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


Exploring new living arrangements for yourself or for an aging loved one can be a bit overwhelming. You want what’s best, and you’re likely to run into various types of senior care options, housing, and living situations. And you might have some questions.

A common one is the difference between assisted living and independent living. We’ll guide you through those differences and also cover the criteria for independent living so you’re fully informed and can make the best decision for you or your loved one.

What is the Difference Between Assisted Living and Independent Living?

The difference between independent living and assisted living is that independent living gives seniors more freedom and flexibility in their everyday lives, while assisted living offers additional support and assistive services that help seniors with daily tasks. Finding the right fit depends on thorough communication and research.

Independent Living

With independent living options, you’ll have a wide range of housing options to choose from. Whether it’s apartment-style or housing co-ops, independent living communities offer more options to fit a range of needs and preferences.

You may also see independent living referred to as:

  • Active adult community
  • Senior apartments
  • Retirement community or home
  • 55+ community

Typically, residents will have their own private living area with community spaces available for gatherings and social activities. These communities generally have amenities similar to apartments, townhouses, and small homes.

Assisted Living 

The most common type of assisted living is apartment-style housing with individual units that each have their own full kitchens. Assisted living arrangements have a wider range of personalized care plans that you or your loved one can take advantage of. Housekeeping and daily prepared meals are also common in assisted living facilities.

The Difference Between Independent Living and Assisted Living Care Services & Amenities

Both independent and assisted living arrangements offer residents care options and amenities that best fit their needs. That being said, a big difference between independent living and assisted living can be categorized by their care and amenity services.

Independent Living Care and Amenities

Independent living communities focus on making everyday life easier for their residents. Folks leave behind the hassle and headache of home ownership to live the active, vibrant lives they envisioned in retirement.

Hands-on care isn’t a focal point for these communities. They instead emphasize centralized hospitality services for socialization. They want to create an engaging and enjoyable living environment that removes everyday chores and responsibilities that already may be harder for aging residents to perform.

Independent living facilities will not typically have a full-time medical staff or custodial personnel available to tenants around the clock.

Assisted Living Care and Amenities

Assisted living care services aim to help residents with activities of daily living (ADLs). These include everyday tasks like dressing, bathing, laundry, and taking medication. These communities generally have teams that work both day and night, and there’s usually at least one medical professional, like a certified nurse practitioner, at the facility or on call at all times.

Most of the time, these staff members are not intensive hands-on care personnel or have the experience to manage severe physical ailments or serious mental illnesses. Typically, families and care teams will collaborate with specialized staff to ensure their loved ones are receiving the care they need, or they might look into more supportive living arrangements for residents who have circumstances that require more intensive care.

Amenities for Both Independent & Assisted Living

Recreation and social engagement play a big role in many senior living arrangements since community-based activities promote a healthier lifestyle. You’ll likely come across some of these popular amenities and activities:

  • Game nights
  • Care clubs
  • Exercise groups
  • Spiritual activities
  • Interactive technologies
  • Music
  • Support & discussion groups
  • Therapy
  • Continuing education

Many communities also offer transportation services and shuttles, helping residents go to shopping centers, movies, grocery stories, and doctor’s appointments.

Independent Living vs. Assisted Living Costs

Both independent living and assisted living options have upfront costs. But there’s a pretty drastic difference between independent living and assisted living when it comes to what your payments cover and when your insurance might come into play.

Independent Living Costs

Like most living arrangements, the primary cost of independent living is rent and utilities. There are typically various meal plan options as well, so there could be additional payments depending on any add-ons or specializations you select.

Assisted Living Costs

Most assisted living communities have base rates, which include rent, utilities, and some basic services like housekeeping or meal plans. Many residents at assisted living facilities require specialized care or even one-to-one support, and that wouldn’t be covered in the basic cost. These supplemental services are typically an in-house option for residents in both assisted living and independent living communities.

If your loved one starts requiring more care, it may result in higher costs at their assisted living facility. But, in many cases, it can be a better option than forcing a big move on your aging loved one.

Payment Differences

One of the biggest differences between independent living and assisted living is how you can pay. Financial resources for aging residents are typically dependent on medical services. Since independent living communities don’t have medical services, they don’t qualify for Medicare, Medicaid, financial aid programs, or long-term care insurance providers. Independent living expenses are usually covered by:

  • Social Security benefits
  • Retirement savings
  • Pension income
  • Life settlements
  • Reverse mortgage funds
  • Annuities
  • Personal funds

Assisted living, on the other hand, tends to have more options for covering costs. Residents can use many of the options listed above, including Social Security and personal funds, but they’ll also have the option to use long-term care insurance policies and veterans’ aid programs.

Medicare doesn’t cover assisted living situations, but Medicaid does help some low-income seniors with financial aid. Medicaid assistance will depend on the state your loved one lives in, so make sure to do some research if you’re hoping to use Medicaid to cover some costs.

What’s Best for You or Your Loved One?

As you learn the difference between independent living and assisted living, it’s important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. The best home depends on the individual circumstances surrounding their living situation.

It is important to consider whether your loved one meets the criteria for independent living. They should be mentally and physically capable of living alone, and they shouldn’t have any major health conditions that require continuous or extensive care. If your aging parent or loved one mostly just wants to avoid the hassle of daily chores, but they’re perfectly capable of living alone without major safety or health concerns, independent living may be a fine option.

If safety is a prime concern, though, for why you’re considering senior living, or you know there need to be medical professionals close by, assisted living may be the better fit.

We’re Here to Help

Don’t make an educated guess. Consult with your loved one and their medical professionals to make the right call. When you’re looking for the best option, ask questions, engage with staff, and ensure it’s the safest and best possible living arrangement. Reach out to us with any of your questions regarding senior living. Our team can help you find the best community for you or your loved one.