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The Differences Between Senior Living, Retirement Communities, Independent Living, and 55+ Communities accent

April 25, 2023 | By

If you’re like most people researching a 55-plus community, you’ve probably heard a dozen different terms to refer to these communities — independent living, retirement community, senior living, continuing care retirement community (CCRC), and many more. For example, you might find yourself weighing the benefits of a retirement community versus those found in independent living. 

Are there differences between these communities, or are these just word games? Finding the right senior living community is all about identifying your needs, then determining which type of community is best equipped to meet those needs. 

How a community markets itself reveals a lot about what you can expect. Here are some common differences between the amenities and services you can expect in independent living and 55+ communities.

Types of Senior Living Communities

If it’s a community for people over 55, it’s a senior living community. “Senior living” is the umbrella term for many different communities. It’s a category, not a type of living. 

If a community you’re considering identifies as a “senior living community,” it tells you that it’s a 55-plus community and not much more. Independent living communities are a specific subtype of senior living that offer an active lifestyle for healthy adults. Some communities may also use the term active adult living or retirement community. 

Some other types of senior living you might consider include:

  • CCRC: Continuing care retirement communities (CCRC) offer a continuum of care so you can remain in the community no matter how your needs change. They typically include both independent and assisted living. Some also offer memory care. Investing in such a community may help mitigate the costs of senior living.
  • Assisted living: Assisted living offers similar benefits and programs to independent living but with additional support for daily activities such as bathing, grooming, and preparing meals. People in independent living often transition to assisted living when their needs change.
  • Memory care: Memory care offers specialized support to those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. This includes activities designed to ease the stress of living with dementia, a safe environment, and supportive care as an individual’s needs shift.
  • Long-term care: Long-term care communities provide specialized care to people with chronic illnesses or complex medical needs. Some long-term care communities also incorporate elements of assisted living by offering engaging programming to support independence.

Comparing Retirement Communities, Independent Living, and 55+ Communities

Although “independent living,” “retirement community,” and “55+ community” may be used interchangeably, each term usually denotes a specific set of services and amenities. 


55+ communities focus primarily on maintaining the property and common areas rather than the more comprehensive approach of independent living. In the former, residents enjoy landscaping, external home maintenance, and sometimes housekeeping. There may also be meeting spaces or other common areas for resident use. 

Independent living offers all of this, plus multiple dining venues and meal options, more community spaces, and upkeep of the inside of residents’ homes rather than just the community grounds. 


Many 55+ communities offer a central gathering location such as a clubhouse. Some offer pools, tennis courts, or other amenities similar to what you might expect at a country club. 

Amenities in independent living communities vary but are often quite extensive. A typical community might provide a fitness center, spa, pool, green space, dining hall, and gathering spaces for programming, performances, and events. 

The right independent living community should offer amenities that cater to your interests and passion projects. Be sure to take a tour and discover specific details about the amenities you can expect. 


In retirement communities, people may own or rent their homes. Independent living communities usually offer only rental options. 

The cost of every community is different and depends on the amenities and services they provide. In many independent living communities, a person pays an entry fee that reduces their monthly rent, but other communities offer rent-only payment options.

Explore WesleyLife's beautiful locations to find the best one for you. Find a  community >>

Medical Considerations

Both retirement communities and independent living communities cater to healthy, active older adults. They do not offer medical care. 

As mentioned earlier, CCRCs like WesleyLife Communities for Healthy Living offer multiple living options on campus. Residents who need additional support can move to assisted living, skilled nursing, or memory care as their needs shift. 

Common Misconceptions

Ageist notions about what it means to grow older color people’s perceptions of all communities that cater to older adults. Most prominent among them is the idea that these communities are for people who are done having fun, who do little with their time, or who are sick or need supervision. 

Nothing could be further from the truth. Both community options welcome active seniors. The second half of your life can be the best half — a time with fewer responsibilities, more joy, and a lifetime of accumulated wisdom. You’re beginning an exciting new chapter with more opportunities to live life as you see fit. Independent living residents enjoy full schedules, active social lives, busy volunteer calendars, and sometimes a full-time job or a new business. Life after 55 is full of joy and purpose.  

One massive misconception about retirement communities is that they all offer medical care or support. In reality, very few do. If your needs change, you will likely need to hire help or move to another community or another level of living within a CCRC.

Independent Living in WesleyLife Communities for Healthy Living

Every independent living community is different. What they share is a commitment to independent, meaningful aging. In WesleyLife Communities for Healthy Living, residents enjoy a range of programs; gorgeous homes; delicious dining options; amenities such as fitness centers, salons, and lush green spaces; and an environment that makes it easy to live life as residents see fit. 

Many of our residents report that our communities make it easier to travel by providing safety and security while they're gone and when they return. Independent living can inspire you to live healthier by encouraging movement, healthy eating, and social connections

WesleyLife celebrates older adults at every stage of the aging journey. We would love to help you find the perfect community where you can make your next chapter your best chapter. Find a community here.

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