The Arbor Company Senior Living Blog

The 5 Main Differences Between Assisted Living and Independent Living

Dec 20, 2017 7:00:00 AM / Julie Hull Julie Hull


The dizzying array of senior living options can be overwhelming. For seniors in reasonably good health, the distinction between assisted and independent living can be especially puzzling. Both options tend to emphasize independence, active living, and a sense of community. In both assisted and independent living, seniors typically have their own apartments or condos. Yet there are some key distinctions between the two models of senior living. Here’s what you need to know—and how to choose.

Daily Amenities and Services

Assisted living communities are structured around providing seniors support when and where they need it. Most seniors live in an apartment in close proximity to other community members. There is often help available 24/7 with the simple push of a button, and seniors can get help with basic life tasks, including:

  • Shopping and meal preparation
  • Cleaning
  • Remembering medications
  • Bathing and grooming
  • Making and keeping doctor’s appointments

Assisted living exists on a continuum. Some communities offer more extensive care than others. Many provide a range of services that change with a senior’s needs and health.

Independent living does not provide medical care or nursing support. The focus is instead on convenience and an active life. For instance, a senior might be able to order meals or eat at an on-campus cafe but is unlikely to get help making nutritional meals or remembering medication.

Which type of senior living option is right for you? Take our quiz to find out!

Medical and Supportive Care

Assisted living is a good alternative for people who are no longer able to live alone, but do not need intensive nursing care. Independent living preserves a senior’s independence, and does not provide access to medical or nursing care.

Independent living can provide some peace of mind to people who no longer feel comfortable living alone. People with medical conditions that do not undermine the basic activities of daily living may thrive in this environment. But when people are no longer able to tend to their basic needs, make good decisions on their own, or function without the help of loved ones, assisted living offers medical support.

Access to and Contact with Staff

In an independent living community, seniors might not have regular contact with the staff, unless they sign up for a meal or other service. In these communities, a senior’s involvement with the staff is largely dependent on the senior’s preferences. Someone who eats every meal in the community center might frequently see the staff, but someone who prefers a quieter existence might forget the community even has staff.

In assisted living, staff are there to monitor and check in on residents. While they don’t diagnose medical conditions, they will stay in touch with seniors to ensure they’re thriving. If a senior appears to need more help, the staff may drop by more frequently or talk to the senior’s family. One of the primary benefits of assisted living is that it offers families peace of mind that someone is looking out for their loved one.


Independent senior living communities are a living preference—not a form of senior care. Assisted living, by contrast, greatly expands upon the level of care a senior can expect at home. Because of these more extensive services, assisted living tends to be more costly than independent living. Assisted living is also more likely to be covered by long-term-care insurance, employee benefits programs and Medicaid.

Continuum of Care

Seniors living in assisted living communities need some degree of support. That may be something as simple as regular check-ins with a staff member, or more extensive support such as help with bathing and grooming.

In many cases, seniors who choose assisted living communities have degenerative health conditions like Parkinson’s, dementia or cancer. They may eventually need more extensive care, so many assisted living communities offer options to transition to nursing or dementia care. In some cases, a senior may even be able to continue living in the same place as his or her needs change.

Some independent living communities are associated with assisted living and similar options. But many seniors in independent living communities will lead long and healthy lives, without the need for additional care. So it’s less common for independent living providers to offer an extensive continuum of care.

Which Is Right for Me?

You don’t have to be in perfect health to choose independent living. Likewise, you don’t need to be severely ill to decide assisted living is the better option. So some seniors struggle with the right choice, especially when it feels like a close call. Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • Would my health be at risk if I had to spend a few days alone in my home? If the answer is yes, you may need assisted living.
  • Am I lonely, but otherwise healthy? If yes, then the increased sense of community of independent living could be the best option.
  • Am I relying more on my children or spouse to run errands or address regular needs? If so, assisted living could bridge this gap in needs.
  • Do I have a serious medical condition? Assisted living can help if you have a serious diagnosis, particularly if that diagnosis is likely to get worse.
  • Has my doctor expressed concern about me continuing to live alone? If so, consider assisted living.
  • How do I feel alone in my home? If you are anxious, this might mean you need assisted living. If you feel confident in your ability to care for yourself, but bored or lonely, independent living could be the superior option.
  • Have I let any daily activities, such as cooking, cleaning or bathing, fall by the wayside? Do I worry that these basic activities could be dangerous, due to a fall or other concern? If so, assisted living can offer some help and peace of mind.

Arbor offers a wide range of senior living options. We preserve seniors’ independence at every assistance level, by partnering with seniors and their families to construct a care strategy and living arrangement that meets seniors’ needs and comfort level. We can help you decide what’s right for you, then explore options for funding it. Ready to get started? Let’s talk. Give us a call or come by for a visit.

Learn more about senior living options and find the right fit for your  situation with this interactive quiz.

Topics: Assisted living, Assisted Living vs. Independent Living

Julie Hull

Julie Hull

Julie Hull is the Regional Vice President of Sales for The Arbor Company.

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