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What Is Assisted Living: A Senior Care Guide

Updated on December 8, 2023 and Created on July 3, 2023
By Andre Rib

Key Takeaways

  • Assisted living is designed for seniors who need help with daily activities but can maintain some independence.
  • Assisted living is often considered a middle ground between independent living and nursing home care.
  • Facilities vary in services, amenities, and levels of care provided, making it important to compare options.
  • Assisted living facilities provide a range of services to help residents with tasks such as bathing, dressing, and medication management while promoting social engagement and a sense of community.
  • Many assisted living communities feature private apartments, housekeeping services, and onsite dining options, in addition to offering various recreational and social activities.

It is essential to understand the key features of assisted living and compare different facilities to make an informed decision for yourself or a loved one.

Who Qualifies For Assisted Living?

Although numerous assisted living communities are designed for seniors, there is no strict age criterion for eligibility.

Typically, eligibility is based on requiring some help with daily living activities like bathing, dressing, eating, toileting, etc. but being able to live independently otherwise.

Those with cognitive impairments may qualify for memory care units. Financial means are also considered along with Medicaid assistance.

Who qualifies for assisted living can vary by state.

What Does Assisted Living Offer?

Assisted living is a popular option for older adults who need some help with daily activities but still want to maintain a level of independence.

In an assisted living facility, residents typically live in private apartments, and the staff is available around-the-clock to provide support, as needed.

Housing options

Assisted living facilities usually offer different types of apartments, ranging from studio to two-bedroom units.

You may find that some even have small kitchenettes for preparing meals, although most establishments also provide communal dining options.

Staff and care services

The staff at an assisted living community is trained to assist with daily living activities, such as bathing, dressing, and medication management.

They’re also responsible for housekeeping and laundry services. Most facilities have a licensed nurse on staff to handle any medical issues that may arise.

Independence with support

Assisted living communities allow older adults to retain a degree of independence while still receiving support as needed and having access to social activities with other residents, which can help improve their overall well-being.

Personalized care plans

One of the most significant benefits of assisted living is personalized care. Staff designs personalized care plans, taking into account your unique needs and preferences. This ensures that you get the appropriate level of support without compromising your independence.

Assisted living communities offer a range of housing options and support services, ensuring residents can enjoy a comfortable, secure, and engaging environment.

What Services and Amenities Are Included?

Meals, Dining, and Housekeeping

In assisted living facilities, you can expect restaurant-style dining with nutritious meal options tailored to your dietary needs.

These facilities often have common dining areas where residents can socialize and enjoy their meals together.

In addition to meals, assisted living facilities often provide housekeeping and laundry services, ensuring that your living space remains clean and comfortable.

Social and Recreational Activities

Assisted living facilities offer various social and recreational activities designed to engage your interests and promote a sense of community.

Among these activities, you may find exercise classes, arts and crafts workshops, book clubs, and group outings.

Common areas within the facility, such as lounges and gardens, provide additional spaces for you to relax and interact with fellow residents.

Other Amenities (typically available)

A variety of amenities are typically available in assisted living facilities, catering to the needs and wants of senior residents. Some of these amenities include:

  • Controlled temperature in rooms for your comfort
  • Easy-to-use telephones and cable TV access
  • On-site medication management and assistance
  • Physical therapy and other well-being programs
  • Security features for your safety

These services and amenities contribute to the overall living experience in assisted living facilities, ensuring that you are comfortable, safe, and engaged in your daily life.

Levels of Care and Support

It’s essential to under the different levels of care and support to be able to assess your needs and choose an assisted living facility that aligns with your care requirements.

Assistance with Activities of Daily Living

In assisted living facilities, levels of care and support include assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) to help you maintain your independence and well-being.

The 5 primary ADLs that are typically covered in an assisted living setting are:

1. BathingPartial or full assistance, depending on your needs
2. Getting DressedHelping you select appropriate attire and putting on clothes
3. EatingEnsuring you have access to nutritious meals and offering feeding assistance if needed
4. ToiletingHelping you with personal hygiene and continence care
5. MobilityHelping you sit, stand and walk

The level of care will vary based on your individual needs and may change over time as your needs evolve.

Medical and Health Care Services

One crucial aspect of assisted living is the provision of medical and healthcare services tailored to your specific requirements.

Support can range from basic medication management to more advanced medical care, such as monitoring chronic conditions or caring for residents with dementia.

Common medical and healthcare services provided in assisted living facilities:

Medication ManagementEnsuring that you take your medications as prescribed, monitoring for side effects, and coordinating with healthcare providers.
Routine Medical ExamsRegular check-ups to detect potential health issues and ensure overall well-being.
Disease ManagementManaging chronic conditions such as diabetes or hypertension with the help of trained staff.
Dementia CareProviding specialized care, tailored activities, and a safe environment for residents with cognitive impairments.

Keep in mind that the provided care services and their extent will depend on the specific assisted living facility and the levels of care they offer.

Assisted Living vs. Other Care Options

Independent Living

In independent living, seniors have their own living space in a community that provides amenities, such as housekeeping, meals, and social activities.

This option is best for older adults who are still capable of taking care of their daily needs without assistance. It allows them to maintain a level of independence while enjoying a sense of community and security.

Assisted LivingIndependent Living
Living ArrangementPrivate or semi-private unitsPrivate apartments or houses
Level of IndependenceModerate to highHigh
Amenities and ServicesAssistance with daily tasksMeals, housekeeping, social activities
Healthcare ServicesLimited medical careMinimal medical care
Community EngagementSocial activities and eventsSocial activities
Cost StructureMonthly feesMonthly fees
Suitability for Different NeedsMild to moderate assistance needsNo assistance needs
Flexibility in Care LevelsLimited, may need to relocate for higher careN/A

Nursing Homes

Nursing homes provide 24-hour care for seniors who require assistance with daily activities and health-related services. They are staffed with skilled nurses and caregivers to address various health conditions.

In addition, nursing homes offer rehabilitation services for individuals recovering from surgery, injury, or illness.

Compared to assisted living, nursing homes cater to older adults who need a higher level of care, such as skilled nursing and medical attention.

Assisted LivingNursing Homes
Living ArrangementPrivate or semi-private unitsPrivate or shared rooms
Level of IndependenceModerate to highLow to moderate
Amenities and ServicesAssistance with daily tasks24-hour care, skilled nursing, rehabilitation services
Healthcare ServicesLimited medical careSkilled nursing and medical attention
Community EngagementSocial activities and eventsLimited community engagement
Cost StructureMonthly feesMonthly fees, potentially higher for skilled nursing care
Suitability for Different NeedsMild to moderate assistance needsHigh assistance needs, medical attention
Flexibility in Care LevelsLimited, may need to relocate for higher careN/A

Home Care

Home care involves professional caregivers coming to the senior’s private residence to provide assistance with activities of daily living.

This option allows seniors to receive personalized care in the comfort and familiarity of their own homes.

Home care services can range from personal care assistance, such as bathing and grooming, to skilled nursing care.

The main difference between assisted living and home care is the living arrangement and the level of independence.

AspectAssisted LivingHome Care
Living ArrangementPrivate or semi-private unitsPrivate residence
Level of IndependenceModerate to highHigh (within own home)
Amenities and ServicesAssistance with daily tasksPersonalized care at home
Healthcare ServicesLimited medical careMedical care provided as needed
Community EngagementSocial activities and eventsLimited community engagement
Cost StructureMonthly feesHourly/daily rates or subscription plans
Suitability for Different NeedsMild to moderate assistance needsVarious levels of assistance, from minimal to intensive
Flexibility in Care LevelsLimited, may need to relocate for higher careFlexible based on changing needs

Continuing Care Retirement Communities

Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) offer a wide range of care options for seniors, including independent living, assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing care.

The major advantage of CCRCs is allowing seniors to age in place without the need to relocate based on their changing care needs. Because of this, they typically require a substantial entrance fee and monthly payments.

While assisted living focuses on providing nonmedical aid for daily tasks, CCRCs can cater to a broader spectrum of caregiving and support services.

AspectAssisted LivingCCRCs
Living ArrangementEntrance fee and monthly fees; costs may vary based on the level of care neededVaried options within the same community
Level of IndependenceModerate to highVaried, ranging from independent to skilled nursing care
Amenities and ServicesAssistance with daily tasksWide range of services, including independent living amenities, assisted living support, and more specialized care as needed
Healthcare ServicesLimited medical careComprehensive care options, including skilled nursing and medical services
Community EngagementSocial activities and eventsSocial activities, events, and engagement opportunities
Cost StructureMonthly feesEntrance fee and monthly fees; costs may vary based on level of care needed
Suitability for Different NeedsMild to moderate assistance needsFlexible care options to accommodate changing needs over time
Flexibility in Care LevelsLimited, may need to relocate for higher careComprehensive care continuum without the need to relocate

Costs of Assisted Living = Rent + Service Plans

Assisted living costs depend on various factors, such as rent, the size of the living area, and service plans chosen by the residents.

On average, assisted living monthly expense is around $4,500, which typically covers rent and service plans but may not include additional costs like medication or personalized services.

Keep in mind that costs change with the size of the living area and may vary from state to state.

Is There Financial Assistance Available?

Medicare may not financially assist you, but Medicaid and long-term care insurance might provide support depending on your eligibility and state’s policies.

Medicare – Does not cover

Unfortunately, Medicare does not cover the costs of assisted living because it primarily covers medical expenses. This means that you cannot rely on Medicare to cover rent or personal care services in an assisted living facility.

Medicaid – May help cover

Medicaid may help cover the costs of assisted living for eligible individuals. However, each state has its own rules and regulations about how Medicaid funds can be used for assisted living. It’s essential to research your state’s specific policies to determine if Medicaid will contribute toward your assisted living expenses.

Long-term care insurance – Covers partially

Long-term care insurance can provide financial assistance for assisted living. These policies usually cover a part of the expenses related to personal care and assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs).

To benefit from long-term care insurance, make sure you understand the details and limitations of your policy, and if it covers assisted living expenses.

How to Find the Right Assisted Living Facility

When it comes to finding the right assisted living facility for you or your aging parent, there are a few essential steps to follow.

This section will focus on Making a Choice and Visiting a Residence to ensure that the selected living residence meets your needs and expectations.

1. Consider your options

First and foremost, consider the type of environment in which you or your aging parent will feel most comfortable.

This includes factors like the size of the facility (from 25 residents up to 120 residents or more), its location, and the available amenities.

Keep in mind the importance of social and recreational outings, as these will have a significant impact on the quality of life.

Top factors to consider when making a choice:

LocationProximity to family, friends, and healthcare providers
Facility SizeSmall vs large residences (25 vs 120 or more residents)
Services OfferedMedical support, housekeeping, and personal care assistance
AmenitiesDining options, common areas, and recreational activities
CostCompare the prices of different facilities and evaluate your budget

2. Visit residences (with this checklist)

Once you have narrowed down your options, schedule a tour of the assisted living residences that best match your criteria.

During the tour, pay close attention to the cleanliness of the facility and the friendliness of the staff.

While touring, make sure you observe the current residents. Are they engaged in activities and socializing with one another? This will give you a sense of the community atmosphere and help you decide if the residence is a good fit.

What to observe during a tour:

  • Cleanliness and maintenance of the facility
  • Staff friendliness and professionalism
  • Interaction among residents and their overall satisfaction with the living environment
  • Accessibility of rooms and common areas
  • Security measures in place to protect residents

Special attention to safety and staffing

When looking into assisted living facilities, it’s essential to consider safety, health care, and security measures.

It’s crucial to find a community that employs highly trained on-site staff who can promptly address safety concerns, healthcare needs, and general security.

Make sure to inquire about staff turnover rates, as frequent changes in personnel can impact the quality of care and services provided to residents.

Look for a well-maintained facility

Another consideration is the physical layout and maintenance of the facilities. Ensure that the living spaces and common areas are properly maintained, clean, and in good condition.

Be on the lookout for any potential hazards like loose handrails or inadequate lighting, which could increase the risk of falls and accidents.

Ask (lots of) questions

Don’t hesitate to ask as many questions as you want about the services provided and the qualifications of the staff members.

3. Plan the transition to life in Assisted Living

Transitioning to assisted living can be a significant adjustment for both you and your loved ones.

Dealing with isolation and loneliness

One of the main challenges experienced by new residents is coping with feelings of isolation and loneliness.

It’s crucial to identify a facility with a robust and engaging social environment, offering a variety of activities and events that cater to different interests.

This way, you or your loved one can form meaningful connections and settle into your new living situation more comfortably.

Ensure emotional well-being options

Additionally, it’s vital to ensure that your chosen assisted living facility has adequate provisions in place to support your emotional well-being.

Check if there are any support groups, counseling services, or wellness programs available to help you navigate this new transition in your life.

Find The Best Assisted Living Facility Near You