Independent Living or Assisted Living?
It can be stressful to find a senior living facility for an elderly loved one, especially for people who are unaware of senior living options. Choosing between senior living options is an important decision that needs to be discussion, particularly if family and relatives feel it is best to seek the support of caregivers for their elderly loved ones. It may be heartwarming to know that a senior living facility may be the best decision. In order to select the most suitable home, you must know what types of senior housing and care are available, and understand the key differences between the options.
Elderly care exists on a spectrum from which Independent Living is the least assistive, and restrictive residential living is the most assistive. Assisted Living is one step above an Independent Living facility. As the name suggests, this type of senior living offers assisting facilities and services. Before choosing between assisted living and independent living, let’s compare both options by discussing the similarities and differences of the various services.
Assisted Living vs Independent Living: Overview
While there are many senior living possibilities, Assisted Living and Independent Living are two possibilities for senior citizens who are still independent and don’t require continuous care. Here is a detailed comparison of these senior living options:
Independent living communities are perfect for senior citizens who seek support and prefer to move out of their houses, possibly because they cannot perform the duties of a big house, or because they simply want to live in a senior community with other seniors. Residents of independent living facilities have extensive control over their lives and decisions, as they require no assistance at all. They can handily access entertainment options, medical care, dining, and many other activities that are typically available near their community. The purpose of independent living communities is to provide a safe environment where seniors can interact with each other and stay healthy.
When searching for independent living communities near you, always look at their services and facilities, so that you can prepare your elderly loved one accordingly. Some senior living options provide both independent and assisted living services, while others have in-home care services that you can use in times of emergency.
Assisted living facilities are great options for elderly people who want to maintain their autonomy, but need some assistance in performing daily activities. Residents here can enjoy their desired independence while still receiving regular assistance with activities of daily living.
Experts in assisted living communities are responsible for providing support such as cleaning, meal preparation, laundry, transportation, and self-care activities to residents, so that residents can enjoy a lifestyle free from the mundane activities of daily living.
Additional care, such as medication administration and management, is also accessible to the residents of assisted living facilities. Residents of assisted living communities also receive the benefit of planned events and activities that offer a myriad of socialization opportunities.
Despite their differences, assisted living and independent living communities have several similarities, such as:
- Helping and supporting senior citizens
- Providing independence
- Little to no supervision and control
- Safety and security of the elderly
- Socialization benefits
Assisted Living Facilities vs Independent Living: Accommodations and Living Spaces
Independent living communities provide a wide range of housing structures that range from apartment-style residences to housing co-ops. Normally, inhabitants stay in their private abodes, and can access common areas, such as the dining room, TV hall, book clubs, and lawn, where they can interact with other residents of the community.
Some people consider independent living communities to be active adult communities, retirement communities, senior apartments, 55+ communities, or retirement houses. Independent living communities are designed for seniors who want to spend their lives independently. That’s why independent living communities feature residences similar to a small house, apartment, or townhouse.
On the other hand, assisted living facilities have apartment-style living arrangements for seniors. Residents can choose where they want to live out their golden years. Assisted living homes have apartments with or without kitchens. There is also the option of living alone in an apartment, or sharing with someone else. Some assisted living communities have specialized memory care units for residents with cognitive impairments. In these units, there are increased security measures, such as extra surveillance equipment and locked doors, for safety reasons. It is also suggested that residents with cognitive impairments live in apartments with no kitchen.
In both types of senior living communities, seniors have the right to choose whether they want to live in a private dwelling, or share the room with a roommate. Access to common areas, such as TV rooms, cafes, book clubs, and exercise rooms is provided by both facilities. Shared common areas in senior living facilities provide socialization opportunities, in which seniors can listen to each other and help solve each other’s issues.
A visible difference between the two types of senior living is the existence of memory units in assisted living facilities. Independent living communities do not offer special units for cognitively impaired residents.
Assisted living is on a level above independent living, offering memory care units and assistance for seniors who are not yet ready to transition to a nursing home. If your loved one has dementia or Alzheimer's disease, then independent living is likely not a suitable option. People with cognitive challenges will receive better care at an assisted living facility that offers a memory care unit. As mentioned, additional security measures are provided in memory care units for the protection of the residents. These communities also strive to provide a soothing, comfortable environment.
Independent Living vs Assisted Living: Services and Amenities
The objective of independent living facilities is to make their inhabitants’ routine life relaxed and easy, giving them the freedom to live on their own. They provide services to minimize routine responsibilities of the elderly, but do not assist with Activities of Daily Living (ADLs). Their offered services include:
- Housekeeping and maintenance
- Nutritious meals and dining services
- Dish cleaning
- Security surveillance
- Room cleaning
Independent living communities do not have a full-time staff providing self-care services, custodial care, or medical care. As mentioned above, the main advantage of independent living communities is to receive help with meals and basic maintenance tasks. These communities do not offer assistance related to personal or health-related tasks.
On the other hand, assisted living facilities are geared towards helping senior citizens who do require assistance with routine tasks, especially with ADLs. The services offered by assisted living facilities are:
- Medication (administration and management)
- Food preparation and eating
- Bathing, toileting, showering, and dressing
Staff members in assisted living facilities are available 24/7. However, the staff is not certified to provide any medical care, whereas nursing homes do have skilled and licensed nurses.
Recreational activities are available in both assisted living and independent living facilities. Common activities are:
- Game nights
- Movie nights
- Social gatherings
- Famous events
- Field trips
- Book reading clubs
- Yoga and exercise activities
- Holiday events and celebrations
- Discussion and support groups
- Educational courses
- Golf and tennis events
In assisted living, there are transportation services for residents to go to and from grocery stores, doctor’s appointments, and other personal errands.
Assisted Living vs Independent Living: A Community
Senior living communities that offer both independent and assisted living make it possible for residents to live close to their peers. These communities only accept seniors who are in their golden years, usually 55+. People of this age are likely going through similar life experiences, and can often easily relate to one another.
Residents can easily become friends with other residents, and some even become life-partners after getting to know each other well within these communities. These communities provide a place where older people can get to know each other and find companions, to enable social support and avoid social isolation and seclusion.
Usually, assisted living facilities have more opportunities for socialization than independent living, as they hire activity managers who work hard to make a list of daily and monthly activities for seniors. Their role is to make interest-based activities for the community, and involve everyone in the exciting events and programs.
Assisted Living vs Independent Living Facilities: Food and Dining
Normally, both types of communities will have an expert cook and dietician on the grounds to cook nutritious meals that appeal to the residents’ dietary restrictions. The management staff of these communities usually consults dieticians or nutritionists regarding weekly meals, and delivers meals accordingly.
Assisted living facilities take a detailed approach to food provision. Most of the seniors living in the assisted living facility have minor medical conditions, which may require a restricted diet. These facilities are more concerned with providing meals according to their residents’ specific needs. On the other hand, independent living communities have no such restrictions, and residents can ask for the food of their choice. They can also cook their own food.
Both assisted living and independent living facilities offer apartments with kitchens, so that residents can cook their own meals. Some exclusive, upscale senior living communities also offer room service, for times when residents don't want to go out.
There are dining halls available in both types of communities, where residents can have their meals and interact with each other.
Assisted Living Homes vs Independent Living: Safety and Emergency Response
One of the main reasons that senior citizens move to an assisted living or independent living facility is that they want to reside in a place that is safe and secure. Both types of facilities embrace various strategies to ensure that residents are safe, healthy, and happy.
Residents of assisted living do not have to worry about intruders, as the facilities have high fences and security guards.
In addition to external security, these communities also provide safety modifications inside the buildings to prevent falls and other accidents, and to support accessibility. Some safety measures include wide doorways, ramps, secure carpeting, appropriate hallway lightening, extra handles, remodeling bathroom and kitchen floors to reduce slippery conditions, and many more.
Many apartments and residential rooms in both types of facilities include alarm systems, such as pendant and pull cords, that seniors can use in an emergency. Some communities have modern alarm buttons. Independent living communities have minimum staff available 24/7; however, assisted living facilities hire helpers and staff that are available on-site all the time.
Assisted living facilities usually also hire trained and skilled nursing assistants and helpers who respond instantly to an emergency call and provide help. They also follow up with residents in case of injuries or other ailments. Knowing that help is easily available in case of emergency gives residents peace of mind.
Exclusive assisted living facilities may even go beyond having skilled nurses by ensuring the residents receive frequent on-site check-ins with medical experts, including physicians, physiotherapists, podiatrists, optometrists, geriatricians, therapists, and others, who can meet the health needs of residents.
Assisted Living and Independent Living: Cost
Rent and utilities comprise the basic cost for senior citizens in independent living communities. Seniors who select communities with special recreational activities, such as book clubs, golf courses, and tennis may have to pay more because of membership costs. Meals are usually included in the total residence cost; however, some additional charges may be applied if certain services and add-ons are chosen.
In the same way, assisted living facilities also use a base-rate cost system, which includes monthly rent, utilities, and essential services, like meals and housekeeping. Again, extra expenses and costs will come with additional services. According to a cost of care survey by Genworth Financial, the average expense of an assisted living facility for a one-bedroom apartment is $4,000.
In summary, in most cases, residents of assisted living facilities tend to pay more than those living in independent living communities, due to the higher level of assistance and care provided in assisted living.
Assisted Living versus Independent Living: Methods of Payment
Apart from the different levels of care, there is a notable difference between payment methods for independent living and assisted living.
Medicare, Medicaid, long-term care insurance services, and other financial support programs do not cover the costs of independent living facilities, as these communities do not provide medical services. These financial support programs only apply coverage to certain assisted living communities. So, many senior citizens may privately pay out-of-pocket for their independent living services. Most of them use funds from social security benefits, retirement savings, annuities, reverse mortgages, pension income, life settlements, and other means of funding.
However, when it comes to assisted living residents, there are more funding options. Of course, they can also use personal savings and funds to cover expenses, but they have the additional option of receiving benefits from long-term care insurance.
Some residents of assisted living communities receive benefits and financial support from Veterans Affairs for their housing costs. Medicare does not cover assisted living costs; however, Medicaid does offer financial support to elderly people with low income.
Before looking for assisted living services near you or independent living communities near you, make sure to check the eligibility and coverage rules of your state to understand what you can afford.
Here is a summary of the benefits of both types of senior living facilities:
Benefits of Independent Living
Independent living is a great option for seniors who want to live an independent life, and who don’t require assistance with routine tasks. Here are a few of many benefits of independent living:
- On-demand Help: While independent living services do not offer on-site medical care, in emergencies, help will still be available quickly. Residents of independent living are never alone or without help.
- Entertainment and Socialization: Many activities are available in independent living facilities, providing entertainment and opportunities for socialization. Seniors can spend their free time doing interesting activities, whether it be going out with friends, or walking after dinner. Residents can easily interact and find companions. Loneliness and isolation are common issues of the elderly, and living in such a facility can help them overcome these age-related issues.
- Privacy: Independent living offers privacy; seniors can choose whether to live alone or share rooms.
- Cost-effective: Seniors only have to pay once a month for all bills, including rent and other services. Usually, when living at home, one has to worry about separate bills for electricity, water, internet, cable, and other things. Independent living can make life much easier for seniors who want to live a stress-free life.
Benefits of Assisted Living
Assisted living facilities are designed for seniors who want to live independently, but require assistance with routine activities. These facilities include all the benefits of independent living services, along with additional ones:
- Assistance with ADLs: Seniors can maintain independence as well as receive assistance with food preparation, bathing, showering, dressing, and other routine tasks. Some residents might need help getting up, managing self-care and personal hygiene, administering medicine, and toileting.
- Cost-effective: Assisted living facilities tend to cost more than independent living, but are still more economical than nursing homes.
Should you choose assisted living or independent living?
There are many benefits that the elderly can enjoy while living in independent living or assisted living facilities. These include independence, privacy, safety, security, assistance, help around the clock, convenience, and opportunities to socialize with other senior citizens.
Selecting the best fit depends on your loved one’s needs and requirements. If they want to live in an independent place with no assistance, then they are better off in an independent living facility. They will have a chance to enjoy their lives and stay healthy without the stress of managing a big home and other routine activities.
However, if your elderly loved one requires assistance in daily tasks, such as medication administration, bathing, dressing, food intake, and transportation, then assisted living will be a better option.
There are many senior living communities throughout the U.S., so you can search for assisted living facilities near you or independent living facilities near you. Feel free to check our directory, where we provide many senior living options via a locator tool.
If you want to know more about our senior living services, like assisted living, independent living, nursing homes, memory care, retirement communities, old-age communities, and senior living communities, please feel free to look through our other guides and articles.
About the Author:
"Independent Living vs Assisted Living - Which Should You Choose?" is authored by Anisha Rao, MPP, Healthcare Consultant, Certified Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Healthcare Professional. Anisha holds a Master of Public Policy from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Health Administration and Public Policy, a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, and a Minor in Management of Aging Services. Anisha has extensive experience in Healthcare Services and Aging issues, including dementia care, senior health, and nursing home care. Anisha is passionate about ensuring seniors receive the best care possible and empowering seniors to become more involved in their care planning decisions.