1300 775 870

What is the difference between residential aged care and retirement living? Here’s an overview to help you decide which is best for you or your loved one.


Residential aged care or retirement village?

As you or your loved one age, you may find that it’s time to look into supported accommodation.

This normally happens when the family home becomes too much to take care of, or you need to have someone closer at hand for personal support.

The main two options for more supported living beyond home care are residential aged care facilities and retirement villages. Retirement villages are often referred to as ‘independent living’. While there is support from staff, it is limited, compared with residential aged care, where there are trained staff on-site 24/7 to take care of residents’ needs in a far more structured manner.

Retirement villages are a good option while the resident is still reasonably mobile, and doesn’t require significant medical attention or assistance with personal care. Once the resident starts to need more supervision and support with their day-to-day needs, residential aged care may be the more appropriate option.

If you want to understand the key differences between residential aged care and retirement living, you’ll find this guide helpful.


Retirement Villages

Visit a retirement village and you’ll find a number of homes located on one property, with common areas and a management office on site.

Residents usually live in a self-contained apartment, townhouse or unit, similar to living in an apartment building or unit complex.

Unlike standard strata living though, these complexes have a different structure for pricing and management. Retirement village homes can be more affordable than standard properties but there are caveats involved with buying into them. Management tends to be a great deal more hands-on than a standard strata building as well.

Modern retirement villages are generally lovely places to live. They offer added features such as medical emergency buttons on the walls, and residents can live independently and privately and also participate in organised activities if they choose to.


Residential Aged Care

Aged care facilities, on the other hand, offer more support for less mobile residents with their daily life and activities. A residential aged care facility offers private rooms with en-suites or shared rooms, rather than self-contained apartments.

Quality aged care facilities also feature common areas and facilities for socialising and lifestyle activities. They offer opportunities for interacting socially, while still providing personal, private spaces for residents to call their own

Services and facilities

Retirement Villages

The number of services and facilities vary, depending on the village. 

The village you buy into may offer: 

  • Secure underground parking
  • Swimming pool and gym
  • Common outdoor areas
  • Community garden
  • Men’s shed
  • Library
  • Common sitting areas
  • Dining room and restaurant
  • On-site cinema
  • Guest suites that can be booked for overnight stays
  • Hairdressing/beauty salons

When you live in a retirement village, you are responsible for caring for your own home. You can hire a cleaner or request the support of home carers to help with things like groceries and changing bed linen. However, arranging this is up to you. 

Residential Aged Care

Residential aged care tends to be entirely self-contained with a kitchen and chef on-site. Healthy meals will be provided and may be eaten in a common area or dining room. There will be shared entertainment areas, and in most cases, televisions in each resident’s room. 

Most aged care facilities have outdoor areas to enjoy, and some provide access to a common kitchenette with tea/coffee making facilities.

Features you can find at some residential aged care facilities include :

  • Common outdoor areas
  • Facility garden
  • Cafe
  • Men’s shed
  • Library
  • Common sitting areas
  • Dining room and restaurant
  • Cinema room
  • Consulting room for visiting medical specialists
  • Hairdressing/beauty salons
  • Swimming pool
  • Bowling green

In terms of services, things like cleaning, laundry and room maintenance are all taken care of in an aged care home. You will not need a home care package because tasks like personal grooming and meal preparation are all included. 

Medical care

Retirement Villages

In a retirement village, residents mostly care for themselves. As mentioned, some retirement villages will have emergency buttons on the walls for residents should they fall or require assistance. There will usually be someone at the front desk or security office who can be contacted in the event of an emergency. However, there may not be someone on call 24/7.

Access to medical care can vary significantly between villages. A retirement village that has an aged care facility attached is more likely to have faster access to medical professionals. On the whole, though, in a retirement village, residents are responsible for their own health and well being.

Residential Aged Care

Residents in aged care facilities are there because they need more care and support. This means aged care facilities are set up with health care in mind, and safety as a priority. 

Aged care facilities have on-site trained nursing staff 24 hours a day. Residents are monitored regularly, and their wellbeing is taken care of by the staff. Medication is administered and daily health checks are provided. Aged care facilities also have visits from doctors, podiatrists, ophthalmologists and allied health professionals such as occupational therapists and counsellors. There may even be a doctor’s office on site.

Entertainment and activities

Retirement Villages

At a retirement village, there are usually organised activities like weekly morning teas or commemorative ANZAC Day/Remembrance Day events. 

It depends on the village, but there may be game nights, regular bingo and card game afternoons, organised bus outings, movie screenings and other types of organised social activities. 

Residential Aged Care

Part of caring for elderly residents in an aged care facility includes encouraging socialising and mental health wellbeing, and many have very comprehensive lifestyle programs.Activities can vary from sing-along nights to excursions, crafts to card games.

Modern aged care facilities put a lot of time and thought into keeping their residents entertained.


Retirement Villages

You can expect to come and go in a similar manner to any secure residential complex.  There should be ramps and lifts to ensure less mobile residents and visitors can get around safely. The village may have ‘swipe to enter’ security limiting access between floors or sections,  and to the car park.

Residential Aged Care

Aged care facilities are more structured. Many have fixed visiting hours. Residents and guests usually need to check in and out on arrival and when they leave the facility in order to protect the wellbeing of all residents, visitors and staff. 


Retirement Villages

Like any private residential complex, pet ownership is at the discretion of the management. Generally, if the residents own their apartment or unit, they can keep a small dog or a cat.  As with every strata complex, there will be by-laws about pet ownership. 

Residential Aged Care

Most residential aged care do not allow pets, however in some cases, an animal may be allowed. Support animals, for instance, might be deemed necessary. If needed, most aged care facilities will evaluate whether they can accept animals on a case-by-case basis. Some facilities will allow pets to visit, and some have their own facility pets that live on-site.

Applicable fees

Retirement Villages

Retirement villages come in many forms, and so do their fees. In some cases, the residents can build their own homes on the grounds. In others, residents are essentially renting their apartment or unit from the village management. 

There may be an initial purchase cost and an agreement that the village will retain a percentage of the home’s value when it sells. 

As a resident, you’ll pay strata fees. These go towards management fees and maintenance of common areas. There will be the chance to attend regular owners’ meetings. 

Residential Aged Care

The costs of living in a residential aged care facility varies.

To begin with, there is a basic daily fee that every resident must pay. If you or your loved one receives a pension, the cost will be drawn from there.

There may also be a price for the room, a refundable deposit or a daily payment required by the provider. 

The Australian Government subsidises aged care homes across Australia to provide affordable, accessible care, and costs will vary depending on the families’ individual circumstances. For residents with assets, it is recommended to seek financial advice prior to moving into residential aged care.

If you or a loved one would like to find out more about residential aged care homes and how they might meet your needs, the Aged Care Decisions team can help. Call us on 1300 775 870 or reach out through our online form.

Retirement villages: the bottom line

If you or your loved one are mobile and able to live independently, a retirement village is the right choice. Living in a retirement village allows a resident to maintain their autonomy in an environment that still supports their needs.

home care package may be suitable for someone who lives in a retirement village but requires some additional support to take care of day-to-day tasks.

Residential Aged Care: the bottom line

In an aged care facility, all health care and daily living needs are carefully taken care of. This is the right choice if you or your loved one:

  • No longer feels comfortable living alone
  • Needs support to move around
  • Isn’t capable of preparing meals and being self-sufficient
  • Has complex medical needs
  • Is at risk of falling or being seriously injured while living at home

Modern aged care facilities are welcoming and friendly. They provide company, safety, comfort and round-the-clock support.


Aged Care Decisions provides assistance to families at every stage of the aged care or home care journey. We work with over 1200 facilities and assist over 6000 families every month, 100% free of charge.

Looking for aged care?