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What's the Difference Between Assisted Living and Independent Living?

When researching a senior living community for yourself or a loved one, it’s all about finding the right place at the right time. Understanding the difference between options like independent and assisted living will help you determine what’s right for you and help you decide where you will live your best life.

Here are three ways independent and assisted living differ.

Care Management

Independent senior living communities focus first and foremost on serving the social needs of senior residents, with central communal areas, recreational programming and adjunct support services to address minor needs.

While there may be similarities in the programming and educational enrichment opportunities offered in both assisted living and independent living communities, the major difference lies in services provided as part of a residential package. In independent living, seniors are responsible for contracting and paying for supportive care on their own.

Assisted living communities are for those who need assistance in activities of daily living (ADLs), such as bathing, eating, dressing, toileting and medication administration, but who also want to live as independently as possible.

One to two hours of daily personal care often is included in the monthly rent (and if it is not, it is available for an additional fee). Care needs are reflected in the resident’s service plan, which is reviewed with the resident on a regular basis. 

Assisted living also provides some nursing observation from registered nurses and/or licensed practical nurses as well as certified nursing assistants. 


Independent living communities may be designed as multiple buildings spread out on large campuses, with a central gathering area for programming and meals. Spaces, including apartments, may be larger and there is often greater distance to travel between buildings.

Assisted living facilities are often smaller and more self-contained. Many of the resident’s needs are provided right in the assisted living building. Memory programs within assisted living are even more intentional in their design. There may be, for example, enhanced lighting, color coding, visual cues, memory boxes, easy to navigate walking paths, and secure outdoor and indoor space.


Assisted living rules and regulations vary drastically from state to state. In the state of Massachusetts, assisted livings are regulated by the Executive Office of Elder Affairs (EOEA). They mandate that all communities abide by their AL regulations and they assess compliance through biannual reviews, a process not similarly required of communities that offer only independent living. 


Tara Fleming Caruso, MA, LMHC's picture

About the Blogger

Collaborative Care Advisor at NewBridge on the Charles

Tara serves as the collaborative care advisor for the NewBridge campus, making her an important resource for each of our residents and their families. Tara helps each senior moving to NewBridge both understand and access the variety of supports our continuum of care offers so each can live their best life possible. Tara brings almost 25 years of elder care experience to this role, including developing an expressive therapy program in a skilled nursing facility, serving as a program manager at a dementia-specific assisted living, and working at NewBridge on the Charles since 2009. She is a...

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Thanks for the great information. I've always been pretty confused as to what the difference was between the two. After reading this I can safely say that I know the difference. I never realized how big of difference it was either.
How easy would moving back to MA North Shore after living in So Calif for 40 years?

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