Ask the Expert – Independent Living Versus Assisted Living: Which is a better fit?

Independent Living Versus Assisted Living: Which is a better fit?

by Penny Lachance, LCSW-A

Q: My wife and I have found maintaining our home to be increasingly difficult and costly. We are considering downsizing and potentially moving to a senior community, but we are a bit overwhelmed and confused. Particularly, we have seen some options that list themselves as independent or assisted living. My wife and I get around all right, but we could use some help with things like cooking and cleaning. Which would be the best fit for us?

A: As I am sure you have observed in your research, the variety of senior living communities can be vast. By the sounds of it, you and your wife are on the right track narrowing your search to independent and assisted living. There are some questions you can ask yourselves to further narrow the search and make the selection that fits you best.

1. What level of care is currently needed?

As I understand from your question, you and your wife are both capable of all activities of daily living (ADLs) such as bathing, dressing and feeding yourself. However, tasks such as yardwork, cleaning and cooking are either being paid for through a service or are being personally managed. Independent living (IL) communities vary in what services they offer, as there are no state or federal regulations on what must be available. You will find that most provide a minimum of care for the yard, but many also have meals and cleaning services provided. Make sure you request a full list of services included in the cost of any IL you are interested. If you or your wife are needing any extra assistance with the ADLs mentioned earlier or struggle to remember when and which medications to take, you may want to take a closer look at assisted living (AL).

2. How do I plan on paying?

There is a common misconception regarding financial assistance for IL and AL that Medicare will aid with the cost. Unfortunately, that is not the case. In fact, IL is always a private pay arrangement. If you have a long-term care (LTC) insurance or VA benefits, be sure to review your policy for any coverage of AL costs. Government special assistance is also available for those who have an income of less than $1200/mo. IL is typically less costly than AL, but because of the great variance in IL arrangements, IL has the potential of costing more.

3. What if I suddenly need more care?

It seems that you and your wife are already having honest discussions about needing extra help- that’s great! An important question to discuss is what both your expectations are if there is a decline in cognition or physical abilities. As long as you are able to supplement the services provided by AL or IL to meet your changing needs, whether that be with private caregivers or family members, you will likely be able to stay in your residence. However, looking into a senior community that has multiple levels of care (sometimes known as Continuing Care Retirement Communities) can provide peace of mind that you will be able to stay within a community prepared to adjust to your needs.

Choosing to relocate to IL or AL is a decision to relieve some of the personal burden in daily tasks. Not only that, but it provides new opportunities for activity and socialization that can make the transition both exciting and positive! I wish you the best of luck!

Penny Lachance is a Care Manager with AOS Care Management. She can be reached at