Independent Living vs. Assisted Living

We want our loved ones to be well looked after as well as to feel comfortable and happy with their living situation. As people age, there is typically a need for additional help with activities of daily living and increased medical assistance is often required.

As older adults transition from independently living at home or home care, there are many senior housing options available to make sure they have the level of assistance they require based on their needs and capabilities. 

When making the next choices for their ongoing care, it’s important to understand the differences between independent living and assisted living in order to make the best decision for your senior.

On the continuum of senior care, independent living is least restrictive and provides the lowest level of care. Assisted living is a step above independent living, offering increased help with everyday living and medical care as seniors age – many assisted living facilities offer different levels of care to help seniors as they move along the care continuum and need additional help.

Both are good senior living options to help elderly family members maintain an optimal lifestyle while balancing different levels of independence and levels of care to suit different aging needs.

Overview of Independent Living

In independent living communities, residents typically live in their own residence within a larger senior community. Independent living takes on many forms and can include senior apartments, condos, townhomes, or houses. Given the amount of options, independent living is often referred to in a variety of terms including retirement communities, 55+ communities, active adult communities, or independent senior living communities.

The main aim of independent living arrangements is to allow their residents freedom and an independent lifestyle in an environment where they can benefit from being in community with other seniors and often have fewer household responsibilities. 

The seniors who live in independent living communities are free to come and go and can receive help with typical household needs as well as take advantage of planned social activities, recreational activities, and other onsite facilities and services intended to promote an active lifestyle within a senior living community. Overall, the focus of an independent living facility is convenience for its residents.

Mainly, residents of independent living facilities must still be able to care for themselves, but these facilities offer a level of security and benefits for aging loved ones to improve the quality of their life. 

Who is Independent Living Best For?

If your aging loved one can care for themselves but would like to downsize their space and potentially take advantage of some assistance with housekeeping or daily errand-like tasks, then independent living can be a great option. 

Residents of independent living facilities are very capable of taking care of themselves, but their loved ones aren’t able to supervise or assist them as often as they need.

Overview of Assisted Living

Assisted living facilities provide many of the same benefits as independent living facilities. There are social and community aspects, while residents also receive any necessary medical and personal-care assistance.

This can include help activities of daily living – including bathing, medication administration, and dressing. Because of this, nurses and staff members with health care training are often on-call around the clock at assisted living facilities to help care for the residents whenever the need arises.

However, residents still have a great deal of freedom and can choose how to spend their time. Residents can still have active lives and, with help from staff, make and keep medical appointments and even receive help with personalized nutrition plans.

Continue Reading: What is Assisted Living?

Who is Assisted Living Best for?

Overall, aging loved ones who need help with daily tasks or require some level of medical care but still benefit from living an active and independent life would fit in well at an assisted living facility. 

Because assisted living communities offer round-the-clock medical and personal assistance, they’re a great option for families who can’t provide the level of care their loved one needs living in their own home while still affording them the level of self-sufficiency that they want.

Assisted LivingIndependent Living
Who is it best forSeniors who need help with activities of daily living and need medical care / attentionSeniors who do not need help with everyday activities nor medical assistance who would like to reduce household responsibilities 
Level of medical careDepends upon facility, ranges from minimal assistance to specialized care (ex: memory care)none
Assistance with Everyday Living YesNo
Care ServicesMedical care, custodial careNone
AmenitiesOften offered as upgrades – including things like housekeeping, laundry services, etcOften has community amenities like pool, fitness center, community center, etc. May offer services like housekeeping, laundry, etc
ActivitiesTypically offers onsite activities, may offer off site excursions. May offer onsite activities, may offer off site excursions
PriceAverage of $4,300 / month. Can increase / decrease significantly based on location and amenitiesWide array depending on services and amenities offered. 
Covered by long term care insuranceIf there is an existing plan in placeNo
Covered by medicareNoNo
Licensed and RegulatedOften Not Licensed or Regulated 

Onsite Services, Amenities, and Activities

Both types of facilities offer different services and perks for their residents. Both provide amenities to help with everyday activities like basic housekeeping services, help with meal prep,  laundry, services, and making and keeping appointments.

Assisted living, however, also tends to the medical and self-care needs of residents, such as medication administration, bathing, and dressing. Because medical staff are available around the clock. Often, assisted living facilities are organized in apartment-style living whereas independent senior living may allow for living in condos, townhomes, single-family homes, etc.

In independent living communities, residents are typically able to cook for themselves while residents in assisted living communities often have their meals prepared for them by professional cooking staff and may have the option to eat cafeteria style or in their own rooms. While independent living may offer full-service kitchens with professional staff, this is typically not the case.

Both types of facilities often organize community events and activities in common areas, such as holiday events, support groups, outings, and game nights, and also arrange for transportation for appointments or errands.

Level of Medical Care 

As mentioned before, assisted living facilities offer greater levels of medical care than independent living facilities. Although independent living residents can often receive medication reminders, there is no full-time medical staff to see to medical needs.

Some individual independent living facilities hire contracted second parties to meet certain medical needs for their residents, but this is not the case with every facility.

Assistance with Everyday Living 

In assisted living, residents are assisted with activities of daily living or ADL. These include hygiene and self-care activities. However, assisted living staff does not provide support for intense medical issues, like serious mental or physical illness.

Continuum of Care 

Assisted living is the only one of the two that offers round-the-clock care and available support. At least one medical practitioner, often a nurse, must be on the premises at all times, meaning that all medical issues can be cared for immediately.

In the same way, if an assisted living resident progresses in an illness and needs a higher level of medical care, some assisted living facilities make allowances for upgrading their care while allowing them to stay in the same facility.

In independent living, the staff operates on normal shifts. There may be overnight security or staff on the premises, but they are generally not awake and on-call for all hours.

Price and Insurance

While independent living caters to convenience and lifestyle without medical support, these communities often offer luxury and high end amenities. Non-luxury communities are often cheaper than assisted living as there is a lower level of care, but luxury amenity focused communities are often significantly more expensive than assisted living. Independent living is generally not covered by insurance.

 Assisted living is often covered by long term care insurance, provided there is an existing policy in place, but is typically not covered by medicare, though medicare will pay for a short term stay at a skilled nursing facility. The average cost of assisted living in the United States is $4,300 per month. This price is highly influenced by the location and amenities offered and can cost significantly more. 

Long-term care insurance can help offset this cost, but the long-term care policies typically cost $2,000 to $9,000 per year – this can be expensive, but is typically significantly less than the cost of long-term care.

Related: Cost of Assisted Living & Does Long Term Care Insurance Pay For Assisted Living


What is the difference between independent living and assisted living?

Assisted living offers round-the-clock care, including activities of daily living (ADLs) and medical care. Independent living reduces a senior person’s responsibilities and focuses on convenience.

What does independent living mean?

Residents live in condo- or apartment-style, self-sufficient housing while receiving support for housekeeping or errands needs.

Does insurance pay for independent living?

Often, insurance doesn’t cover independent living facilities, although they are less expensive than assisted living facilities.

Related: Paying for Assisted Living

What does an independent living facility provide

These facilities provide hospitality and amenity services, including help with laundry, on-site meals, transportation, and community events.


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