Follow us:
  1. Home
  2. Elder Care
  3. Assisted Living
  4. Assisted living vs. independent living

Assisted living vs. independent living

Profile picture of Danni White
by Danni White ConsumerAffairs Research Team
assisted living community

If you’re considering moving to an independent or assisted living community, it helps to know what each type of facility offers. Read on to compare their services, care levels and amenities and find the right senior living community for you.

Assisted living communities

Assisted living facilities provide assistance to help residents remain as independent as possible for as long as possible. Almost all assisted living facilities have support staff to help with activities of daily living (ADLs). These activities include:

  • Moving
  • Eating
  • Dressing
  • Bathing
  • Toileting
  • Continence

The type and level of care provided vary depending on the individual’s unique needs. Health assessments are often conducted prior to move-in so the staff has a better understanding of how to meet your needs.

If you need help with ADLs,
assisted living is the better choice.

Examples of other services and amenities that may be provided by assisted living facilities include:

  • Medication management: Assisted living facilities may help with ordering, sorting and administering medications. However, this help may be limited.
  • Laundry and housekeeping: Facilities may provide trash removal, laundry services, mopping and vacuuming.
  • Shared community amenities: Swimming pools, exercise rooms and libraries may be available at certain communities.
  • Medical staff: Nurses may be on-site to provide basic medical care. If a nurse isn’t on-site, an assisted living facility will often have an on-call nurse, nurse practitioner or doctor for emergencies.
  • On- and off-site activities: Entertainment options are generally available, but the type and frequency of activities will vary by facility.
  • Transportation: Transit to off-site activities, shops and doctor appointments may be available.

Independent living communities

Independent living communities trade off some of the care options available at assisted living facilities to allow residents more privacy and independence. These communities provide private living spaces without the housework, yardwork or maintenance demands that come with living alone.

Additional services, such as laundry, medication management and meal prep, are not offered at all independent living facilities. If these services are offered by the community, you may need to pay an additional fee.

However, independent living is generally very community-oriented. There are often numerous activities, dining options and social events that provide you with opportunities to socialize with your peers. You can socialize as little or as much as you want when you live in an independent living community.

Each independent living community controls what services and amenities it offers. These may include:

  • Landscaping: Residents of independent living communities don’t need to worry about cutting the grass, watering the lawn, shoveling snow or raking leaves.
  • Repairs and maintenance: The monthly rate usually covers any necessary repairs or home maintenance tasks.
  • Laundry and housekeeping: These tasks may or may not be offered by any given independent living community. Some communities wash and dry clothing, vacuum, sweep, dust and take out the trash for residents.
  • On-site dining: If meals are not included in the cost of independent living, residents may have the option to purchase dining services for an additional fee.
  • On- and off-site activities: The type and frequency of activities vary depending upon the community. Common activities include bingo, card games, hiking, backpacking and exercising.
  • Medical or personal care services: These may or may not be available. If offered, the facility may require you to pay an additional fee. Examples of medical and personal care services include medication reminders, meal reminders, bathing assistance and help getting dressed.

Cost of independent living vs. assisted living

Costs vary for both independent living and assisted living, depending on a number of factors. These may include the community’s available services, location, amenities and room sizes.

  • The cost of living at an independent living community can range from $1,000 a month for a basic apartment with minimal community amenities to $4,000 a month for a luxury residence.
  • Genworth’s 2020 Cost of Care Survey estimates the average cost of assisted living to be approximately $4,300 per month.

Independent living communities often operate like traditional apartment communities. They typically charge a monthly rate that covers room, board, utilities and repairs. Depending upon the community, the monthly rate may also include costs for access to activities, transportation, and amenities, such as swimming pools or fitness rooms. Independent living communities may also offer housekeeping, laundry and dining services for an additional fee.

The cost to live at an assisted living facility varies depending on the facility and whether you live in a private or shared space. However, pricing for assisted living is generally more inclusive than independent living. The monthly rate typically includes room, board, light housekeeping, laundry, access to personal care staff, dining services, activities and medication management. Additional services or specialty care may be available for an additional fee.

Both independent living and assisted living communities typically provide a detailed breakdown of what expenses are included as part of your monthly rate and what services are available for an additional fee. You can request this information if it isn’t automatically provided by the community when you receive a quote.

Compare assisted living vs. independent living

Independent and assisted living communities can have a lot in common, but there are key differences. We’ve highlighted a number of important factors below to let you see how these types of facilities stack up against each other. Bear in mind that individual facilities will vary, so check what’s available in your area for a more complete comparison.

Living space

Assisted living facilities sometimes offer fully private apartments, while others provide shared residences — shared community areas are typical. With independent living facilities, residents often can share private apartments, condos or homes with friends and family.

Family options

Whether you're living in assisted living or independent living, your family can be as involved as you want them to be. Assisted living facilities provide care that might help make things easier on your loved ones and let you spend more quality time with them, however.

Amenities

Independent living offers luxury amenities, such as swimming pools and movie theaters, as well as basic amenities like yardwork and home maintenance. Assisted living facilities provide assistance with ADLs. Other amenities vary by facility but may include laundry services, housekeeping, meal prep and cooking; shared community areas; on- and off-site activities; transportation to medical appointments; and 24-hour security.

Activities

Both independent and assisted living facilities offer a wide range of activities. These may include social activities like book clubs, game nights, exercise groups and cooking and art classes. Off-site activities and trips may also be available.

Medical services

Independent living facilities generally don't offer medical services. In-home caregiving agencies may be used to provide medical services. With assisted living, you likely will have access to basic medical care and medication management.

Daily assistance

Independent living facilities typically don't provide much personal care — they tend to focus more on general assistance, including housekeeping, emergency maintenance and security services. Assisted living facilities provide many more options for those who need extra help with ADLs. Many of these businesses have nurses on staff, meal services and emergency on-call services. Independent living generally doesn’t help with personal care.

Questions to ask about assisted living vs. independent living

Evaluating your current situation and future expectations should help you find a senior living community that provides the services and support you need. Ask yourself the following questions to better understand which type of senior living is right for you.

Am I at risk?

Would your health or safety be at risk if you were left alone for three to five days? If you answered yes, assisted living might be a better fit for you. Assisted living provides access to daily support services that help keep you healthy and safe. If you’re comfortable being alone for extended periods, you probably don’t need the level of support assisted living provides.

Is my current situation working well?

Think about the types of help or care you are currently receiving and the support you would like to have. If you only need infrequent support, independent living might be a good fit.

Do I have a serious medical condition?

If you need more frequent help or believe your care needs will change in the future, an assisted living community may be better. Assisted living communities will keep you as independent as possible, but the staff is readily available to assist with ADLs, including bathing, dressing and eating.

Independent living facilities don’t offer significant medical support or assistance. With independent living, if you need additional help because of a medical condition, you will have to rely on at-home health care services or friends and family.

Many chronic medical conditions also get worse with time, which may make an assisted living community a better choice. If your situation changes too much, you may even need to move to another senior living community that can provide a higher level of support, assistance and care.

Do I have a suitable support system?

If you currently have a strong enough support system, an independent living community may be right for you. However, if you don’t feel your current support system is working for you or you anticipate changes that may stress or burden your current support system, you may want to consider assisted living.

Assisted living is also better if you worry that your current support system might not be available to help when you need it. Assisted living facilities usually have some type of support staff available at all times.

Bottom line: Which is right for me?

There are pros and cons associated with both assisted living and independent living communities:

  • Independent living communities allow you to remain independent without having to deal with the burdens and responsibility of living alone. They provide you with a sense of community and give you an opportunity to socialize with peers. However, these types of communities may not have the support services you need now or in the future. If you eventually need additional care, you may need to transfer to an assisted living or skilled nursing facility.
  • Assisted living facilities want you to remain as independent as possible, but they provide you with help should you need it. Assisted living facilities also generally offer the same opportunities to socialize and have fun as independent living communities. However, assisted living is more expensive.

Carefully consider your financial situation, health, and current and future care needs to determine which type of senior living community is right for you.

Article sources
ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. To learn more about the content on our site, visit our FAQ page.
  1. Genworth Financial Inc., "Cost of Care Survey." Accessed April 28, 2021.
Did you find this article helpful? |
Share this article
Profile picture of Danni White
by Danni White ConsumerAffairs Research Team

As a member of the ConsumerAffairs research team, Danni White is committed to providing valuable resources designed to help consumers make informed purchase decisions. Danni specializes in content strategy and development, with over a decade of professional writing and research experience.