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

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A graphic that displays the differences between assisted living and independent living

Independent and assisted living communities both offer thoughtfully designed housing, senior-friendly amenities, daily meal plans, and exciting social activities. But there is one major difference between these senior living options: Assisted living provides seniors help with activities of daily living (ADLs), like bathing and dressing, while independent living is for those who can complete daily tasks without assistance. Both communities cater to residents’ individual needs in unique ways.


Assisted living communities

Assisted living communities provide long-term housing and personalized health care services for seniors. Unlike services in independent living, assisted living services are for residents who require some additional support like medication management, help with personal hygiene tasks, and mobility assistance. Today, there are more than 810,000 Americans residing in assisted living communities who enjoy senior-focused benefits and amenities.[01]

Assisted living communities provide:

  • Apartment-style living
  • Assistance with ADLs like bathing, grooming, and eating
  • Housekeeping and laundry services
  • Restaurant-style dining, daily snacks, and happy hours
  • Event calendars of assisted living activities that are developed based on residents’ interests and passions, including day trips to explore local community offerings like dining and entertainment
  • Local transportation that allows residents to run errands, shop for groceries, or attend off-site medical appointments

It’s important to ask about the staff-to-resident ratio in a prospective assisted living community to learn how readily available staff is to residents.

Assisted living communities usually have certain health standards for admitting new residents to make sure that a person’s medical needs are within the community’s abilities. For example, seniors who require a high level of medical attention, including 24-hour care, may need a different type of living arrangement, such as a nursing home.

Sometimes people use similar terms to refer to the various types of senior living, which can be confusing. The terms “assistance,” “assisted,” or “facility” are a good indication that the community offers minor medical assistance but not full-time care. Other terms people use to refer to assisted living communities include:

  • Assisted living facility
  • Assisted living residence
  • Adult congregate care
  • Adult care home
  • Residential care facility


Independent living communities

Think of an independent living community as an age-restricted (typically 55+) apartment complex with additional conveniences for seniors. Independent living communities usually feature organized activities, as well as meal and transportation services. Some communities may even go above and beyond with housekeeping and errand services.

While there may be overlap between independent living and assisted living communities in terms of amenities, independent living usually means that residents are self-sufficient and don’t need hands-on care.

Independent living communities offer:

  • Community involvement
  • A continued sense of self
  • Amenity-filled, maintenance-free living
  • On- and off-site activities like yoga, gardening, game nights, and devotional services
  • Basic services like meals, laundry, housekeeping, and transportation

Many independent living communities also allow, or sometimes offer, independent home care services. This can be a great help for seniors having a scheduled medical procedure, or who need extra help for a short period of time but don’t feel ready for a move to AL.

You might hear people refer to independent living in different ways, emphasizing the vibrant and active senior living lifestyle found in these communities. Other common terms for an independent senior living community include:

  • Retirement community
  • Retirement home
  • Independent senior living community
  • Active senior community
  • Active adult retirement community
  • Senior apartments

A diagram displaying the cost difference between assisted living and independent living

The nationwide median monthly cost of assisted living is $4,807, according to A Place for Mom’s 2023 partner community data. Comparatively, the nationwide median monthly cost of independent living is $3,000.[02]

It’s important to ask each community about their specific costs and services, as it’s not uncommon for costs to fluctuate annually or monthly. Assisted and independent living costs depend on many factors, including:

  • Apartment size and style. Anticipate price differences when selecting from different floor plans, as communities may offer a selection between studios, one- or two-bedroom apartments, and private or shared rooms.
  • Types of services needed. Some services may only be available as add-ons to the flat rate, like charging for transportation services, medication management, or guest meals. Concierge and guest services may also be included at some communities at an additional rate.
  • Level of luxury offered. Some communities feature elite services like on-site personal trainers, professional chefs, or amenities like heated pools or rooftop bars.
  • Community location. For example, assisted living in the Northeast or on the West Coast is usually more expensive than in the Midwest and Southeast. There can also be differences across specific city neighborhoods.

Compare independent and assisted living costs in your area

With many factors affecting costs, you can expect a wide range of figures. Get an in-depth look at what senior living costs in your state by viewing A Place for Mom’s 2023 Cost of Long-Term Care and Senior Living report.

Which community is right for your loved one?

When deciding what community is right for you or a senior loved one, start by taking both social and medical needs into consideration. Do you need assistance with ADLs but want to remain as active as possible? If so, an assisted living community can meet both of those needs. Are you hoping to leave behind trivial chores and live among other active adults with shared interests? Independent living has you covered. Once you identify what’s most important — whether food and fun or friendships and wellness — you can more easily discover which particular community will be the best lifestyle fit.

An assisted living community may be the right decision for seniors who:

  • Need help with ADLs and minor nursing assistance but don’t require 24-hour medical care
  • Are in good health currently but know they’ll need more help soon
  • Are looking for social activities and new friendships
  • Prefer an active lifestyle but don’t have access to transportation

An independent living community may be the right decision for retirees who:

  • Have the physical and mental capacity to live independently
  • Don’t want to worry about home repairs or lawn care
  • Are looking for opportunities to meet people their age
  • Appreciate their privacy
  • Would enjoy a bustling, communal atmosphere
  • Want easy access to services and activities geared toward seniors

The table below makes it easy to compare the biggest differences between assisted living and independent living.




Assisted living  

Independent living


Care and medical assistance Help with activities of daily living (bathing, dressing, etc.), medication management, and some on-site medical care No caregiver assistance
Cost Median monthly cost of $4,807 nationally, which may change depending on the amount of care a resident receives Median national cost of $3,000 per month
Amenities and activities Designed with senior residents in mind, with amenities and activities offered with resident interest in mind. Expect to find a movie theater, fitness classes, and special interest clubs.  

Designed to make life more convenient for senior residents. Activities are driven by resident interests, and may be geared towards residents with an active lifestyle.


A diagram that displays assisted living versus independent living and who it is for

Understanding the difference between assisted living and independent living is essential to keeping you or your loved one healthy, active, and safe. Whether daily assistance from caregivers is needed or you’re eager for the freedom granted by independent living, there are communities across the country that offer top-notch services and amenities.

You may have a better idea now of whether independent living or assisted living is the best fit for your loved one. Or, you may have other concerns, such as a recent dementia diagnosis, that may affect your decision. If you’re unsure about which kind of senior living is right for you, consider these resources:

Choosing the right senior living community is a big decision, and it’s not to be taken lightly. Sometimes talking through your options can be helpful. A Place for Mom’s free-to-you Senior Living Advisors can help. They’re well-versed in all types of senior living and offer tailored, local information for your needs.

Here’s what you can expect when working with an advisor:

  • They’ll help you determine what’s most important to you in a community, whether it’s a fun communal atmosphere or concerns about safety.
  • They’ll discuss your care needs and concerns, if applicable.
  • They keep your budget in mind when recommending communities.
  • They can compare services and amenities across communities with you.
  • They assist with scheduling tours across all your prospective communities.

Most importantly, our service comes at no cost to you or your family.

Optimized by A Place for Mom senior copywriter Rebecca Schier-Akamelu.

This article originally appeared on APlaceForMom and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

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