The Choice: Assisted or Independent Living?

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As we age, the thought of having to give up some of our independence may frighten us and give us pause. The question that often arises is, “Will I be able to live on my own for the remainder of my life or will I need to transition to assisted living at some point?”

The answer can be found in how well you can manage daily activities without extra assistance. These daily activities include attendance to personal hygiene, preparing meals, managing medications, doing household chores, driving and taking care of your personal finances. If you or someone you love struggles with any of these activities or more, it may be time to consider an assisted living community.

Independent living is a great option for people who can still handle those activities of daily living but appreciate access to assistance when needed. Independent living communities typically provide a safe living environment coupled with minimal assistance. Certain hospitality services may be offered, such as meals, laundry and housekeeping; they’re usually available whether or not they’re a part of the monthly rental.

Assisted living, which is a licensed provider, is an ideal choice for individuals who struggle with those daily activities at home. They may need this help due to medical reasons or it may just be they are no longer capable of doing some of these things on their own. “Usually, these providers have a licensed practical nurse on premises,” said Harry G. Baum, EdD, president of Sharon Lane Skilled Nursing. “The facilities also provide meals, direction and prompting on dressing, taking medications and all other activities of daily living. The regulations in most states require that the individual resident must be able to see their own path to safety in an emergency.”

The living space is similar to an apartment. These living communities may also have specialized memory care spaces for seniors who struggle with cognitive impairment and the communities may even have increased security measures in the form of extra surveillance and locked doors. Some units may not have any kitchen amenities at all, primarily due to safety concerns for the residents.
Do not confuse assisted living with giving up an independent lifestyle, however. Residents who live in an assisted living community enjoy their independence, but at the same time receive ongoing support for a greater range of daily activities. The monthly rental of an apartment typically includes housekeeping and maintenance services, laundry services, transportation, meals and utilities. Additionally, assisted living communities offer an abundance of opportunities for continued social engagement with a calendar of regular activities and outings.

With independent living, there are numerous housing arrangements available, from apartment-style communities to housing co-ops. For the most part, residents in such facilities live in their own private spaces with access to common areas where they can interact with other members of the community. They’re also called active adult communities, senior apartments, 55+ communities or retirement communities. Since this option is designed for seniors who can live independently, the features and amenities are comparable to those found in a small home, townhouse or apartment and vary depending on the cost of the residence. No health care is provided, and independent living apartments are not regulated by any agency.

Both types of living arrangements generally offer recreation schedules unique to the facility, its residents and their abilities. These may consist of game nights, field trips, discussion groups, exercise classes, holiday events and education courses. Transportation services are also available to take residents to and from various errands and appointments.

It can be overwhelming to find a new living arrangement as we grow older, especially when there seems to be such a wide range of options available. Senior care exists on a spectrum, with independent living recognized as the least restrictive residential option. Above that, assisted living is minimally restrictive but offers assistive services and supports.

What’s right for your situation? It all depends on your needs or your loved one’s needs. Some communities offer both assisted and independent living options, giving residents the chance to adjust their lifestyle as needed as they get older and their abilities change.

When choosing senior living options, be sure to plan with the future in mind. While you or your loved one might not need a certain level of assistance at this time, you don’t know what the future holds. Ideally, you should tour the communities you are considering and speak with staff members as well as residents to acquire the information you need to help you make the best decision. ■

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