What are the Differences Between Independent Living and Assisted Living?

Navigating the living options available to older adults can be a confusing and cumbersome process. It’s a lot of information to absorb during a time when someone is considering one of the biggest and most stressful moves of their lives. Here, we tackle some of the differences between independent living and assisted living, as well as help people understand the best option for them or their loved ones.

What is independent living?

Often referred to as 55+, active-adult or retirement communities, independent living options are available to older adults who can live independently and do not need on-site medical care or assistance with activities of daily living, such as bathing, toileting, eating, grooming or taking medications. Instead, this senior living level creates communities where people of a generally homogenous population live in separate dwellings with certain communal features and amenities, such as pools, libraries, pickleball courts, gyms, cafes, salons, movie theaters, restaurants and dining halls. Independent living communities also provide services that alleviate daily responsibilities for older adults and make their lives easier, such as lawn care, landscaping, home maintenance and repairs, house cleaning, laundry and surveillance security. This is often the first step for older adults who no longer want to manage a household or are looking to downsize.

What is assisted living?

This type of living arrangement is available to individuals who are not able to live independently, have health or mobility issues and need assistance accomplishing activities of daily living, including those related to nutrition, hygiene and medication management. In this type of senior living community, three meals and snacks are provided every day (though those who can cook and have kitchens have the option to prepare meals for themselves), medical professionals are on-site and available 24/7 for standard care, as well as emergencies, and members are checked on multiple times per day. However, unlike nursing homes, assisted living facilities do not offer constant monitoring or hospice care and, therefore, are not suited for those with serious mental or physical issues that require extensive around-the-clock care. In some cases, those with early onset Alzheimer’s disease or dementia may be suitable for assisted living until their condition worsens. In which case, some assisted living facilities also offer long-term memory care options on the same grounds. When it comes to assisted living, family members are relieved of caregiving responsibilities, as all of the older adults’ needs are met by those who work at the facility.

What are the living arrangements?

Those who live in an independent living community can choose from a variety of housing options, including single-family homes, condos and apartments that range from studio spaces to three-bedroom units. Designed for self-sufficient older adults, this type of living option includes a kitchenette and private bathroom. Meanwhile, most assisted living options are apartment style. Floor plans vary and may not have a kitchenette, but they do include a private bathroom (unlike nursing homes where communal bathrooms are common). Many assisted living spaces also have pull-cord systems in the units that members can use to alert a staff member to send for help. In both types of living arrangements, spouses can live together and — depending on the rules of the individual facility or community — allow pets.

What are some other similarities?

Both independent and assisted living arrangements offer opportunities for socialization and feature an array of activities and events, such as bingo, game nights, field trips, on-site exercise classes, holiday celebrations, movie nights, support groups and continuing education options. Although many independent and assisted living arrangements allow people to own their own cars and drive, both options also offer transportation services for those who want/need help getting to grocery stores, shopping centers, doctor’s appointments or attending community activities. Family and friends are welcome and encouraged to visit members in both types of living communities.

What are the costs?

Depending on the location and various amenities that the members utilize, the costs of independent living and assisted living varies greatly. But, in general, independent living is cheaper due to the lack of assistance that is necessary for daily activities. However, independent living is not considered senior care and, therefore, cannot be covered by Medicare, Medicaid or long-term care insurance. This type of living must be paid with personal funds. When it comes to assisted living, some communities may allow members to use Medicaid, VA Aid or long-term care insurance to help offset the costs.

Which option is right for you or your loved one?

Determining whether independent living or assisted living is the best option should be based upon a person’s ability to complete essential daily activities and care for themselves. It’s important to assess one’s daily schedule, functional abilities and current and future health needs before deciding what’s right for them. Some signs that may signify it’s time to consider assisted living instead of independent living include the inability to: drive or engage in alternate means of transportation; meet personal hygiene needs; operate household appliances; get around on their own; remember to take medications (and dose themselves properly); pay their bills on time; bathe, groom or dress themselves properly (and in clean clothes); or engage in adequate dental care.

When it comes to navigating the complex world of senior living, it’s most important to choose the option that provides the highest possible quality of life. At Upside, we believe in leveraging technology to layer on services, experiences, simplicity, community and safety to enhance the quality of life for older adults everywhere and ensure they age in the right place. Connect with an Upside Advisor today to learn more about this new and exciting alternative to traditional senior living.

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