Caregiving Challenges, What's the Difference Between ILF and ALF?

Independent living facilities (ILF) and assisted living facilities (ALF) differ in some important ways, namely around healthcare.

Helpful Highlights

  • Independent living facilities (ILF) promote social and carefree living, they offer no medical or personal care assistance.

  • Assisted living facilities (ALF) promote independence in a full-service, structured environment that provides some personal care assistance.

  • Learn the differences between ILFs and ALFs, then make a selection after determining your loved one's needs and conducting a few site visits.

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Independent living facilities (ILF) and assisted living facilities (ALF) have some similarities though there are also some important differences. Both are primarily for older adults over the age of 65, however, there may be younger residents, too.

Independent living facilities (ILF)

ILFs are for older adults who no longer want the burdens associated with home ownership and maintenance, enjoy companionship and social activities, and want a more carefree lifestyle with privacy. ILFS offer:

  • Condo- or cottage-style living with or without a clubhouse, or apartment-style living with or without a lobby or main building.

  • A home (typically duplex-style) that consists of a living area, full kitchen, 1 or 2 bedrooms, and 1 or 2 bathrooms. Most also have garages or covered parking and a patio or balcony.

  • You must provide your own furniture.

  • Cars are allowed. In some cases, so are golf carts.

  • Staff includes: Property manager, activities coordinator, maintenance, housekeeping, and drivers.

  • Personal care is not provided (ADLs).

  • Homes can accommodate walkers and wheelchairs, as doors and halls are wider and bathrooms allow at least a 60" circumference for 360-degree wheelchair rotations.

  • Amenities may include (FREE):

    • Scheduled activities: movies, indoor and outdoor games, crafts, guest speakers, excursions, etc.

    • Weekly housekeeping

    • Maintenance (including light bulb changes!), and 24/7 emergency maintenance

    • Shuttle service to/from local grocery stores, strip malls, gyms

    • Clubhouse with table games, coffee bar, business center

    • Community pool and/or fitness center

  • Amenities may include (typically an additional COST):

    • Restaurant-style dining, and sometimes even a bar

    • Laundry and dry cleaning services

    • Transportation (miles may be restricted)

    • Salon/Spa/Barber

    • Pop-up shops (clothing, jewelry, hobbies

Assisted living facilities (ALF)

ALFs are for older adults who may need assistance with ADLs (personal care). However, some older adults choose to move to an ALF early to eliminate an additional move when they reach a time when personal care is needed. Larger facilities can give older adults carefree living, privacy, freedom to use their own car, and independence without worry.

  • Apartment-style living with a lobby 

  • Access to apartments from within the structure via the lobby

  • Space consists of a living area and kitchenette (appliances are typically a microwave and refrigerator only, maybe a small dishwasher)

  • Studio, 1 or 2 bedrooms, and 1 or 2 bathrooms

    • Note that some ALFs are converted private homes; therefore, the common areas and bathrooms are shared and only bedrooms are private.

  • Furniture may or may not be provided 

  • Cars may be allowed 

  • Staff includes the property manager, activities coordinator, maintenance, housekeeping, and drivers, as well as home health aides (staff to provide personal care/ADLs), and some states require that an RN is on staff (may only be present a few hours each day).

  • Homes can accommodate walkers and wheelchairs, as doors and halls are wider and bathrooms allow at least a 60" circumference for 360-degree wheelchair rotations.

  • Amenities include (FREE):

    • Scheduled activities: movies, indoor and outdoor games, crafts, guest speakers, excursions, etc.

    • Housekeeping and 24/7 maintenance

    • All meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner), whether restaurant style or dining room 

      • Note that ALF menus and meals are developed by a dietician and the chef or head cook, and always with an alternate choice to the day's selections

    • Laundry service

    • Shuttle service to/from local grocery stores, strip malls, gyms

    • Transportation for other appointments (miles may be restricted)

    • Personal care is provided, as needed (ADLs such as showering/bathing, hygiene, dressing, toileting, transferring, and in some facilities - medication management)  

      • Note that these services are assessed and assigned by ALF personnel, namely the nurse if one is on staff

  • If the ALF is part of a larger continuous care retirement community (CCRC), which has an ILF, ALF, SNF, and memory care all on the same campus, for additional fees, ALF residents may be able to take advantage of some of the extra ILF amenities.

No content in this app, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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