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What is the Difference Between a Senior Living Community and Independent Living?

“Independent living” and “living independently” sound similar but actually have different meanings for older adults. Living independently simply entails continuing on as always in your own home, whereas independent living represents a choice within the range of senior living communities.


Senior Living Levels

Senior living is an umbrella term that incorporates the aspects of independent living, assisted living and memory care. Traditional nursing home facilities fall outside the senior community realm.

Here are basic categories of senior residence types, with some overlap among them:

  • Independent living. For active older adults with little to no need for personal care or assistance, independent living settings such as apartments or villas offer meals, services, activities and social gathering sites that promote ease, convenience and a sense of community for residents. There may be an onsite or on-call health care provider available.
  • Assisted living. For older adults with health or mobility issues requiring more support, assisted living residences offer services such as medication management and assistance with personal activities such as toileting, grooming and dressing. Services typically include meals, housekeeping, laundry and transportation. Activities that foster mental and physical stimulation and social engagement are a major focus in assisted living.
  • Group homes .  Also known as adult family homes, these relatively small residences are located in regular neighborhoods, where licensed caregivers provide meals and assistance with personal activities like hygiene and dressing for about six to 10 older adults, frequently with some level of cognitive impairment. Often, these are single-level homes to make mobility easier and avoid fall risks from stairs.
  • Memory care. Memory care may be necessary for older adults with cognitive impairment or dementia. Safety and security are a paramount concern in memory care residences. Staff or team members undergo additional training and development to work with these residents and provide tailored activities and programs to connect with them wherever they are cognitively and emotionally day to day.
  • Continuing care retirement community. Also known as life plan communities, CCRCs represent a specific product line encompassing a spectrum of residence and care levels that can range from independent living through assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing facilities. CCRCs represent a significant financial investment, typically requiring an upfront membership fee known as a buy-in.
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