In your research on retirement homes, you will see that there’s more than one type of senior living community and that there are countless options! Along the way, you may run into two main categories: independent living and assisted living. 

Though you may get a sense of what these retirement home types offer based on their names, you may still have questions like “Do elderly people in independent living communities get any basic assistance with laundry or meals?” or “Do elderly people in assisted living automatically get a caregiver?” Basically, what IS the scope of “independence” and “assistance” in these two categories? 

If you’re reading this article, you might be faced with a decision to make about retirement living options. We will cover the differences of independent living vs. assisted living to help ensure you have the information you need to be a step closer to making the right choice. 

Let’s break it down:

 An elderly woman on a wheelchair speaking to one of the healthcare staff in an assisted living facility

Clarifying the Terminology

Both independent living and assisted living are known by alternative terminologies. 

Independent living can also be referred to as:

  • 55+ communities
  • Retirement communities
  • Active lifestyle communities
  • Senior apartments

While assisted living is also known as:

  • Supportive housing
  • Retirement care
  • Congregate care

The Differences

1. The Residents 

The main difference between independent living vs. assisted living is the type of elderly residents that they are suited for. 

Independent living is best for healthy, active seniors who do not need assistance with daily tasks like personal care, eating, grooming, and similar practices. Plenty of seniors who live in this retirement setup go by choice—usually driven by the desire to be surrounded by other like-minded seniors who want to maintain an active and engaged lifestyle.

Meanwhile, elderly persons who need to be in an assisted living setup are mostly independent but still require (or will soon require) assistance in some aspects of day-to-day living. However, they do not require hands-on specialized care. 

Note: assisted living should NOT be confused with residential care homes wherein seniors would typically have live-in caretakers to assist with most (if not all) daily tasks. 

2. The Type of Homes Available 

For both independent living and assisted living retirement homes, homes can take on different shapes and sizes. The commonality, however, is that these homes are smaller in size and thus easier to maintain. They can be apartments, condos, townhouses, or even small houses in a sprawling community. 

One difference, however, is that homes in assisted living communities tend to be modified according to the elderly person’s special needs. This is because assisted living communities typically have occupational therapists among their staff who would recommend such changes—that is, if there are any aspects of the house that impede the elderly person with daily tasks and thus need to be optimized. 

3. Basic Assistance (Housekeeping, Meals, Laundry, Transportation) 

In an independent living community, assistance for housekeeping, meals, laundry, and transportation are commonly available but are optional. Meanwhile, in an assisted living community, these are definitely included in the assistance given to elderly residents. 

4. Specialized Assistance (Medication Management, Personal Care, Etc.) 

Specialized assistance like medication management, personal care, and etc. are typically NOT included in an independent living retirement setup because independent living is meant for healthy, active seniors who are not in need of these. 

However, in an assisted living retirement setup, these various forms of specialized assistance are typically given to elderly residents:

  • Medication management
  • Mobility assistance
  • Personal care
  • Incontinence care

5. Access to On-Staff Healthcare Professionals 

This is not a typical feature of an independent living community. However, an independent living community may be situated close to a hospital or a clinic facility where the elderly residents can drop by and receive any due checkups or medical attention. 

On the other hand, assisted living communities typically give residents access to visiting or on-staff healthcare professionals such as the following:

  • Physicians
  • Nurses
  • Occupational therapists
  • Physical therapists

Group of seniors in a community

The Similarities

1. Amenities 

One commonality between independent living and assisted living communities are the various types of amenities that can be available. Some common amenities include activity centers, fitness centers, swimming pools, walking paths, gardens, and so on. All of these are designed to enrich the lives of elderly residents

2. Sense of Community & Socialization

Another commonality between independent living and assisted living setups is the strong sense of community. Social activities, classes, and hobby clubs are common. There’s also plenty of chances to socialize on a daily basis by just keeping active in the various available amenities. 

Need Help in Putting Together a Plan?

We understand that options for retirement living can be overwhelming. Even after getting an idea of what level of care that your elderly loved ones would need, the sub-options still abound after that. So we’re here to help you zero-in on the best choice!

As one of the leading providers of full-service senior living transitions, we at Your Next Steps can assist you with planning a relocation to a retirement home and all the next steps after that. So let’s get started! 

Contact us today.