Independent Living vs. Assisted Living: How to Choose

◆ Your retirement years are supposed to be filled with rest, relaxation, and fun times. You’ve worked hard all your life, and now it’s time to reap the rewards! For many retirees, part of that process is letting someone else handle the necessities when it comes to living arrangements. Instead of having to worry about the upkeep on a family home that is filled with happy memories but is an empty nest today, lots of retirees choose to downsize and move to a retirement community. Not all retirement communities are created equal. While there are dozens of different types, for the most part you can separate them into two core categories: independent living communities and assisted living ones. Choosing which is best for you can be a challenge, especially if you’re not sure of what the differences are between the two. That’s why we’ve got the perfect guide for you. Read on to understand the differences between independent living vs. assisted living, and how to choose one over the other. Let’s begin!

The Difference Between Independent and Assisted Living

For the most part, the differences between independent and assisted living communities may seem rather self-explanatory: independent living communities are for those who can live more independently, with few advanced medical or adaptive services included, while assisted living communities are for those who need a greater level of assistance with medical needs and/or daily life. An independent living community is, in just about every case, similar to a gated or planned community made up of detached or semi-detached housing units or apartment complexes, sometimes with its own dedicated clubhouse and other amenities like a pool and an exercise room. These communities usually have a 55-years-or-older requirement for anyone looking to move in. They are excellent choices for healthy, active retirees who would like to downsize to a smaller, less expensive home where trash removal, maintenance, landscaping, and other expenses are bundled together in a monthly cost.

Click here to read What is the Average Cost of a Senior Independent Living Community?

Assisted living communities, meanwhile, are more tight-knit. Often existing as a number of semi-detached building units or an apartment complex, an assisted living community provides individual living spaces for retirees that are less independent due to medical or mobility constraints. Assisted living communities tend to have on-call medical staff, offer physical therapy on-site, and often provide more organized events for residents to support not just their physical but their emotional and mental well being as well.

It All Comes Down to Personal Requirements

Based on these succinct descriptions of what constitutes an average independent living community and how your typical assisted living community differs, it should be easier to decide what might be a more appropriate choice for you or your loved one. That being said, there are a number of personal requirements that might influence your decision, some of which might seem more or less obvious than others. One of the biggest factors when it’s time to decide on a retirement community is cost. Independent living communities will tend to be more affordable in some situations, especially if you’re comparing the initial cost of your new home and its monthly upkeep fees to what you’re paying currently for your living arrangements. In fact, many retirees will finance their move to an independent living community by selling their existing property and using the proceeds of the sale. In comparison, assisted living communities tend to be more expensive than independent living communities, simply because the range of medical services they offer to residents are unavailable at their independent living counterparts, and require more funding. Both types of living arrangements can be financed through property sales in the same way, but in many cases an independent living community will seem to provide a bigger bang for the buck upfront, since it is lacking the healthcare costs. Of course, that can become an issue if down the line you suddenly need more medical care.

Click here to read How Much Money Do I Need to Retire?

Is There a Best of Both Worlds Scenario?

It’s rare indeed that the needs and circumstances of a retiree don’t change over time. Highly active seniors might not need much when it comes to a place to lay their head at night, but as they get older they might need more amenities than an independent living community can provide. At this point, you would have little option besides contracting a home health aide or moving to a more appropriate facility, both of which might pose financial burdens. In many cases, this scenario is being circumvented by hybrid types of retirement communities that incorporate aspects of both independent and assisted living. Communities that provide a continuity of care, often called continuing care retirement communities, have the ability to provide as little or as much care as a retiree might need throughout the entirety of their retirement. What this means is that you enter the community as an independent retiree, enjoying the amenities such as pool or fitness center or on-campus art or pottery classes, but as more health needs arise, you are able to get the care necessary within the same community, in essence converting your independent living situation into an assisted living one. And if your medical concerns pass, you can return to independent living. This approach, known as a CCRC, has become a popular choice with modern retirees, perhaps setting the stage going forward when it comes to the types of retirement communities that are going to be available in the future.

Click here to read Does a CCRC Make Sense for You?

The Choice Is Yours

In the end, your choice of retirement community is entirely up to you, though of course your finances and personal needs will influence that decision. At least now you should know the major differences between an independent living community and one that provides assisted living services. Which one is right for you will be specific to your circumstances and other related issues, such as whether you want to live near relatives or in a specific climate. Yet whether it’s an assisted living community, an independent living community, or a hybrid community that provides continuity of care, be sure to choose living arrangements that will support your desired lifestyle and allow you to enjoy your retirement to the fullest. It might not be any of these options at all: you might want to age in place, move in with your children or grandchildren, or even just sell everything you own and travel around the country in an RV. The choice, in the end, is yours. For more information on retirement, read these articles by Acts Retirement-Life Communities:

Can I Afford Retirement?

Retirement Myths vs Reality: What You Need to Know

Should I Sell My House When I Retire?