Three older adult women sit outside smiling and drinking coffee.
Knowing the similarities and differences between independent living and senior housing can help you make the best decision. Photo Credit:

If you are an independent older adult who would like to live in an active community with peers, enjoy a low-maintenance lifestyle, and have a more manageable home, you might find yourself researching senior housing or independent living for seniors. While these two options share some similarities, knowing the differences between them is key and will help you make the best decision.

Living spaces in independent living and senior housing

Any resident in independent living or senior housing will have a home of their own in the community. Independent living communities, however, often offer multiple options for floor plans that feature updated, modern kitchens, well-appointed finishes, and individual heat and air-conditioning control. In addition to a traditional apartment option, some independent living communities offer townhomes, carriage houses, cottages, or even single-family homes for residents to choose from.

In contrast, senior housing typically has only apartments available. There might be a few floor plans to choose from as well, but it is less common to find modern finishes and upgraded kitchens or bathrooms in a senior housing building.

Community amenities of independent living and senior housing

Both independent living and senior housing communities offer shared spaces for residents to use. Independent living communities, however, typically offer more resort-style amenities and spaces. For example, you might find bocce ball courts, putting greens, saunas, or swimming pools in addition to fitness centers, libraries, and patio areas.

You’ll find some simpler shared community spaces and amenities in a senior housing building. There might be a library, a recreation or activity room, and an outdoor space to promote socializing among residents.

Care and assistance at independent living and senior housing

Senior housing and independent living communities are designed for active, independent residents who do not require assistance with activities of daily living; however, you might find a nurse with office hours at an independent living community. Residents can stop by to ask questions or check their blood pressure. It is also common for independent living communities to have on-site physician office hours for local primary care doctors or specialists. 

Senior housing buildings typically do not have a nurse on staff and will not have physician office hours scheduled. They usually welcome physicians for visits in the home as necessary.

Neither independent living nor senior housing communities have around-the-clock caregivers. In fact, caregivers are typically not on staff at all. If residents require additional support, they might be able to pay out of pocket to have an in-home caregiver, but this might be subject to approval by the facility’s management. 

Services at these communities

Residents of senior housing and independent living no longer have to worry about the tasks that come with homeownership. For example, both communities take care of landscaping, maintenance of apartments and shared spaces, and chores like snow removal. 

Independent living communities take it a step further by offering residents housekeeping visits, transportation services around town, concierge services, and dining opportunities. It is uncommon to find senior housing buildings that offer these luxury services.

Independent living communities typically have at least one on-site restaurant. Residents can choose to eat in the dining room with neighbors or to prepare their own meals in their homes. It’s also common to find independent living communities with a bistro, coffee shop, bar, and grab-and-go store.

Dining services in senior housing are less common, though there might be special meals a few times per month that residents can opt into by purchasing a meal ticket. Some senior housing communities also offer continental breakfast spreads a few times per week.

Events and activities at senior living communities

Both of these communities offer residents the opportunity to connect with neighbors and make new friends. This is one of the biggest benefits of independent living and senior housing.

Senior housing communities often have a monthly activity calendar, though they might not have a dedicated life enrichment director or other events staff. There might be daily activities run by residents or volunteers.

Independent living communities typically employ a life enrichment director and staff members dedicated to curating and creating an active monthly event calendar. There are multiple activities and events offered daily, led by residents or by life enrichment staff. 

[Read More: When to Move to Independent Living or Senior Housing]

Staffing at independent living and senior housing

Independent living and senior housing communities have staff that keep the building running and serve residents. You’ll find an executive director and security at both independent living and senior housing communities.

Independent living communities employ a variety of senior living professionals. Employees might include a concierge, front desk representatives, a marketing and sales team, life enrichment staff, chefs and other dining staff, housekeeping, nurses, and more.

Senior housing buildings are more sparsely staffed, though you will typically find a maintenance crew, security, and management at the community during business hours.

Residents who live in independent living and senior housing

People who live in senior housing and independent living share many similarities. They are designed for adults over the age of 55 or 62, depending on the location. Both communities have residents who are active, are searching for opportunities to connect with neighbors, and can complete activities of daily living independently.

Cost of independent living and senior housing

While both senior housing and independent living typically bill residents a monthly fee that covers rent, utilities, and access to services, there are some differences in overall costs. Senior housing communities are often less expensive than independent living. Senior housing buildings might have maximum income requirements to ensure that they rent to people needing affordable housing. Depending on the community, residents might be able to pay with a HUD waiver or use other affordable housing programs.

Independent living communities are more expensive than senior housing options due to the luxurious, resort-style environment and extensive amenities. They do not typically accept HUD waivers or other affordable housing funds. Still, prospective residents of independent living communities have several options to help cover the cost

Senior housing and independent living communities offer several advantages to active older adults looking to downsize their homes, simplify their household chores, and socialize with peers. The amenities, services, and activities of each can give seniors a low-stress, more fulfilling lifestyle, but each has its own benefits. With an understanding of the similarities and differences of independent living and senior housing, you’ll be able to make the choice best suited to your situation.