Find Community

Understanding the Differences Between Independent Living and Assisted Living

Curious about what the differences are between assisted living and independent living? Read on to more about each!

You’ll find a spectrum of senior care in a Life Plan Community (also known as a CCRC, or continuing care retirement community). Most communities offer one or a combination of “living options” beginning with independent living, moving up a step to assisted living, and then higher levels of care: skilled nursing care, rehabilitation, or memory care, depending on an individual’s needs.

Independent Living vs. Assisted Living

What is the difference between independent senior living and assisted living? Independent senior living is an excellent option for independent older adults who want to live an active lifestyle in a residential setting. The maintenance-free lifestyle removes the responsibilities of homeownership and gives them more freedom and flexibility in how they spend their time.
As seniors begin to find activities of daily living such as bathing, dressing, preparing meals or managing medications more of a challenge, assisted living may be the logical next step. It provides personalized help with activities of daily living; these are necessary tasks such as showering, personal hygiene, preparing meals, or taking medicines in the correct dosage and on time. Seniors in assisted living continue to live as independently as possible while they receive the support they need.

5 Ways to Compare Independent Living and Assisted Living:

  1. Type of Residence
    Independent senior living can be likened to living in an active adult community or 55+ community. It covers a range of housing styles, from apartment buildings to housing co-ops to free-standing homes. Seniors enjoy a private residence, and the community’s services, amenities, activities and common areas.
    Assisted living residences are often apartment-style homes. They’re smaller and simpler to navigate, and don’t feature stairs. Because this option is designed for seniors who need support with activities of daily living, the floor plan may include a kitchenette rather than a full-size kitchen, along with other modifications to promote safety and convenience.
  2. Services and Amenities
    Independent senior living and assisted living residents enjoy the same benefits of a maintenance-free lifestyle. They don’t need to worry about household chores such as housekeeping and laundry, lawn mowing or snow removal. The community takes care of all these as part of the monthly fee, along with on-site dining (typically one meal per day for independent living residents, three meals per day for residents in higher levels of living), transportation, security, and amenities that may include a fitness center and pool.
  3. Activities
    Senior living communities are highly invested in the health and well-being of their residents. Independent living residents can take part in a calendar of events and activities encouraging physical, mental, intellectual, and social wellness. Residents cook meals at home or eat in the dining room with friends, take part in clubs and committees, and attend social, recreational and cultural activities on and off campus.

    Residents in assisted living have the same access to everything within their ability, plus 24/7 support with activities of daily living. Dining services are a great convenience for these seniors if they no longer want to cook for themselves. The community may modify certain activities for assisted living residents, including offering smaller groups or customizing programs for their physical and cognitive needs.

  4. Cost
    In most Life Plan Communities/CCRCs, ( an independent living resident pays a one-time entrance fee, as well as a set monthly fee covering maintenance, housekeeping, a meal plan and activity programs. When an independent living resident transitions to assisted living, there’s no need to pay an additional entrance fee. Some communities offer light assisted living services in independent living residences. At other communities, if independent living residents at some point need to move to an assisted living residence, depending on the contract they signed when they moved in, they’ll typically see no or just a small increase in their monthly fee – sometimes only enough to cover the cost of two additional meals per day. There may be some additional ancillary costs as well.

    Because independent living isn’t a medical service, Medicare, Medicaid, veterans benefits or long-term care insurance won’t cover the cost. Seniors pay out of pocket, usually using funds from Social Security benefits, pension income, retirement savings, personal investments or proceeds from the sale of a home. Assisted living is also an out-of-pocket expense, but long-term care insurance and certain veterans benefits may cover a portion of the monthly fee.

  5. Health Care
    Independent senior living is aimed at reducing daily responsibilities but isn’t a setting for health or medical care. Family members are always welcome to spend time on campus and are there solely as visitors.

    Assisted living provides daily support on a 24/7 basis customized for the individual. It’s not the intensive hands-on medical or skilled nursing care required by those with serious or chronic health conditions. Caregivers are specially trained in providing nonmedical care and supported by a licensed nurse if medical care is needed. Care is provided in the resident’s home or in a separate assisted living part of the community. Family members may take a more active role, especially if the senior has symptoms of dementia.

What’s the right fit?

Independent living is for active older adults who are ready for a worry-free lifestyle. They can enjoy the comforts and conveniences of a senior living community, focus on maintaining their health, and spend more time with friends and family. Assisted living is for seniors who live independently but need some form of assistance with activities of daily living. With the right help at the right time in a supportive and understanding community, they’re able to stay independent longer.
As you investigate senior living options for yourself or a loved one, it helps to visit various communities in person to see the differences for yourself. You can also get more information from our blog posts that go into greater detail about independent living and assisted living.

Where You Live Matters is powered by the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA), a respected voice in the senior housing industry. ASHA primarily focuses on legislative and regulatory advocacy, research, and educational opportunities and networking for senior living executives, so they can better understand the needs of older adults across the country.