Making the decision to move into a senior care community is not an easy decision for both the senior and their loved ones. Along with the emotional challenges that come with moving, your family will also be faced with different kinds of senior living options. For this reason, it’s important to know your options.

Assisted Living Facilities and Independent Living are two of the most popular senior care options available today but most people still often confuse one with the other. It’s easy to see why since both have striking similarities:

  • Your loved one’s social circle widens since he/she is surrounded by other seniors.
  • There are activities that promote cognitive function and improve social interaction.
  • Different amenities your loved one can enjoy – personal trainers, gardens, transportation, pool, and the like, depending on the facility.

The key difference between Assisted Living and Independent Living all boils down to the level of care they provide.

Assisted Living Facility

An Assisted Living facility is mainly designed for seniors who are unable to live safely on their own. These seniors may also need extra help when it comes to the activities of daily living such as bathing, eating, dressing among other things. However, the amount of assistance an Assisted Living facility provides can only go so far.

Assisted Living residents should not require extensive care since the facility does not have a skilled nursing staff available 24/7. However, family members should not be worried as highly trained staffs are always on the premises to attend to the senior’s needs.

An Assisted Living facility generally offers:

  • Transportation services
  • Housekeeping
  • Wellness programs
  • Social activities and events
  • Medication management
  • Assistance with daily living – dressing, bathing, eating, etc.

Independent Living Facility

An Independent Living facility is designed for seniors who are perfectly capable of living by themselves. It’s very similar to a housing, but for the elderly. It’s mainly for seniors who do not want to live alone but has to leave their homes due to various reasons. Whether they want to move into a smaller house or widen their social circle, Independent Living enables them to live comfortably in a healthy, safe, and active environment.

Independent living typically offers:

  • Housekeeping
  • Landscaping
  • Meal preparation
  • Social activities and events
  • Transportation
  • Wellness program
  • Security services

The term Independent Living is also known to many as a retirement community, a retirement home, senior apartments, active adult community, 55+ community, or a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC).

Assisted Living vs. Independent Living

We’ve already established that the main difference between Assisted Living and Independent Living facilities is the level of care being provided. Let’s find out more about the differences between the two in terms of care services, living space, and various payment options.

1. Care Services and Other Amenities

Assisted Living: As you now know, assisted living extends their services to the elderly who are incapable of living by themselves but require minimal assistance with the activities of daily living, such as medication management, eating, bathing, and the like.

While assisted living is usually not staffed by medical professionals 24/7, they do have an on-duty medical professional – caregivers or nurse practitioners. Facilities make sure that there should be at least one to two medical professionals to keep an eye on the residents round-the-clock.

Other facilities also have a special memory care unit for seniors suffering from mild to severe dementia, depending on what the facility offers. However, most of them do not offer care for people with extreme health issues.

Independent Living: Independent Living aims to make the senior’s daily living easier for them. They want to provide them with a high quality of life, surrounded by like-minded individuals that enables them to live independently as long as possible. Communities typically offer basic housekeeping services, landscaping, meal preparation, social activities, and events, as well as security surveillance.

The seniors living in these communities are usually active and healthy, which is why round-the-clock care is not needed. You might be wondering why seniors move into a senior living community despite being healthy. One of the reasons why they move into independent living facilities is that they need help with household chores or they may need to socialize and interact more with other people to avoid social isolation.

Both facilities have scheduled activities for the residents. While the type of activities varies for every facility, one of the most common ones are usually:

  • Game nights
  • Group exercises
  • Field trips
  • Support and discussion groups
  • Continuing education courses
  • Holiday celebrations – 4th of July, Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving, etc.

Assisted Living and Independent Living both offer transportation services for the residents; driving them to doctor’s appointments, grocery stores, and other errands.

2. Living Space

Assisted Living: For Assisted Living facilities, apartment-style units are the most common styles available. It can either be fully-furnished or not and some rooms may have small kitchens. As mentioned, some assisted living facilities have special care or memory care units for seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

Independent Living: The living space usually depends on the facility itself. Some may opt for the apartment-style communities or a building with a number of rooms. The main feature of independent living communities is that residents have their own private living space and a common room where they can mingle and socialize with other people.

3. Payment Options and Financial Considerations

Another difference between Assisted Living and Independent Living is the modes of payment and the access to different financial resources. It’s a known fact that senior living is not cheap – it actually costs a lot of money. Your access to different financial resources is a great help in cutting the out-of-pocket costs of assisted living.

Assisted Living: Some Assisted Living facilities to ask for additional costs if the senior would need another type of specialized care other than the ones indicated in the contract, especially so when they would have to hire a medical professional to look after them.

You can make use of different financial resources to pay for Assisted Living, such as long-term care insurance policies, life settlements, reverse mortgage funds, annuities, Aid and Attendance benefits for your veteran loved one, as well as savings and personal funds.

You can also use Medicaid for financial assistance but it depends on the state you’re located. As for Medicare, it only covers a small part of the total cost. It only pays for a short-term stay that aids a senior in recovering from a surgery or temporary illness.

Independent Living: Rent is the primary cost in Independent Living communities. Additional costs apply if the community offers different recreational activities outside the Independent Living, such as private golf courses and the like. The senior will have to pay for extra costs incurred to cover for membership and/or other necessary fees.

Healthcare financial aid programs funded by the government cannot pay for independent living costs since the senior will not be receiving medical care. Alternatively, seniors may use their retirement savings, Social Security, pension income, and personal funds.

The Verdict: Which Is Better?

Ultimately, it all boils down to what you’re elderly loved one needs. If the senior doesn’t have any health complications and is capable of living independently, Independent Living facilities may be the best option for them. Residing in Independent Living means lesser chores to do and more opportunities for social interaction and activities.

On the other hand, if your elderly loved one constantly needs help with activities of daily living or if they have dementia or Alzheimer’s, assisted living should be one of their options. Rest assured that your elderly loved one will receive the attention they need while staying as independent as possible.