Post No40…Independent living Vs care homes – how are they different?

Post No40…Independent living Vs care homes – how are they different?


With more options in the care sector now available to people, it’s always a good idea to evaluate the market before making a big decision, and choosing between independent living and a care home is no different.

This post is going to look at how the two differ from each other, what the benefits are, and what risks maybe associated with them.

Independent / Assisted Living

Independent living, sometimes known as assisted living, is when a person owns a property, usually a flat or apartment, in a complex that is designed for people over a certain age. They provide a positive community feeling, often very nice well-appointed properties, and communal areas for people to socialise. An example of an independent living provider would be Churchill or McCarthy Stone.

Staffing levels can vary from a single warden who lives onsite, to a small management team that work 9-5 but with access to an out of hours service in case of emergency. Almost all independent living establishments will allow domiciliary visits from external agencies, but some may have their own staff who are employed to provide care to the residents at an extra cost.

Did you know...some providers build retirement villages, where independent living and a care home are in the same development.

One major difference between independent living and a care home is property ownership; essentially when you move into independent living you purchase the property, whereas almost all care homes will run on a rental model. This can be beneficial for people because it ties up their wealth into a property, rather than paying from a depleting pot of money to fund a care home placement.

There is, however, an element of risk to this, because selling independent living properties is not easy and can come at a cost. This is to such an extent that the company ‘We Buy Any House’ do not buy independent living apartments (from my understanding), possibly due to the long sale times, competition, and risk to loss of capital. Essentially, with so many around, if you are selling ‘second hand’ it is likely you will have to reduce the price of the property to gain interest, and even then, this is not always a guarantee.

As a result, I think it is important for people who are considering independent living to look for longevity in the move. Sometimes, when people leave it quite late before considering a move, they may already have care requirements or the early stages of dementia. In these cases, if the care needs increase, particularly dementia care, the person may not be suitable or safe to remain in independent living and will then need to seek a care home placement.

Care Homes

Care homes can vary in both the style of home and the types of care that are being provided. Older model care homes are often converted, whereas purpose-built care homes are designed for the service being provided. Some care homes, sometimes known as rest homes, offer lower dependency residential care only, where as other homes may also offer nursing care and dementia care.

Did you homes that offer residential care and nursing care are called 'duel registered' care homes.

Alongside providing accommodation, all care homes will also provide a 24-hour care environment to the residents, meaning staff are available no matter what time of day or night. They also provide communal areas where residents can socialise, and often residents in a care home are older than the proprietors in independent living.

One key difference between care homes and independent living is the size and scale of the accommodation. In care homes people rent rooms, which will vary depending on the homes age, and whether it is purpose built or converted. When you buy an independent living property, you will normally have a kitchen, dining room, bathroom, and bedroom(s), meaning they are much bigger with more segregation within the property.

As mentioned previously, selling an independent living property is not always easy; of course, this is not an issue in the care home rental model, but the rental model is not without its own risks. Most people fund a care home placement from a depleting pot of money, that may at some point run out, which is something proprietors do not have to worry about.

Did you know…to avoid paying from a depleting pot of money, you can purchase a Care Fees Annuity

Another difference between the two is the age of the residents, with most care homes averaging an age range between 85-95 (with some exceptions) whereas independent living will be around 65-85 (again with some exceptions). As a result, the variance of care needs in a care home will be far greater than those in independent living.

If the care home offers dementia care and nursing care alongside residential care, then the care home residents will experience more crossover between people with different care needs. In smaller homes this can become more of an acute problem because they cannot segment the care types, but on the other hand if a person’s own care needs change, then they may not have to leave the home, which they would have to do if they were residing in independent living.


If you are considering a move and are looking at both independent living or a care home, my advice would be to consider any current need for care and how that may increase over time. For example, most independent living establishments cannot manage advancing dementia care, and so if you have a diagnosis of dementia there may become a time where this accommodation becomes unsuitable, so look for longevity.

Equally, if you are looking at a care home, remember that the model is rented and funds will deplete over time, so having a conversation with care homes about what happens when the money runs out is important during the research stage.

To finish, both models can work well for people who are at the right stage in their life, and have done their research fully, before making their decision.

The Care Whisperer says 'it's always good to look at the whole market when considering a move'

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