As many older Americans contemplate their retirement choices, many often feel that their only options are living at home or in a nursing home. However, with the increasing population of seniors 65 and older comes an increase in choices for those who don’t wish to maintain a home or may need a little extra help maintaining their independence. Nursing homes are best for people who need individual attention and have ongoing medical issues. However, an assisted living home or independent living community may be a better fit for older adults who aren’t in that situation.

Independent living communities, also referred to as Senior Communities or Retirement Communities, feature apartment-style living with a social aspect. These communities are intended for active, older adults who do not need assistance with the activities of daily living (ADLs) or medical care.

On the other hand, assisted living provides both light medical care and personal assistance with grooming or mobility and 24-hour staff on-site to assist in emergencies. It’s similar to independent living in that residents have private accommodations and an active social calendar but are intended for people who cannot manage some daily tasks on their own.

This guide offers a more in-depth look at Independent Living and Assisted living, including typical care, amenities offered and who should consider each type of care.

Assisted LivingIndependent Living
Care ProvidedHelp with ADLs, Medication Management, Housekeeping, LaundryProperty management and maintenance services
CostApprox. $4,300 per month in the USAnnual costs run from $12,000 to $42,000
Who Should Consider ItThose who need help with ADLsActive Adults who wish to simplify their lives

Assisted Living

Consider assisted living as bridging the gap between living in your own home and care in a nursing home. Assisted living communities offer apartment-style living, either in a studio, one- or two-bedroom or companion suite, allowing spouses or long-time friends to remain together. These quarters are designed with the mobility needs of the elderly in mind, such as wider hallways, grab bars in the shower and emergency call buttons in the bathroom and living area. Light housekeeping, linen service and maintenance are included with the room and board fees. There are professionally trained staff members on-site day and night to help residents with bathing and getting dressed, mobility, including lifts and transfers and help with feeding or using the toilet.

Meals are provided, often in a dining room setting with different menu options, including dietary accommodations such as low-salt, Kosher and vegetarian, or diabetic-friendly. Many assisted living apartments also have a small kitchen area to prepare their own meals and snacks. A nurse is generally on-site during business hours to diagnose illnesses, recommend a higher level of medical treatment and oversee each person’s medication management regimen.

Many seniors experience loneliness and isolation in their later years and assisted living homes are designed to reduce these feelings. Activity Directors plan games and events throughout the week, including group outings to the community. Assisted living homes also have common gathering spaces for different hobby groups to meet, libraries for resident use and fitness centers for group classes and individual work-outs. Transportation is often provided for errands and doctor’s appointments. Some residents may still drive, so private parking is available, too. The community may have private walking paths, an area for gardening and a pool or hot tub.

The average monthly cost of assisted living is $4,300 per month, according to the Genworth Financial Cost of Care Survey 2020. However, it’s important to note that assisted living costs can vary widely by location, as well as within individual cities, depending on the amenities provided.

Assisted living accommodations are ideal for seniors who cannot live fully independently and wish to live in a community setting. While some seniors with physical limitations or medical needs may choose to hire outside help to meet these needs and thereby remain in their own home, other individuals, especially those without close family or friends nearby, may prefer the more social aspect of assisted living.

Independent Living

Independent living communities are touted as apartment-style living for active adults. Unlike assisted living, these communities don’t offer personal care or on-site medical attention. However, a property manager is often available during business hours for resident needs and maintenance service, including 24-hour emergency service. While residents may not receive medical care as part of their monthly fees, they may choose to hire a home health aide if they’re recovering from an illness or injury.

Senior living communities allow residents to come and go as they please, and many residents have their own cars. Some transportation may be provided as needed, however, or communities may be near public transportation. The communities are often built like luxury apartments, including full kitchens, private laundry space and a patio or porch. Many often feature an on-site restaurant, too, allowing residents the option to dine socially instead of cooking at home.

The social aspect is what draws many older adults to these communities. Many are appointed with common areas to mix and mingle, plus community events such as happy hours, game nights and movie nights. Swimming pools and fitness centers are often standard, and many communities also offer fitness classes. Features like an outdoor patio and barbecue area add to the sense of living among friends. Pets are often welcome, although each facility will have its own rules about the type and size of the animal.

The ability to come and go as they please and have visitors, including overnight visitors, as they desire is one of the greatest draws for independent living. Maintaining their active lifestyle and being a vibrant part of their community while eliminating many of the chores of homeownership is another reason seniors opt for independent living.

The cost for these communities is typically between $12,000 and $42,000 per year, depending on the location and the amenities provided. Some independent living homes may offer add-on services, such as a meal plan, housekeeping services and golf course memberships. Some may have other fees aside from the price for residences, such as pet or parking fees.

Independent living is best for seniors who don’t need ongoing personal or medical care and who can fully complete self-care tasks and other activities of daily life, including their own medication management or paying bills.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I hire an in-home nurse at independent living?

Yes, although these services are not included in independent living fees.

Can I have visitors in assisted living?

Each facility is different. Some may have visiting hours but not allow overnight visitors, while others may allow a spouse or family member to stay the night with prior approval.

Can I keep my pet?

Registered service animals may be the only animals allowed at some assisted living homes. In contrast, other homes may allow residents to keep a pet so long as the pet stays in the resident’s apartment. Most independent living communities allow pets as long as management approves of the animal.

Will my insurance or Medicaid cover housing in these communities?

Health insurance typically won’t pay for accommodations in independent living. However, some programs may pay for assisted living, or seniors may apply for a Medicaid Waiver in their state to help offset the costs of assisted living.