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Assisted Living vs Independent Living: Everything You Need to Know

Whether it’s been living in the same house for years, or a series of moves to follow a career, the passing of time will eventually cause many of us to rethink our living arrangements – or those of an aging parent. Enjoying life in familiar surroundings is almost always a first choice, but life and circumstances change. Issues with advancing age, or simply a desire to decrease the burden of home ownership can be the catalyst for a search for senior living options.

But how do you start? The first thing to know is that there are a wide range of options available to you, but for many, the search begins with understanding the difference between independent senior living and assisted living.

Although the two choices share some similarities - beautiful living spaces, enjoyable amenities, and friendly neighbors - knowing their differences can help you choose wisely. Here is everything you need to know about assisted living and independent living.

Differences in living accommodations

Small apartments and patio homes are the most common types of independent living options available in independent living communities. Assisted living residences are generally limited to one bedroom or studio apartments and offer enhanced safety features.

Independent living housing options

There are many types of independent living options, from apartments to housing living options. Typically, seniors live independently in their own private home or apartment and use community areas for gatherings.

“An independent living community is a wonderful way to make that next step in removing all responsibilities of home ownership but still having your own space and your own home to live out your best years of your life,” said Elderwood Residences at Cheektowaga Property Manager Allyson Krajna.

Individual units are suited for seniors who are able to live independently and offer similar amenities to small homes, townhouses, or apartments.

Assisted living housing options

Apartment-style assisted living is the most popular living arrangement in assisted living. Apartments with bedrooms are available in many facilities, as well as studio options. Depending on safety concerns, individual kitchenettes may or may not have appliances.

In addition to grab bars and emergency call buttons, rooms typically feature other safety and accessibility features. Many assisted living communities cater to adults with memory impairments so additional safety features are built into these communities. Some may even include “secured” memory care units to prevent wandering.

Services and care provided in assisted living and independent living

The level of medical and supportive care offered in assisted living differs from that in independent living.

Services provided in assisted living

Assisted living communities are designed with the increasing medical needs of residents in mind. An assisted living facility is designed to provide assistance to seniors who need assistance with activities of daily living or “ADLs.: ADLs may include bathing, dressing, and medication management.

“It’s important to ensure the licensure at the assisted living can meet your loved ones needs now or potentially in the future,” Elderwood Director of Operations Assisted Living Facilities Eric Bernard. “There are different assisted living options ranging from adult home to memory care and enhanced assisted living. Families should look for an assisted living that is eager to learn more about their loved ones needs.”

Residences have staff members available around-the-clock. Seniors with serious health conditions are unlikely to receive intensive hands-on care in assisted living, instead, they receive care in skilled nursing facilities.

Services provided in independent living

Independent living facilities strive to facilitate the day-to-day lives of their residents so that they can remain independent for as long as possible. In independent living, seniors receive minimal assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs). Medical care and manual assistance with ADLs are not provided as a service in independent-living communities.

These settings typically offer landscaping, housekeeping, and security surveillance. This allows seniors the ability to enjoy life without the responsibilities of home maintenance. Independent living does not feature medical staff available full-time.

Amenities available in assisted living and independent living communities

Assisted living and independent living provide recreational activities tailored to their residents’ needs and preferences. Activities include movie and game nights, day field trips, group activities, happy hours, breakfasts, dinners, holiday celebrations, and senior-specific exercise classes.

In addition to providing transportation services, both senior living options usually provide some assistance in getting to and from doctor's appointments, grocery stores, and other destinations. Each community, however, is different in this regard.

How assisted living differs from independent living

The majority of assisted living buildings are self-contained and designed to meet the needs of all residents. For seniors with mobility limitations, many communities have single-story buildings with widened doorways. Independent living communities often provide a separate building or area for communal gatherings – not unlike a condominium common area.

The key to beginning your search is to understand your immediate and longer-term needs. While there is sometimes an overlap in the profiles of independent and assisted living residents, the predominant driver in which type of community is appropriate is medical. If personal and medical assistance is required to live safely and securely, assisted living is likely the best option. If home maintenance or isolation are the biggest issues, the security and comradery of an independent senior living community may be the best option.

The financial commitment for assisted living and independent living

Assisted living is usually not covered by health insurance or Medicare, except in limited situations. The resident usually pays for long-term care, even though some long-term care insurance may cover it.

Independent living costs are strictly private pay.

If you are unsure about your options, connecting with a skilled nursing or assisted living professional can help. Seniors can find ways to budget for senior care to help prepare for the future.

When may it be time for seniors to consider assisted living while residing in independent living

There may come a time where the day-to-day tasks of keeping up independently are too much. Life transitions can be planned or unexpected. Whether the next step is assisted living or skilled nursing, it’s important to have a support system and trusted senior living community in mind as you go through making important decisions regarding senior care.

“We have residents as young as 65 and as old as 96 living in our independent living community and they are all truly independent,” said Krajna. “When it gets to a point where they need help with things such as bathing, and medication management, I feel it is a good time to start thinking about the next step – unless they have the means to hire in-home aides or have family to come in and help them. We also keep in contact with families as I notice things such as memory issues occurring that way, they stay in the know since I am here so often.”

At Elderwood we know the way and can help you through life’s transitions. For specific questions regarding assisted living and independent living options near you, click here.


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