For retirees considering senior living options, remaining independent is one of the main concerns. Staying in your longtime house is comfortable and familiar, so it often feels like the ideal scenario. But it can be isolating, and it requires regular maintenance and endless chores. Health issues can make all those household responsibilities more difficult.

Moving into a retirement community, though it may seem like a daunting or restricting change, can actually allow retirees to take advantage of a newfound freedom—even those who need some assistance with daily living routines. But which type of senior community fits your needs?

Let’s look at the differences between assisted living and independent living communities.

What is the difference between assisted living and independent living?

Independent living and assisted living communities cater to residents’ unique needs in different ways. Learn about some of the key differences, and discover which community may fit your lifestyle best.

Assisted living communities

Assisted living is a good option for seniors who need help with some daily tasks and want a socially fulfilling and active lifestyle.

Assisted living communities provide:

  • Apartment-style living, some with mini-kitchens
  • Help with cleaning, laundry, and activities of daily living (ADLS) like bathing, grooming, and medication management
  • Restaurant-style dining, happy hours, and assisted living activities are based on residents’ interests
  • Day trips and transportation to local stores and entertainment

Keep in mind that assisted living communities usually have health standards for admitting new residents. For example, those who require 24-hour medical care may need a different type of senior living arrangement, such as a nursing home.

Independent living communities

Independent living communities—often called retirement communities—are for seniors who can live on their own, without any daily assistance, and want to live among people their age.

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

Think of an independent living community as an age-restricted (typically 55+) apartment complex, often with organized activities, meal services, and transportation.

Independent living offers:

  • Community involvement
  • Continuing sense of self
  • Amenity-filled, maintenance-free living
  • Onsite and off-site activities, like yoga, gardening, or dancing
  • Basic services like meals, laundry, housekeeping, and transportation

Who can benefit from independent living vs. assisted living?

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

  • Need minor nursing assistance but don’t require 24-hour medical care
  • Are looking for senior social activities and new friendships
  • Need help with daily activities like dressing and bathing
  • Are in good health currently but know they’ll need more help soon
  • Prefer an active life 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
  • Would enjoy a bustling, communal atmosphere
  • Want easy access to services and activities geared toward seniors

The difference between independent living and assisted living costs

The median monthly cost of assisted living was $4,300 in the United States in 2020, according to Genworth’s 2020 Cost of Care Survey.

Assisted living costs depend on many factors, including:

  • Size of apartment (studio or a one- or two-bedroom apartment, private or shared, etc.)
  • Types of services needed
  • The level of luxury
  • Where the community is located (Assisted living in the Northeast usually is more expensive than in the Midwest and Southeast.)

Often, assisted living communities charge residents a flat rate covering basic services, with additional fees for special services. As with assisted living, the cost of independent living depends largely on location and amenities, and it’s not uncommon for costs to fluctuate annually or monthly.

The average cost of independent living at Holiday Retirement, a senior living community with over 260 communities in the U.S., was $2,491 from February 2020 to February 2021. It’s important to ask each community about their individual costs and services, as they vary by community and location. For example, concierge and guest services may be included at some communities for an additional cost.


What are additional terms for independent living and assisted living?

You might hear people refer to independent living in other ways, including:

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

“Senior apartments” are another type of independent living, but those usually offer even fewer services, if any, compared to most independent living communities.

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 like a nursing home does.

These are some other ways people refer to assisted living communities:

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