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4 Main Differences between Independent and Assisted Living

If you are thinking about moving to a senior living community, you will want to consider the primary reasons you are considering the move and subsequently consider the primary services these communities offer. Currently, the services offered across the continuum have created a gray area where a variety of different options are possibilities. This is because the desire to “age in place” has created subtle changes in communities where over time they have additional layers of services to their offering in order to allow residents to stay there longer. While this is a great strategy to retain residents, it doesn’t mean it is the best option for you. Choosing between Independent and assisted living depends on three things: your current needs, anticipated needs and the timing of both.

  1. Size and features of the physical community:  Independent Communities are generally larger and can be overwhelming to someone who is experiencing confusion or is relocating to a new city to be closer to children. On the flip side, these communities offer numerous groups for social engagement including bridge clubs, travel clubs, outings, etc. Assisted Living communities generally have fewer units (less than 100) and can be as small as 30 units. Having fewer units is often more comfortable for one who can get confused or lost. They also appeal to someone who gets overwhelmed with large groups of people. Independent communities usually have more common space and features such as swimming pools, exercise rooms, community store, arts and crafts rooms. While assisted living will have some common space, it is unusual to see a lot of physical amenities. Many assisted living communities are secure and require a code to enter and exit. This is for the safety and security of residents. Independent communities are usually gated and offer concierge services but are not considered “secured.”  
  2. Living Accommodations: Independent Communities have larger apartments and can have full kitchens as well as washers and dryers. Most assisted living communities have kitchenettes with a small bar sink and a microwave and a small refrigerator. While both will offer a/c and heating, assisted living usually have window units where independent offer central heat and air. Both AL and IL typically have pull cords for emergency (bathroom and bedroom) and in IL residents may be offered a pendent which allows them ability to reach a staff person in the event of an emergency. 
  3. Hospitality versus Healthcare focus:  Independent communities often offer supportive living health services, but these are secondary to their primary focus, which is dining, social activities, safety and transportation. For this reason, Independent communities tend to be larger complexes (90 units or bigger), which tends to make them more social.  Because healthcare is not the primary specialty, a strong dining program is a critical offering.
  4. Staff or Labor:  The number one difference between Independent and Assisted Living is the availability of medical support services, i.e. caregivers and nursing support.  Independent communities typically offer 24-hour emergency service (not medical) where assisted living offer services ‘on demand’ – care services 24 hours a day whenever it is needed. The difference is stark. Having caregivers on staff and available for routine assistance is the number one difference and is reflective in the monthly rental fee. This is the primary reason for the variance in pricing in assisted living and Independent Living.  

Ultimately, the pendulum is likely leaning in one direction or the other. If you don’t need any help or you know when you need help, for example getting ready for bed or you can schedule your assistance, you will still qualify for independent living. However, if you find that you are not sure when you will need assistance for example, you need help getting up and down or if you need assistance getting to or from the bathroom. You are probably a better candidate for assisted living. Having the staff on hand to support you when you need it versus when you think you need it is the niche assisted living was designed to serve.

If you are not sure which is better for you please contact us today and we will be happy to offer you a free consultation and assessment to help you understand which is right for you.