The Difference Between Assisted and Independent Living

Marci Diehl 2015-08-29

The idea of staying in your home as you age may sound attractive. But more and more seniors are exploring other options – especially with so many types of senior living communities now available.

The choices can be overwhelming. How best to find the right combination of supporting independence while also giving assistance and care that may be needed? Here’s where to begin.

The choice between independent and assisted living depends on how well an individual can manage his or her needs — or the needs of a loved one — without extra assistance. Think about tasks such as preparing meals, managing medications, completing household chores, personal hygiene, driving/coordinating transportation and maintaining personal finances.

What is Independent Living?

You’ll find many names for it: an independent living community, an active adult community, senior apartments, retirement community, 55-plus community, retirement home, continuing care Retirement community. Whatever the description, this is a distinct kind of lifestyle with the goal of maintaining the highest level of independence.

It offers some key advantages over staying in one’s home. Residents enjoy maintenance-free living in a safe environment in their own apartment or living quarters, while still having access to any assistance they might need or choose. People who are able to care for their daily needs and (if necessary) the needs of their partners, with few medical problems, are ideal candidates for independent living.

Typical services at independent living communities may include:

  • Restaurant-style dining with custom meal packages. Residents may choose one, two, or three meals a day in the community dining room. Or they can cook their own meals at home.
  • Hospitality services, such as housekeeping and laundry.
  • Private transportation to shopping, doctor appointments and entertainment.
  • Opportunities for social engagement.
  • A professional staff on hand, if needed.
  • Recreation such as exercise classes, field trips, discussion groups, holiday celebrations and more.

What is Assisted Living?

For those who struggle with the normal daily tasks of living but don’t require the high level of care of a nursing home, there’s assisted living. Specialized types of assisting living include: enhanced living, special needs, Alzheimer’s care, and memory care. Residents still maintain their independence but have a higher level of personal care available, according to their needs.

Residents can live safely in their private apartment and may have a full or partial kitchen. According to, assisted living communities with designated memory care units often have increased security (e.g. locked doors and extra surveillance equipment) and may not allow cognitively impaired residents to have kitchens in their apartments, due to safety concerns.

The New York State Department of Health regulates assisted living communities, says Anthony Marasco, owner of GrandeVille Senior Living Community in Greece. All facilities must provide for the basic needs of the resident. There may be respite, short- term, and day-care services, as well. Some provide transportation services and a licensed nursing staff.

Services include:

  • Bathing, dressing, and medication assistance if needed.
  • Meals in a community dining room.
  • Housekeeping services.
  • Laundry services.
  • Staff available 24 hours a day.
  • Recreation and social opportunities.

Typical Costs For Independent & Assisted Living

Costs often depend on how many "bells and whistles" a community has. New construction, high-end décor, distinctive architecture, an indoor "street of shops," spa or therapy services – these may increase the monthly cost of living in independent and assisted living communities.

Some independent living communities feature studio and 1-bedroom apartments, or shared apartments with same-sex roommates to help cut costs, according to Keith Rose, director of sales and marketing at Baywinde Senior Living in Webster.

Couples pay the same rent for apartments, but most independent and assisted living communities charge a "2nd person" fee for services on top of the rent, Rose explains.

Be sure to ask about services that are included in the monthly rental and those that come with an additional cost. Plan ahead: visit different places, and discuss finances and options with the communities to find the right place for yourself or a loved one.

Independent Living communities are mostly private pay. Depending on what additional services a resident chooses on top of rent, the monthly cost can vary widely.

  • Price ranges across New York State: $1,500- $6,500 per month. The average is $3,895.
  • Some communities require you to buy into the community with a large "endowment" fee, which goes back to the individual’s estate after he or she passes away.

Assisted living is regulated by the New York State Department of Health, and all facilities must provide the same services – none are a la carte.

  • Payment sources are mostly private pay through savings and personal funds, certain long-term care policies, annuities, veterans benefits, reverse mortgages, and other means. Find out how Medicare and Medicaid may or may not figure in.
  • Price ranges in the Rochester area, from $2,100 to $6,495 monthly. The average cost is $3,443 a month.

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