A senior woman spends time with her granddaughter

Independent Living vs. Assisted Living

Senior housing can be a tough choice. You’ll want to find the best fit for your current and future needs. In particular, the difference between independent living vs. assisted living can be difficult to navigate. Not sure whether independent living vs. assisted living is right for you? Let’s help you make the choice by going over the details and ideal profiles for both. 

How do I decide between independent living vs. assisted living?

Your decision will involve lots of different factors, including:

  • Your health
  • Your finances
  • Your ability to do daily tasks such as bathing and dressing
  • Your ability to cook and do errands
  • Your current caregiving situation
  • Your level of isolation or loneliness 

These are all important considerations when you make a decision about your senior living arrangements. You’ll also need to determine which of these factors are your priorities as you consider different options.

About independent living 

Independent living (also known as retirement communities or congregate care) is a wide-ranging term for senior-specific housing arrangements. It’s ideal for seniors who don’t require any nursing care or support. Independent living is designed for convenience and lifestyle. While it may include certain amenities, they’re not specific to medical care. 

Some types of independent living housing include:

  • Senior-only apartments (may include extras like recreation, meals, etc.)
  • Congregate care units (may include extras like recreation, meals, etc.)
  • Retirement communities (may include extras like recreation, meals, etc.)
  • CCRCs (Continuing Care Retirement Communities) (includes luxury amenities and a continuum of custodial or nursing care now or in the future)
  • LGBT-friendly senior communities (may include extras like recreation, meals, etc.)

Profile: Seniors who want to live independently, but don’t want to stress of upkeep. They may also be feeling alone or unsafe on their own. They’d benefit from meeting other seniors and having a rich social life.

Housing: Independent living arrangements are typically private quarters in an apartment-style community with common areas available. Kitchenette is usually available for home cooking, as well as a private living room.  

Amenities: Meals, housekeeping/maintenance, laundry, transportation, entertainment (social calendar, game room, fitness center, etc.). Some may even include luxury items such as hosting areas, pet care, clubhouses, continuing education, off-site outings and personal care salons (hairdresser, dentist, etc.). 

Staff: No regular contact, but comm system available for security/medical emergency.

ADL care: None provided, sometimes third-party care offered at extra cost.  

Nursing care: None provided, sometimes third-party care offered at extra cost.

Cost: $2,552 in 2018, according to the Senior Cost of Living Index.

Payment method: Privately funded, unlikely to be covered by Medicare, Medicaid or private health insurance.

Benefits: Flexibility, independence and rich social community.

About assisted living 

This senior housing is ideal for seniors who may require some nursing support, but not intensive care. Assisted living gives seniors help with daily tasks within a convenient facility that includes amenities.

Profile: Seniors who need some extra help with daily tasks and may have an underlying health condition that could get worse. They may also be feeling lonely and want to meet other seniors. Ideally, the senior would have some kind of health insurance (Medicare, Medicaid or private) to help cut costs. 

Housing: Assisted living arrangements are typically private or shared quarters in an apartment building with some common areas available. Sometimes kitchenettes are available for home cooking. 

Amenities: Meals, housekeeping/maintenance, laundry, transportation, entertainment (social calendar, game room, fitness center, etc.).

Staff: Daily contact with health aide and medication management, as well as comm system available for security/medical emergency.

ADL care: ADL care provided (bathing, toileting, grooming, mobility tasks, etc.).

Nursing care: Some nursing care provided for a continuum of care.

Cost: $4,300, according to Genworth’s 2020 Cost of Care Survey.

Payment method: Nursing care likely covered by Medicare, Medicaid, Aid and Attendance benefits, or private insurance. Other amenities will have to be paid privately (unless Medicaid).

Benefits: Daily care, caregiver relief and sense of community. 

Example profiles of independent living vs. assisted living

Let’s look at some example profiles of seniors who are looking for new senior housing arrangements. These situations will help you better understand whether independent living or assisted living is right for you. 

Situation #1: Anna 

Anna currently lives by herself in her family home. She recently lost her spouse and is feeling lonely on her own. She’s also feeling overwhelmed by maintaining the house and doing errands. She’d like to enjoy her golden years and make new friends. Thankfully, she has some personal savings and owns her home. At the time, she has no major health problems and doesn’t need nursing support.

Best choice: Independent living. Anna will be able to enjoy the rich community of independent living, as well as the convenience of certain amenities like meals and housekeeping. She can also afford this housing with her personal funds or by selling her home. Right now she doesn’t have any health problems, but depending on the housing she chooses, she may be able to add-on daily support as needed in the future. 

Situation #2: Richard

Richard currently lives with his daughter. He was recently diagnosed with Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), which is making it difficult for him to do basic tasks such as getting dressed or making lunch. His daughter works during the day and is unable to help him during daytime hours. He’s also a bit lonely on his own. Richard is worried what he will do if his RA gets worse. He has Medicare and is a former veteran. 

Best choice: Assisted living. First of all, Richard needs some extra help to bathe and get dressed, which is included in assisted living. He could also benefit from amenities such as meals and recreational activities to make friends with other seniors. At an assisted living facility, Richard will be able to get a continuum of care as he needs. Any daily care will be covered by veteran’s benefits and any more serious nursing care will be covered by Medicare. 

Now that you have a sense of both independent living and assisted living, let’s compare the two in greater depth.

Comparing independent living vs. assisted living

As you can see, both housing options include daily amenities, such as meals, housekeeping/maintenance, laundry, transportation and entertainment. However, there are serious differences in other aspects of these senior housing options. 

To help you understand the differences, we’ve created this comparison chart, so you can best find out which option fits best with your needs. 

Independent living Assisted living 
HousingWide range of options, including senior-only apartments, congregate care units, retirement communities, & CCRCsPrivate or semi-private apartment; room may be shared to cut costs
AmenitiesLuxury meals and amenities availableStandard meals and amenities included
ADL careNot usually included, though some offer third-party careIncluded
Nursing careNot usually included, though some offer third-party careSome care included, but not 24/7
Cost~$2,500/month, though can range greatly from $1,500- $6,000~$4,000/month
Payment methodPrivately fundedNursing care covered by Medicare, Medicaid, Aid and Attendance VA benefits, or private insurance. Other amenities usually privately funded

Conclusion

As you make your decision about senior housing, you should consider all these factors. While independent living and assisted living have some overlap, they are unique in their focus.

Remember that senior housing entails a wide range of options. You can learn more about senior housing options and other senior topics at My Caring Plan. Simply start your search for independent living or assisted living near you by entering your zip code. 

Sources:

  1. The Difference Between Assisted & Independent Living, UMH, www.umh.org
  2. Independent Living for Seniors, HelpGuide, www.helpguide.org

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