Dear Donna:

I’m hoping you can help me determine what type of care might be most beneficial for my mother. My dad passed away last year after a long battle with cancer. During his final years, she was very busy caring for him and had little time for herself. Now that he is gone, she doesn’t seem interested in reconnecting with friends and family. She’s also lost weight and experienced a few falls.

Her primary care physician thinks it’s just part of the grieving process. As her daughter, I think there is more to it. She and I have discussed how lonely she feels, and I’m pretty sure she is willing to consider moving to a senior living community. I started doing some research. However, I can’t figure out the difference between independent and assisted living or which one might be the best fit for my mom.

Can you help clarify what these types of care entail?


Beth in Saginaw, MI

Independent Living Versus Assisted Living

Dear Beth:

Great question! I can definitely help explain a few similarities and differences between these two popular types of senior living.

Let’s start with independent living. These communities are often a good fit for seniors seeking freedom from the burdens of homeownership and/or an opportunity to be more social. Because housekeeping tasks and maintenance chores are handled by staff, residents have more time to pursue their interests.

These communities often plan and host travel groups, life-enrichment activities, continuing education classes, and wellness programs. They also make it easy for residents to connect with volunteer opportunities on-campus or in the local area. Some additional benefits include:

  • Healthy meals: Cooking for one can seem like too much work for many single seniors. It can lead to a reliance on unhealthy convenience foods or skipping meals entirely. In an independent living community, chef-inspired meals are usually included.
  • Wellness: Staying active and engaged is easier for residents because a variety of physical activities are offered each day. These often include walking groups, yoga, Zumba, weight training, stretching classes, and workouts in an on-site fitness center.
  • Friendships: As you mentioned, adults who live alone often feel isolated and lonely. With a move to an independent living community, a resident usually expands their circle of friends. Residents have a chance to meet new people through both formal and informal gatherings.
  • Transportation: While these services vary by community, most have either on-site transportation staff or team members who can help coordinate transportation needs. That’s a helpful service for adults who’ve limited or given up driving.

The Benefits of Assisted Living

In addition to the benefits outlined above, assisted living communities offer residents a helping hand to live their most independent life. By providing support with the activities of daily living (e.g., grooming, bathing, and medication management), the staff at these communities helps protect resident health and safety.

Common services found in assisted living communities include:

  • Support with personal care, such as bathing, grooming, and dressing
  • Assistance with toileting and continence care needs
  • Medication management
  • Housekeeping, laundry, trash removal, and maintenance

It’s important to note that an assisted living community isn’t the same as a nursing home. Assisted living residents need help with personal care and daily tasks, while those in a nursing home usually have more complex medical needs. In a nursing home, skilled care is typically delivered by nurses, physical therapists, and other medical professionals.

I hope this gives you a better understanding of the basics of independent and assisted living, Beth! Please call a Heritage community near you if you have any questions or would like to schedule a private tour for you and your mom.

Kind regards,