the cooking and cleaning on her own. I think assisted living would be the better option, because she does need a little bit of help around the house.

  4. Andy Harrison February 26, 2016 Reply

    It’s good to know about both of these types of living when you are wanting to make a choice. If I was to the point where I really couldn’t take care of myself anymore, I would probably go with the assisted living. Even though it would be more expensive that independent living, I would want to have the help of a caregiver in the event that something came up.

  5. Meagan March 29, 2016 Reply

    I really like how you bring up the point of what does your doctor think. A doctor will be honest with and let you know if it is safe for you to be on your own still or if you need to be living in an assisted home. I mean, would you want to be in a situation where you couldn’t get help until it may be too late.

  6. Luke Smith April 12, 2016 Reply

    This article does a really good job of explaining the difference between Independent living, and Assisted Living. I really didn’t know what the difference was, but the picture gives some good ideas. Like how people in Assisted living need help with day-to-day tasks.

  7. Palmella Silverberg May 21, 2016 Reply

    Also, don’t forget to ask about the pets, sometime we also need to shift our pet with ourselves in senior care centers. Overall your Article was awesome, thanks for such informative Article.

  8. Rachel July 7, 2016 Reply

    My grandmother lived in an independent living situation that was a lot like an apartment complex. It was really nice because she had a lot of space to herself, but all of the yard work was taken care of for her. I think she really enjoyed living there because it gave her independence. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Derek Mcdoogle August 10, 2016 Reply

    My mother recently fell down some stairs and has reached the point where she needs to someone to assist her on a regular basis. You mentioned that with assisted living there’s typically a medical professional on staff and someone available 24 hours a day to help with whatever needs the senior has. Do most assist living facilities offer this type of service? It seems that this could be a good option for her.

  10. Skylar Williams August 16, 2016 Reply

    My parents aren’t doing so well as of late. We’ve talked about getting them into assisted living just because we can’t make the trips out there as frequently as we need to. I think if we take your tip on getting the thoughts from a doctor they would change their mind a bit.

  11. Les Blenkhorn October 16, 2016 Reply

    Very good advice. I have a friend who thinks she can live independently, but cannot. This article explains the difference very clearly. Thank you.

  12. Jay Jorgenson February 7, 2017 Reply

    My grandparents are currently living in an independent home right now and are loving it. I love what was said about how sometimes seniors will move there because they just want to hang around other seniors. I am sure that this is really healthy for them!

  13. LNWeaver May 15, 2017 Reply

    Thanks for this article on assisted and independent living. My family has been making sure one of us goes over to help grams with cooking and hygiene for a while now, so we’ve been talking about senior care. She may need an assisted living community

  14. Derek Dewitt January 25, 2018 Reply

    My wife is thinking about putting her dad into an assisted living community but isn’t sure if it’s worth it or not. I like that you suggest asking if you’d have an easier time tackling each day with help or not. It’s getting hard for her to take care of him on her own all the time, so this is definitely something we’ll look into more.

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