Independent Living or Assisted Living? Making the Right Choice

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“What’s the difference between independent living and assisted living?”

When this question arises, it may be a sign that someone is stuck between “what was” and “what is.” The basic answer to this question has to do with independence, which is important to most older adults. If an adult child is asking this question with a parent in mind, rather than the parent asking the question, it is likely the parent already has lost some degree of independence.

Certain triggers cause adult children to become concerned about their parents, such as isolation and safety. Children often struggle with seeing their aging parents how they are today versus who they were in previous years. At the same time, parents often strive to keep their children from knowing too much about their current condition so they can—at all costs—maintain their independence.

This is a no-win situation. If we could predict the future of our finances and health, it would make such decisions easier, but we all know we can’t always foresee what’s to come. We must decipher many twists and turns in life as they arise and learn about the choices available as we face the realities of aging.

One choice is making a move to an independent living or assisted living community. But how do we know what each of those choices is all about and which best provides the solutions that we seek?

To help define assisted living, we need to consider a few things. Because assisted living (sometimes called personal care) varies from state to state and community to community, there is no fixed definition. In general, it’s a form of residential living with staff members who help residents with activities of daily living. That is a broad description, but because states take a variety of approaches in establishing standards, a lot of variations exist.

One thing that usually distinguishes assisted living from independent living is on-site 24-hour assistance available in the form of caregivers or nurses if a resident needs immediate help due to the status of his or her health. If a person is currently unable—either physically or cognitively—to navigate the daily tasks required to function successfully and safely, then assisted living can be a good match.

Independent living is a term designed to encompass the idea that residents live successfully on their own, just like we do in our current private homes. So why move? One big reason, since we established that we cannot predict the future, is that a move to independent living proactively puts someone in position to take care of any unexpected needs that may arise with aging, such as one-level living, meal preparation, housekeeping or transportation.

Independent living provides many amenities and services designed to offer a solution to those needs and more. Staying in control of one’s decisions means not waiting too long to make a move because communities usually have residency requirements. Waiting may mean that health changes could occur, resulting in independent living no longer being an option.

Independent living is available in a much wider variety of home styles and contract types than assisted living. A move directly into assisted living is an option for those who no longer qualify for independent living, or when some unexpected care need has arisen. Although care is available, the costs are higher than for independent living.

Choosing between assisted living or independent living isn’t just a matter of cost. Proactive older adults who want a continued quality of life that is active and engaged will find that independent living is the right fit. It is best to start with a call or visit to a community near you, or where relatives or friends already reside. If they are enjoying their life there, chances are good that you may too.

No matter where you live in an independent living community, you’ll have access to myriad activities, conveniences and the peace of mind of a continuum of care as health needs may arise. This lifestyle supports a full, active life without the burdens of home ownership and maintenance. Imagine time to do more of what you enjoy with new and old friends, such as travel, dining or fitness. You’ll have time to enjoy whatever passions that may have taken a back seat to other responsibilities.

One of the best things about retirement community living is getting well-balanced meals with lots of choices. Even for those who love cooking, occasionally it’s nice to have a meal prepared by someone else and enjoy it with friends.

Be forward thinking, act while it’s still your decision and make your life full, with less worry and stress. You are the best decision-maker for yourself. A move that is planned is far more satisfying and rewarding than a move that is necessary.

Although many differences are found when comparing assisted living to independent living, those researching it will find some similarities from which residents of either will benefit. Research has shown the detrimental effects of isolation. Even couples residing together can be lonely and suffer the effects of isolation. Living in a community means you’re surrounded by interesting people and the opportunity to meet and engage with them, both residents and staff. Another similarity is that you know that, if your needs change, they can be met in a variety of ways through the support services offered at most communities.

Independent living or assisted living both offer reduced-stress living. Deciding what’s right for the situation and person is not something to be rushed and requires thoughtful research that is ideally done when not in crisis.

If looking for yourself, no matter where you choose to live, seeing things as “what is” and not “what was” is the first step in maintaining your independence. If concerns about a family member are starting to be a worry, then it’s time to start a conversation about the options available based on his or her needs. Either way, don’t wait. Plan your visit now by contacting us at (515) 415-4401, and learn how life at CopperWood Senior Living can enhance your independence.

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