A Place for Mom

Assisted Living vs. Independent Living: What’s the Difference?

Danny Szlauderbach
By Danny SzlauderbachMay 13, 2020
Two elderly couples walking in the park outside their independent living community

For retirees considering senior living options, remaining independent is one of the main concerns. Staying in your longtime house is comfortable and familiar, so it often feels like the ideal scenario. But it can be isolating, and it requires regular maintenance and endless chores. Health issues can make all those household responsibilities more difficult.

Moving into a retirement community, though it may seem like a daunting or restricting change, can actually allow retirees to take advantage of a newfound freedom — even those who need some assistance with daily living routines. But which type of senior community fits your needs?

Let’s look at the differences between assisted living and independent living communities.

What is assisted living?

Assisted living is a good option for seniors who need help with some daily tasks and want a socially fulfilling and active lifestyle.

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Assisted living communities typically provide:

  • Apartment-style living, some with mini-kitchens
  • Help with cleaning, laundry, and activities of daily living (ADLs) like bathing, grooming, and medication management
  • Restaurant-style dining, happy hours, and senior activities based on residents’ interests
  • Day trips and transportation to local stores and entertainment

Keep in mind that assisted living communities usually have health standards for admitting new residents. For example, those who require 24-hour medical care may need a different type of senior living arrangement, such as a nursing home.

Who can benefit from assisted living?

An assisted living community may be the right decision for seniors who:

  • Need minor nursing assistance but don’t require 24-hour medical care
  • Are looking for senior social activities and new friendships
  • Need help with daily activities like dressing and bathing
  • Are in good health currently but know they’ll need more help soon
  • Prefer an active life but don’t have access to transportation

How much does assisted living cost?

The median monthly cost of assisted living was $4,051 a month in the United States in 2019, according to Genworth’s 2019 Cost of Care Survey.

Assisted living costs depend on many factors, including:

  • Size of apartment (studio or a one- or two-bedroom apartment, private or shared, etc.)
  • Types of services needed
  • The level of luxury
  • Where the community is located (Assisted living in the Northeast usually is more expensive than in the Midwest and Southeast.)

Often, assisted living communities charge residents a flat rate covering basic services, with additional fees for special services.

What is independent living?

Independent living communities — often called retirement communities — are for seniors who can live on their own, without any daily assistance, and want to live among people their age.

While sometimes there may be overlap between independent living and assisted living communities in terms of minor care services offered, independent living usually means that residents are self-sufficient and don’t need hands-on care.

Think of an independent living community as an age-restricted (typically 55+) community, often with organized activities, meal services, and transportation.

Independent living offers:

  • Community involvement
  • Amenity-filled, maintenance-free living
  • On-site and off-site activities, like yoga, gardening, or dancing
  • Basic services like meals, laundry, housekeeping, and transportation

Retirement home and other names for independent living

You might hear people refer to independent living in other ways, including:

  • Retirement community
  • Independent senior living community
  • Active senior living
  • Active adult retirement community
  • Retirement home
  • Active senior community

“Senior apartments” are another type of independent living. They’re for residents 55+ and offer similar amenities to a typical apartment complex.

Who can benefit from independent living?

An independent living community may be the right decision for retirees who:

  • Have the physical and mental capacity to live independently
  • Don’t want to worry about home repairs or lawn care
  • Are looking for opportunities to meet people their age
  • Would enjoy a bustling, communal atmosphere
  • Want easy access to services and activities geared toward seniors

How much does independent living cost?

As with assisted living, the cost of independent living depends largely on location and amenities.

The median monthly cost for independent living in 2018 was $2,552, according to A Place for Mom’s Senior Cost of Living Index.

It’s important to ask each community about their individual costs and services, as they vary by community. For example, concierge and guest services may be included at some communities for an additional cost.

How do I learn more about senior living?

Finding the right senior living option means matching your loved one’s budget, needs, and preferences with a community in their desired area. At no cost to you, our Senior Living Advisors can help you discover senior living options that are a fit for your family.

Danny Szlauderbach
Danny Szlauderbach

Danny Szlauderbach is an editor and content writer at A Place for Mom. Since 2010, his work in strategic communications has spanned across several industries, including education, technology, and financial services. He’s a member of ACES: The Society for Editing and a graduate of the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Kansas.

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