Independent Living vs. Assisted Living: Key Differences and How to Decide Which One is Right For You

“Riding off into the sunset” to enjoy the Golden Years is an age-old rite of passage–but sooner or later many retirees find themselves faced with the decision of where to live as they grow older. There are many senior living communities for adults 55+, but how do you decide what option is right for you? In some cases a crisis–such as the death of a spouse or a medical scare–forces the decision sooner rather than later.

For many older adults, maintaining independence through retirement is the number one priority, but living alone in their home is no longer a good option. Taking care of a house can become difficult and unmanageable, creating concerns of safety and security. For these reasons alone, the most common choice is to move to a senior living community. Before you make your decision, though, it’s important to know the difference between the two most common types: independent living and assisted living.

What is Independent Living?

Independent living means just that: you are able to live on your own without assistance with walking, grooming, medication management, or other basic life skills. Many seniors move into independent living communities to take advantage of amenities such as activities, housekeeping, and meals. No longer having to maintain a home is one of the biggest motivating factors in choosing this option. Even though many have their own vehicle, Independent Living communities offer the convenience of transportation to shopping, dining, and medical appointments.  

What is Assisted Living?

Assisted living communities offer assistance with daily living such as medication, showering, grooming, mobility, or other basic needs–all while enjoying the same amenities that make independent living attractive. Often, medical staff at these communities offer around-the-clock care from resident assistants or other caregivers that provide peace-of-mind to families that their loved one is safe and secure. Many assisted living centers offer apartment-style living with special enhancements, such as low-step showers and assistive bars designed with safety in mind, and include on-site therapies and other wellness programs that enhance cognition and quality of life.

Choosing the Right Level of Care for You or Your Loved One

Even though there are many similarities between independent living and assisted living, there are some distinct differences that you should take into consideration when making your decision. With all the options available for seniors, trying to find the best option can seem overwhelming–but with the right information, it can be much easier.

Ultimately, choosing between independent living and assisted living is determined by the needs of the senior.The biggest difference between independent living and assisted living is the medical oversight and resident caregivers provided with the assisted living option. Is bathing or dressing becoming too much of a chore? Are meals being eaten regularly? Is medication management becoming difficult? 

If the answer to these questions is yes, assisted living is probably the best choice. Bringing medical professionals and other trusted healthcare partners into the conversation can provide peace of mind and address concerns during the decision-making process. In some cases, the needs of an individual could be too acute for independent or assisted living, requiring a higher level of skilled care. Prolonging the decision until you or your loved one is too sick or in poor health only compounds the issue of finding the right senior living environment.

Both independent living and assisted living afford opportunities for socializing, meeting new friends, and experiencing new adventures with others at the same life stage. By letting go of the burdens of owning and maintaining a home, seniors are better able to enjoy their retirement years and time spent with those they love. Once you’ve decided which level of senior living is best, it’s important to make appointments to tour different communities and ask questions that you will need to feel confident you are making the right decision.

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