Is there a difference between independent living and assisted living?

We often refer our patrons to centers for independent living when they are looking for services and supports in their community, which is often met with, “But I’m not looking for a nursing home—I don’t need that kind of help—that’s for old people!” So, what is the difference between independent living centers and assisted living facilities?

What is a Center for Independent Living?

Centers for Independent Living (CILs) assist persons with disabilities in their efforts to obtain independence and control over the decisions and direction of their own lives. According to the Administration for Community Living (ACL), Centers for Independent Living (CILs) are consumer-controlled, community-based, cross-disability, nonresidential private non-profit agencies that are designed and operated within a local community by individuals with disabilities, and provide an array of independent living services (  These services can include information and referral, independent living skills training (ILS), individual and systems advocacy, peer counseling, transition assistance from nursing homes and other institutions to community-based residences, assistance in avoiding institutional placement, and transition of youth with significant disabilities after completion of secondary education to postsecondary life ( CIL staff members identify resources, services, and service providers in public, private, and community organizations that can assist individuals with their independent goals ( As CILs are nonresidential, they don’t provide physical housing or assisted living services; however, they can assist individuals with disabilities in identifying housing options, and in applying for Section 8 housing assistance and other programs ( Additionally, Centers provide ILS training programs designed to teach individuals with disabilities the skills necessary for acquiring, maintaining, or increasing their independence and may include personal assistant management, self-esteem building, money management, self-navigation (physical environment), and self-advocacy.  

What is Assisted Living?

According to the National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL), assisted living is part of a continuum of long-term care services that provides a combination of housing, personal care services, and health care designed to respond to individuals who need assistance with normal daily activities in a way that promotes maximum independence ( Assisted living services may be provided in freestanding communities, near or integrated with skilled nursing homes or hospitals, as components of continuing care retirement communities, or at independent housing complexes. Assisted living is residential, housing is based on an individual’s living preferences (i.e. an apartment or condo in an assisted living community) and is paid for out-of-pocket. Services in assisted living communities (ALCs) may include:  24-hour supervision, daily meals in group dining facility, assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) (i.e., bathing, dressing, toileting, etc.), medication management and/or administration, social services, recreation and spiritual activities, exercise and wellness programs, as well as housekeeping and maintenance, laundry and linen service, and arrangements for transportation. Services are provided or arranged to meet an individual’s specific needs allowing the individual to function within the assisted living community while promoting independence and quality of life. (

So How are CILs and ALCs Different?

CILs are organizations that provide information, resources, assistance, and supports empowering individuals with disabilities of all ages to live, work, learn, and participate independently within the community of their choice.  ALCs are residential facilities designed for individuals who need additional assistance and may not be able to live independently.  ALCs enable aging and older adults to live independently with additional supports based on individuals’ needs (i.e., housekeeping, food preparation, ADLs, etc.). At the far end of the long-term care spectrum, nursing homes provide services for individuals who need significant assistance in with ADLs including personal hygiene, toileting or incontinence products, mobility (ability to transfer from bed, walk/move independently), feeding oneself, and medication management and administration. Both ALCs and nursing homes on are on a continuum of care but vary in the level of medical care they provide.  Assisted living facilities may have nursing staff and/or a health clinic available, but for the most part individuals are able to take care of themselves but may opt for some assistance with daily household tasks such as cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, etc. (

To find your nearest CIL visit

To find out more about long-term care options in your community at,, Eldercare Locator, National Center for Assisted Living, Nursing Home Compare, and Find the Best Assisted Living or Nursing Home for you from US News & World Report.