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A Guide to Assisted Living for Seniors

Rebecca Lake

Getting older means your needs and abilities may change when it comes to managing day-to-day tasks and staying healthy. Moving to an assisted living facility may be a solution to if you’re less able to manage your affairs or need more regular medical care. Assisted living differs from independent living and living in a nursing home. Here are the most important things to know about assisted living.

What Is Assisted Living?

According to the National Center for Assisted Living, assisted living falls under the umbrella of long-term care services. Assisted living facilities can offer a combination of:

  • Housing
  • Personal care services
  • Healthcare

Housing includes room, board and utilities, and the setting can vary based on the facility. For example, some assisted living communities may assign residents an individual room while others might offer private apartments. Or with some assisted living facilities, the living quarters may be shared by multiple residents.

Assisted living is designed for seniors who need something between independent living and nursing home care. These facilities help residents with various day-to-day aspects of living, which can include:

  • Planning and preparing meals
  • Administering medications
  • Personal care, such as bathing and dressing
  • Housekeeping and laundry services
  • Transportation and running errands
  • Exercise and wellness

Seniors may also receive medical care through assisted living, along with 24-hour emergency care on staff. For example, some facilities may specialize in caring for patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Additionally, assisted living facilities can offer social and recreational activities to help residents stay engaged and active.

The end goal of assisted living is to offer residents the help they need in their daily rounds, while still allowing them to feel independent.

Assisted Living vs. Independent Living

Independent living communities serve a different purpose than assisted living. With these communities, seniors essentially live independently, while enjoying shared perks and amenities.

For example, an independent living community might be composed of a neighborhood of homes or individual apartment units. Each resident has their own living space but as part of their independent living agreement, they have access to shared meal services, housekeeping, maintenance services and social activities.

This type of living situation is typically better suited to seniors who are still relatively healthy and have a desire to be part of a community and stay active. Residents are less likely to need help with daily activities than they would be in assisted living.

Assisted Living vs. Nursing Home Care

A nursing home is designed for seniors or other individuals who require round-the-clock medical care. While assisted living residents may still be able to get around and do certain things themselves, that may not be true for someone in a nursing home. For example, they may be confined to their beds or have limited mobility in their limbs that prevents them from feeding themselves, taking medication or managing personal hygiene.

What Does Assisted Living Cost?

Assisted living costs can vary, based on several factors including:

  • Type of facility
  • Where the facility is located
  • What services are provided
  • Whether rates are tiered, based on amenities or the level of care required
  • Whether housing is private, semi-private or shared

According to Genworth Financial, the average monthly cost of assisted living was $4,051 in 2019 or just over $48,000 for the year. By comparison, hiring a home health aide cost an average of $52,624 while living in a nursing home cost $102,200 for a private room. Independent living facilities can range from $1,000 to $10,000 per month.

If you’re considering assisted living for retirement or you’re planning ahead for your aging parents, it’s important to do the math to see how affordable it may be. Compared to a nursing home facility, assisted living costs about half as much but it could be more expensive than independent living, depending on the community.

Staying at home and paying for in-home care is another option, but hiring a home-health aide could end up being more expensive than assisted living. Not only that but staying at home means paying all the ongoing costs to maintain that home.

That includes a mortgage if one is still owed on the property, utilities, maintenance and repairs, property taxes and homeowners insurance. That doesn’t cover any improvements you might need to make to the home, such as installing a wheelchair ramp if your mobility changes as you age. Reviewing retirement assets, including tax-deferred accounts, taxable accounts and estimated social security benefits can offer some perspective on how equipped you are to manage the costs of assisted living versus another retirement living option.

How to Evaluate Assisted Living Facilities

A good place to start when trying to decide if assisted living is the right move is to visit any facilities you’re considering. That can give you a feel for what it’s like to live there. At the same time, you can also ask questions and take note of things like:

  • Visitation policies
  • Living arrangements
  • Social and recreational activities
  • On-site healthcare and support services
  • Staff and resident interactions
  • Resident-to-resident interactions
  • Condition of the facility
  • Which services are or aren’t included
  • Food service and meals

You should also research the facility’s licensing and insurance coverage, along with any past history of complaints. Ask about the refund and discharge policy in case it turns out the facility isn’t a good fit.

The Bottom Line

Assisted living is something you or your aging parents may eventually need, and it helps to know what to expect. Comparing how different facilities operate, the range of services offered and the cost can help when deciding which option is best. Most importantly, think about whether assisted living is the right solution for you (or your parents) compared to independent living, a nursing home or staying at home.

Tips for Investing

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about fitting assisted living or other elder care options into your family’s financial plan. Finding the right financial advisor who fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors who will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • It’s important to note that Medicare doesn’t pay for assisted living or long-term nursing care. But there are ways that Medicaid might help if you’re eligible, based on your income and assets. Medicaid may also help, depending on where you live and your specific situation. Here are the main things to know about getting Medicare and Medicaid to help pay for assisted living.

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