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Vs. Independent Living
Assisted Living vs. Independent Living and Retirement Communities

Many seniors have the mindset that assisted living facilities are for adults who cannot perform day-to-day activities on their own, while independent living communities are for those fully capable of administering self-care.

When deciding which one is best for you or a loved one, a critical piece of information you need to know is this: Are the changes in you or a loved one due to age, and do the changes adversely impact the ability to live safely and favorably each day? Once you know the answer, it will better guide you to whether an assisted living or independent living community is best for a person.

Care Level Needed

The most significant difference between assisted living and independent senior living is the level of care service provided by the community. It's a fact that independent senior living residents are able to live on their own with limited assistance and without around-the-clock supervision, whereas an assisted living community will offer access to multiple levels of care services including 24/7 skilled nursing, the kind provided at nursing homes.

No longer are older adults expected to live an institutional lifestyle to have their care needs met. Nor are they expected to give up an independent lifestyle either. Thankfully, seniors are given many choices to help them create a rich social, recreational, and cultural life, even in the event they increasing need help along the way.

What's offered at assisted living communities?

Sevices Offered
Sevices Offered

For adults who need help with the activities of daily life yet wish to remain as independent as possible, assisted living is their best choice for a safe and healthy lifestyle. Assisted Living residents usually enjoy similar features and amenities as people who live in an Independent Living community, but with the option to increase personal care assistance when the time comes. These personal assistance and care services include help with bathing, dressing, grooming, and medication assistance.

Services at the assisted living facility may increase or decrease as you need.

Assisted Living Fees

The Assisted Living monthly fees typically includes three meals a day plus snacks, weekly housekeeping, and laundry service. Some but not all assisted living communities include utilities, a 24-hour emergency call system, interior and exterior maintenance of residences, common areas and grounds, a full calendar of social, cultural, educational and recreational activities, 24-hour staffing, and scheduled transportation in the monthly fees.

The residents may select from a variety of living floor plans - each offering all the comforts of home including fully equipped kitchens, washer/dryers, wall-to-wall carpet, window treatments, individual climate controls and covered patios.

What's offered at independent living communities?

Independent Living is for adults who wish and are able to live independently while benefiting from the rewards of an enhanced social, cultural and recreational lifestyle. Independent Living or retirement living residents delight in the freedom of living life on their own terms within a service-enriched environment - free from the burdens of home maintenance concerns. Independent Living residents do not need routine care services to remain safe and happy.

At times, Independent Living residents have options to choose services that support an independent lifestyle by selecting care services strictly for comfort and convenience, not because they need it to live safely.

Services can include: Medication reminders, Assistance with grooming, Personal laundry, Scheduled escort and mobility assistance to and from appointments, Social engagement activities, Pet care and walking services, and Check-in services

Independent Living residents may also select from a variety of floor plans or apartment designs - each offering all the comforts of home including fully equipped kitchens, washer/dryers, wall-to-wall carpet, window treatments, individual climate controls and covered patios.

Safety and Independence
Safety and Independence

Independent Living Fees

Typically, the monthly fee includes a full breakfast plus choice of lunch or dinner daily, weekly housekeeping and laundry service, all utilities, 24-hour emergency call system, interior and exterior maintenance of residences, common areas and grounds, a full calendar of social, cultural, educational and recreational activities, 24-hour staffing and scheduled transportation.

1. When is the right time for assisted living?

As people get older, small things, like tying shoes, cooking, lifting heavy pots, or getting in and out of a bathtub, become very difficult. Often times the burden of proof that a person can no longer live independently and safely on their own falls on an adult child, but how does anyone know when it's the right time for assisted living?

There are many tell-tale signs to watch out for if you think it's time for a loved one to move:

  • Spoiled food that doesn't get thrown away.
  • Missing important appointments.
  • Unexplained bruising.
  • Trouble getting up from a seated position.
  • Difficulty in walking, balance and mobility.
  • Confusion when performing tasks.
  • Forgetfulness.
  • Infrequent bathing and decline in grooming habits.
  • Dirty house, extreme clutter and dirty laundry piling up.
  • Late payment notices, bounced checks and calls from bill collectors.
  • Poor diet or weight loss.

Assisted living facilities help meet the daily needs of residents, that living conditions are safe, and that the chores and responsibilities are taken care of, including help with mail and paying bills on time.

2. When is the right time for independent living?

As people reach retirement age, they may choose to modify their lifestyle. Retired seniors have many options for leisure and recreation, especially if they are active with no mobility and chronic health concerns.

Here is a checklist to assess if now is the right time for independent living:

  • You and/or a spouse live alone and the house is too big for you.
  • Maintenance of your house is too difficult and time-consuming. The idea of household chores has lost its appeal.
  • You and the neighbors have very little in common.
  • Your friends have relocated moving closer to children and grandkids.
  • Your suburbia community doesn't offer recreational activities with others your age. The wellness and health services are not easily accessible.

Independent living is a great alternative to staying at home; you will live a fuller and richer lifestyle making new friends who have the same interests as you.

Do assisted living and independent living communities offer similar services?

Before making the move to either, determine what type of community is the best fit for the general needs of your parent or loved one. There are a number of things you'll want to consider in choosing a specific community and note that the process creates tough emotions to face. Writing down questions ahead of time and using a checklist like the one provided in this article, can help maintain focus and discuss all the vital issues.

Take the time to observe the facility in action. While there, chat with residents and their family members, if possible. Ask their opinion of the facility and if they would show you around. Keep in mind that retirement communities vary in the many services and amenities offered. They're not all the same: From the ambience, the calendar of events, the cleanliness, the landscaping and grounds, and to say the least from the food served. Don't make assumptions about what the services included at every stage of care.

Remember that it is very important to comprehend what a loved one's level of care is before deciding to move. That's why it's important to talk with your loved one early on about their preferences and then visit several facilities before deciding which one-if any-is a good place for them to live.

Carol Marak
Carol Marak

After seven years of helping her aging parents, Carol Marak has become a dedicated senior care writer. Since 2007, she has been doing the research to find answers to common concerns: housing, aging and health, staying safe and independent, and planning long-term.