Assisted Living
By Lance McHan October 19, 2020

As we age, certain tasks become increasingly difficult. What was once a simple morning routine may now take a painstakingly long time to complete. Or, moving throughout your home independently may begin to feel challenging, potentially leading to a dangerous fall. When these challenges become more frequent, many seniors and their families decide to look into senior residential care. But if you only need assistance with some of your daily tasks and are otherwise healthy and independent, a classic nursing home will not be the right fit.

For many seniors, assisted living offers the best of both worlds. It is a senior housing option that allows older adults to retain their independence while still having the assistance they need nearby. Residents of assisted living communities can remain as independent as they please, accessing assistance on an as-needed basis. Assisted living facilities (ALFs) also offer prepared meals, planned social activities, transportation services, and more amenities and services intended to keep residents safe, comfortable, and entertained.

It can be easy to confuse the different senior care types, and even within the realm of assisted living there is a lot of information to take in. We’ve created this guide to make the process of finding an assisted living community for yourself or a loved one clearer. Read on to learn more about assisted living services and amenities, who should consider assisted living, the cost of assisted living, and how to choose the best community for yourself or a loved one. 

What is Assisted Living? 

What is assisted living

Assisted living communities are designed for adults who need help performing one or more of the activities of daily living (ADLs), which includes bathing, grooming, dressing, or a helping hand managing medications. Although these communities have staff on-site 24 hours a day, skilled medical care is not regularly provided to residents. Assisted living residents do have access to personal care assistance and assistance with ADLs at all hours of the day and night, and communities may have visiting medical personnel come to the facility regularly or provide residents with transportation to doctors’ appointments.

Every assisted living community has a unique personality and offers different services and amenities. Some are more upscale and formal, while others have a casual, relaxed environment. The variation of assisted living residences means that most seniors are able to find a community that meets their needs and budget. 

What Are Some of the Benefits of Assisted Living?

While no two people or assisted living communities are the same, there are certain benefits that one can expect to experience upon transitioning to an ALF. From wellness programs to a thoughtfully-designed environment, here’s how assisted living communities help older adults live their best quality of life.

  • Opportunities for socialization: Isolation has been identified as a health risk for older adults. It contributes to health conditions ranging from depression to high blood pressure. When an older adult moves to an assisted living community, they have opportunities to participate in planned life enrichment activities and informal gatherings. Both can help seniors stay actively engaged with life.
  • Abundant wellness programs: Mostassisted living communities offer a wide range of daily resident health and wellness programs. They give older adults opportunities to engage in fitness programs and wellness classes. From chair yoga and swimming to meditation and Pilates, most communities have activities planned to engage the body, mind, and spirit on-site—no transportation required!
  • Well-balanced meals: It isn’t uncommon for older adults to rely on convenience foods. Preparing healthy meals for one or two people can be time-consuming and expensive. Some seniors may have given up driving, making trips to the grocery store more difficult. Assisted living communities have dining services programs that offer well-balanced meals and snacks. Many residents enjoy companionship and socializing in the community dining room during mealtimes.
  • Independence plus support: The older a person gets, the more they may fear losing their independence. But with aging comes physical changes that sometimes make living alone risky. A move to an assisted living community is often the best of both worlds. Seniors have the support they need to stay safely independent in their own suite or private apartment.
  • Safe design: Unlike older homes that may have laundry rooms in the basement, outdated bathrooms, and many steps, assisted living communities are designed with safety in mind. Safety benefits include grab bars, handrails, emergency call systems, step-free showers, and staff on-site around the clock.
  • Health management: Though skilled nursing care is not provided at assisted living communities, many ALFs have systems in place for fall prevention, weight monitoring, and chronic health condition management. Medication management support is also offered to ensure residents stay safely on-track with their medications.

Who Is a Good Fit for Assisted Living? 

Assisted living is best suited for those who need assistance with some of their ADLs, but can still perform some actions independently. It’s also a great environment for social seniors who want to make new friends and enjoy their community and its activities with their neighbors. If you or your loved one possess one or more of the following characteristics, you’re likely a good fit for assisted living.

  • You need help with one or more of your activities of daily living, such as grooming, dressing, bathing, meal preparation, or transferring (walking or getting up from a seat or bed)
  • You no longer drive or feel that you should stop driving, but you still need an easy form of transportation to get to social engagements, doctor’s appointments, and to run errands 
  • You feel that housekeeping and exterior maintenance of your home has become burdensome or you are unable to keep up with home maintenance 
  • You had an accident or injury such as a fall at home and want the peace-of-mind of assistance being available around-the-clock
  • You enjoy socializing with other older adults and want to live in an environment with your peers
  • You are generally in good cognitive and physical health and do not require regular skilled care

Who Should Consider a Different Type of Senior Living?

Assisted living communities can personalize care to each individual, offering each resident with the level of care that they specifically need. Still, assisted living is not the right fit for anyone. Some seniors simply need more care than can be offered in an ALF, while others will have no need for the services that assisted living communities all provide. Seniors who fall into the following categories should look into other types of senior living communities.

  • If you need around-the-clock or regular medical care, or want such services to be available 24-7, you’re best suited for skilled nursing care
  • If your loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia, they will be best cared for in a memory care community, which has enhanced safety and care measures specifically for those living with memory impairment. 
  • If you do not yet need assistance with your ADLs or only need occasional assistance, you will likely be more comfortable in an independent living community than in assisted living. If you are entirely independent and still enjoy preparing your own meals, look into a 55+ lifestyle community
  • If you predict that your care needs will increase in the future and you want to avoid moving, a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) will meet your needs. CCRCs are also a great option for couples who have different care needs but want to live in the same community. 

What Are Typical Assisted Living Services and Amenities? 

Assisted Living Services and Amenities

Some assisted living services such as personal care and assistance with ADLs are always offered by ALFs. Other than these essentials, however, the services and amenities available at assisted living communities vary. Read about some of the most common assisted living services and amenities below. If you’re just starting the process of finding an ALF for yourself or a loved one, make note of which of these amenities and services, if any, are “must-haves” for you. 

Common Assisted Living Services

  • Personal care assistance and assistance with activities of daily living 
  • Individualized care planning
  • Planned social activities and events
  • Transportation services 
  • Prepared meals and dining services 
  • Laundry and housekeeping
  • Interior and exterior maintenance
  • Basic first-aid and medication management assistance 
  • Emergency monitoring

Common Assisted Living Amenities

  • Gyms and fitness centers
  • Lounge areas or an atrium for residents to congregate 
  • Dining rooms, cafes, restaurants, and bistros
  • Indoor or outdoor pools and/or hot tubs 
  • Indoor or outdoor courtyards
  • Walking paths on-site or around the property 
  • Covered resident parking 
  • On-site beauty parlor or barbershop 
  • On-site religious worship space 

What is the Average Cost of Assisted Living? 

The average monthly cost of assisted living in the United States is $4,051. This number can vary dramatically depending on the state and city in which you live, so be sure to check costs in your area at the beginning of your search for a community. The cost will also rise or fall based on the community’s amenities, any extra services it offers, and how old the construction is. Below, learn more about the factors that contribute to the cost of assisted living as well as financial assistance options for paying for an ALF. 

Assisted Living Costs

One challenge when searching for assisted living homes is comparing one community’s price with another. That’s because every community has its own way of determining monthly fees. Some assisted living communities offer bundled services while others have à la carte pricing.

Here are a few factors to keep in mind as you compare assisted living communities:

  • Cost of care charges: Make sure you understand what is—and isn’t—included in the monthly fee. While some assisted living communities include cost of care charges in one bundled price, most assess these separately. Clarify all care charges in advance to make sure you are budgeting appropriately.
  • Apartment or suite expenses: Apartment or suite size and its location within the assisted living community will also impact pricing. Prime first floor spots near the dining room or activity center might come with additional fees. By contrast, a studio apartment overlooking the parking lot or on an upper floor might be significantly less expensive.
  • Basic utilities and cable: Some communities include utilities, local phone service, and basic cable, while others only include utilities. Ask each community you are considering for a list of what expenses you are likely to incur for utilities and cable.
  • Services and amenities: Assisted living communities often offer a wide variety of services and amenities to help residents live their best quality of life. Make sure you understand how much each one will cost. A few examples include transportation, social outings, beauty/barber shop services, laundry, and housekeeping. Some of these may be included in monthly fees and others will be extra.
  • Rate changes: We also recommend you ask how much and how often rates may increase. Most assisted living communities have rate increases every year or two to cover the community’s increased expenses. Your loved one’s monthly fee might also increase if their need for care increases. Be sure to ask how the communities assess those changes and how much the increase might be.

Financial Assistance for Assisted Living

It’s often a surprise for older adults to learn that Medicare doesn’t help pay for assisted living communities. That’s because assisted living is considered custodial care and not skilled health care.

While private funds are the leading source of funding for assisted living communities, there are other solutions that families should explore. A few of the most common ones include:

  • Long-Term Care Insurance: If you or your senior loved one has a long-term care insurance policy, check if it covers assisted living care. Families sometimes assume these policies only cover nursing homes, while some actually include assisted living and private duty home care services, too. Note that most companies will not allow older adults to start a new policy after a certain age, so this option is typically only available to those who already have a long-term care insurance policy.
  • Aid & Attendance Benefit: For veterans and surviving spouses, there may be additional funding available to help finance senior care. For those who qualify, the monthly Aid & Attendance benefit can range from roughly $1,200 per month for a surviving spouse to $2,200 per month for a married veteran. The benefit is intended to help veterans and their spouses who have long-term care needs finance their care, and is awarded in addition to the standard VA pension. 
  • Medicaid: Though assisted living services are not a guaranteed Medicaid benefit nationwide, some states have expanded their Medicaid program to provide financial assistance to older adults who need help paying for long-term care. States believe this helps keep low-income seniors at the level of care that is most affordable and best meets their needs. You can learn more about these waiver programs and what is covered on the official Medicaid website
  • Life Insurance Settlement: Older adults often have a life insurance policy they no longer need. Their children are grown and independent, and the senior may need the funds to finance their own care needs. This is when a life insurance settlement may be of interest. Companies will buy the senior’s life insurance policy, giving them a lump sum payment in return. The policyholder will generally receive 50% to 75% of the policy’s face value. Surrendering or selling one’s life insurance policy is a major decision, so be sure to do plenty of research from reliable sources prior to making this choice.  
  • Reverse mortgage loans: Another option for financing assisted living is a reverse mortgage loan. These can be especially useful if the goal is to help a senior loved one move to an assisted living community prior to selling their home. Keep in mind that you’ll be required to pay the loan back with interest once you sell the home. 
  • State and local programs: In addition to the resources listed above, some states and cities have their own financial assistance programs to help make long-term care more affordable. Reach out to your local Area Agency on Aging for more information about available assistance in your city. 

How Do I Choose an Assisted Living Facility? 

How to Choose an Assisted Living Facility

With thousands of assisted living communities in the country to choose from, deciding which one to move into or for your loved one to live in can be quite challenging. The below section will help you learn what factors to focus on in your search to make your selection process less stressful and more efficient. 

What Should I Look for in an Assisted Living Community? 

Everyone’s preferences will be different when it comes to finding an ALF that’s the perfect fir for them. Still, there are certain characteristics that most high-quality communities share, explained in the list below. Pay special attention to the following items when researching and touring assisted living communities.

  • Personalized Care Plans: Most states require that each assisted living resident receives a personalized care plan upon admission. The best communities will update these plans regularly based on any changes in the loved one’s health and keep families updated regarding these changes. 
  • Safety and Security Protocols: Some communities have 24-hour security staff on-site while others may elect for a secure gate. Others may have minimal security. If this is important to you, ask how the ALF ensures that its residents are secure in their environment. 
  • Emergency Alert Systems: Emergency alert wall buttons, pendants, and bracelets that allow residents to immediately signal that they need help are common in ALFs. Ask if any such system is in place. 
  • Nutrition Planning: If your loved one has special nutrition or dietary needs, an ALF with a dietician on staff may be the best choice. Assisted living dieticians work to ensure that all residents eat a well-balanced diet and that those with special requirements are eating foods that are best for their body and health. 
  • Planned Social Activities: Seniors interested in maintaining a robust social calendar upon transitioning to assisted living should definitely look into a facility’s activity plans. Some communities have activities planned for every day of the week, while others schedule less frequent social events. 
  • Excellent Communication: When entrusting your loved one’s care with an ALF, you want to know that you’ll be able to reach them in the event of an emergency. Take your tour experience and preliminary communication with a community’s staff as an indicator of its overall communication strategies. If it’s nearly impossible to get a call back from a community about a tour, it may be a sign that the staff doesn’t communicate well with families in general. 
  • Straightforward and Clear Contracts: The best, most trustworthy assisted living communities will be forthcoming about all of their pricing and contract information. Ask to see a full copy of resident contracts and pricing information before making a decision about a community. The staff’s willingness and ability to provide you with this information can be an indicator of their overall transparency. 

How Do I Find Assisted Living Facilities in My Area?

SeniorHousNet is home to over 49,000 listings of senior living communities. You can start your search by entering your city or zip code at the top of this page. You can also reach out to one of our senior care advisors at (800) 304-8061 for help making a thoughtful, informed decision. Our experienced advisors will be happy to help you find assisted living locations nearby that fit you and your family’s needs and budget. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Assisted Living?

Assisted living is a residential senior care type that provides assistance with the activities of daily living (ADLs). It is a popular option for older adults because it combines independence with assistance. Assistance is available, but residents are also permitted to live as independently as they please. This allows them to maintain their autonomy and independence while knowing the support of caregivers is nearby around the clock.

What Types of Care and Services are Offered in an Assisted Living Community?

Assisted living communities offer residents help with personal care and the activities of daily living (ADL), including bathing, dressing, grooming, and toileting. Many also offer support with medication management. Well-balanced meals, healthy snacks, housekeeping services, laundry, transportation, life enrichment activities, and wellness programs are usually included in the resident’s monthly fee.

How Is an Assisted Living Community Different From a Nursing Home?

Assisted living communities differ from nursing homes because assisted living communities do not offer skilled nursing or medical care. Nursing homes do offer around-the-clock skilled care. Assisted living communities focus on providing a level of support that is more custodial in nature and less medically complex. Residents usually need help with two or three activities of daily living: bathing, grooming, dressing, toileting or continence care, and transferring (i.e., from one chair to another). By contrast, residents of a nursing home have more complex medical needs.

How Much Does Assisted Living Cost?

Assisted living costs an average of $4,051 per month in the United States. Prices vary between different cities and facilities and every ALF has its own method of determining pricing. Some communities bundle all care and services into one monthly price, while others have a base price and a variety of added charges. Make sure you understand what is—and isn’t—included in every assisted living community’s monthly fees.

Does Medicare Pay for an Assisted Living Community?

Medicare does not help finance assisted living. Medicare is a health insurance program designed to pay for the healthcare-related expenses of seniors and younger people who have disabilities. Because assisted living doesn’t meet that criteria, seniors and their families must rely on other types of financing for assisted living.

Are Residents Allowed to Have Pets in Assisted Living?

Residents are oftentimes allowed to have pets in assisted living, but the pet policy will depend on the specific community. There might be size or breed restrictions. Some ALFs require the resident to manage their pet independently, while others offer services to help the senior care for their pet. If you or your senior loved one has a pet that will be making the move too, ask the community for a copy of their pet policy.

Article and photos courtesy of www.seniorhousingnet.com

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Lance Mchan

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