Independent Living vs. Assisted Living: What's the Difference?

Today’s seniors have many options when it comes to where and how to live. Do you know the difference between the two most popular options?

Resident and health care professional together looking out the window

While similar, independent living and assisted living are not the same thing. Options from state to state and provider to provider can vary greatly. Here’s an overview of your options.

What Is Independent Living?

If you research the words “independent living” online, chances are you’ve found a variety of descriptions. That’s because “independent living” encompasses several different housing and lifestyle options for seniors. For some providers, independent living is a 55+ condo community. For other providers, independent living is apartment-style living. For some assisted living providers, residents can live in the assisted living apartment complex, but if they do not require or wish to have services, the lifestyle option is defined as independent living. Confused yet? That’s normal.

Independent living, whether in a condo or an apartment complex, is an ideal living option for those who are comfortable with taking care of themselves but are tired of pulling weeds, shoveling snow, cleaning out the gutters, or any of the other responsibilities that come with home ownership.

If you’ve ever owned a condo or been a member of a homeowners association, then you’ll be familiar with what life is like in an independent living community. The biggest difference you might notice is that independent living is solely for adults who are age-qualified.

Some independent living communities offer à la carte amenities such as housekeeping, meals, concierge services, and laundry. Some communities offer recreational programming in independent living or a clubhouse. For others, onsite restaurants or dining options are also offered. The options vary as much as the definition itself.   

What Is Assisted Living?

At some point, it might be helpful or even necessary to have some extra help with the everyday tasks of living. This might include managing and setting up medications, alleviating the burden of preparing meals, or needing assistance with other things like dressing and showering.

Assisted living also varies widely from provider to provider. Residents might live in a private or semi-private apartment. It might be a studio apartment with a kitchenette, while others offer one and two-bedroom apartments with full kitchens. Living options for assisted living can vary from state to state depending on regulations, or provider to provider depending on the levels of care they offer and the services they provide tenants.

Assisted living communities typically have one fee which includes utilities, laundry and housekeeping services, maintenance,  and meal options. They may also offer 24-hour emergency assistance along with some level of security -- whether that be cameras, secured entrances, or some other form of security that prevents solicitors or wanderers from freely walking the premises at all hours of the day and night.  

In addition to enjoying the peace of mind that comes from this maintenance-free lifestyle, residents can take advantage of a full calendar of events and activities that cater to their spiritual, physical, emotional, and social needs. Most communities also have transportation available to take residents to scheduled outings, allowing them to stay connected in their communities.

Choosing Between Independent and Assisted Living

So which option is best for you or your loved one?

Independent living is a good choice for active, healthy older adults who can get around on their own and don’t need help with activities of daily living.

“Most people living in independent living still drive to their own doctor appointments, have coffee or lunch with friends, go grocery shopping, and can manage their own medications and take a shower on their own,” says Mandy Ketcham, Community Relations Coordinator at Highgate at Yakima.

Independent living might be right for you or your loved one if:

  • The maintenance of a house and grounds is no longer a wanted responsibility
  • You have a shrinking social circle and are getting lonely living at home alone
  • Have lost a spouse and feel that joining a community of people your own age would help
  • You want to move to be closer to family but don’t want to necessarily live with them

Your loved one doesn’t have to be in perfect health to choose independent living. But if their health would be at risk if they had to spend a few days alone in their home or if they have a serious medical condition, particularly if that diagnosis is likely to get worse, you should consider assisted living.

“In independent living, there is no care contracted for residents,” Ketcham says. “So, if they fall, regulations stipulate that no one there can pick them up. We can’t even touch the resident. In assisted living, there’s care contracted. We’re here to help them in any way they need.”

Assisted living might be right for your loved one if they:

  • Meet any of the criteria listed above for independent living, and
  • Want or need assistance taking prescribed medications as instructed
  • Have multiple physicians involved in your plan of care and want assistance managing chronic health conditions
  • Suffer from a chronic health problem that is or will get worse
  • Have difficulty with a balanced, nutritious diet, or
  • Have difficulty with activities of daily living such as dressing or showering

Some communities, including Highgate, offer independent living, assisted living, and memory care all on the same campus to allow residents to easily transition between these settings as their needs increase.  

Independent Living Options at Highgate

Highgate Senior Living offers independent living villas at two of its nine communities: Highgate at Bozeman in Montana and Highgate at Vancouver in Washington.

The Villas at Highgate offer privacy, freedom, spacious ground-level living, an attached garage, garden, and fireplace. Plus, residents can enjoy all the amenities of the assisted living building, including meals in the dining room, community outings and activities, entertainment, and use of the beauty salon and spa.

“It’s great because they get to know the community so when they do need more care, they’re already familiar with the assisted living community,” Ketcham says.  

Assisted Living Options at Highgate

Highgate also offers assisted living at all of its nine communities. The Manor at Highgate offers a variety of apartment styles and sizes. Each has a kitchenette, large bathroom with walk-in shower, and an emergency call system. Residents get the helping hand they need but still live relatively independently around plenty of peers.

“Assisted living is good for anyone who wants to live a fuller life,” Ketcham says. “They think they’re going to lose their independence, but they actually gain it because they’re not worrying about the house, the cooking, the cleaning, the yard work, the bills.”

Ketcham says many assisted living residents are actually independent: “It’s becoming more common for people to move in sooner so they can age in place. They have zero services. They just play the monthly cost for rent, and don’t add on services until they need them.”

When considering senior living options, it is usually a good idea to plan with the future in mind. Even if your loved one is not in need of assistance at this point in their life, changing care needs may dictate a need for services in the near future.

“It’s always important to find out what you need, not just today, but in the next few years,” Ketcham says. “If you don’t have any foreseeable things happening and you just don’t want to maintain your own house, then you should look into independent living. If you have a loved one who needs more care now or in the future, then explore your assisted living options.”

Trying to find the best living option for an aging loved one can seem overwhelming at times, but with the right information, it can be much easier.

Options from state to state can vary depending on regulations, so we’ve pulled together some information specific to Highgate Senior Living’s independent and assisted living options.

Looking to see what Highgate Senior Living has to offer? 

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