Choosing the right community: 

The difference between independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing care
Moving from the comfort and security of home to a senior living facility can have a dramatic impact on one’s life.



Gone are the familiar surroundings, habits, and routines; and friends and family may no longer be nearby.

How can family and caregivers make this transition easier? The first step is determining the best living situation based on needs and level of independence. For instance, are social activities important? Do you or your loved one need assistance with walking, eating or taking medications? Are mental stimulation and physical exercise priorities?

The answers to these questions can help you decide which type of community is most appropriate. Here’s a look at the key differences:

Independent living is an option for those who can still live independently but may need access to occasional assistance. Living space ranges from apartment-style communities to co-op housing. Residents typically have their own separate living space, with access to a common area where they can interact and socialize with other community members. 

Independent living communities provide amenities enabling residents to live on their own for as long as possible. This includes housekeeping services, meals, security surveillance, and a variety of activities and events. Most independent living communities do not have full-time staff dedicated to providing medical or nursing care.

Assisted living is for those who need ongoing health¬care assistance. They receive help with daily activities, such as bathing, walking, doing laundry, or manag¬ing prescription medications. In most assisted living facilities, staff members and a medical professional (typically a certified nurse practitioner) are on call 24 hours a day. Some assisted living facilities contain special memory care units to address the needs of residents with mild or moderate dementia. 

Both independent living and assisted living communi¬ties have regularly scheduled activities — such as game nights, field trips, discussion groups, holiday celebra¬tions, exercise classes, and education courses. They also provide residents with transportation to and from doc¬tor’s appointments, shopping, and other errands.

Skilled nursing facilities are licensed healthcare facilities regulated by a state’s Department of Health Services. Trained professionals perform medical servic¬es needed due to an injury or illness. A skilled nursing facility is sometimes called a nursing home — and the terms are often used interchangeably. Skilled nursing facilities offer both short-term rehabilitation for patients who will be able to return home or to an indepen-dent/assisted living facility, as well as long-term care for residents who need ongoing assistance with activities of daily living, such as bathing and dressing.

With any senior living community, the goal is to feel secure and content. Be sure to inquire about the options that are available in the communities you consider, and ask about the services that are included in the cost. You want to know that the facility provides the support and amenities necessary to live safely and comfortably.