What is Assisted Living? A Complete Guide 2021

Juliet D'cruz

Updated on:


Senior living options are nothing like they were a few decades ago. In fact, there are more senior living solutions available now than there were even a few decades ago. The industry has evolved to provide specific assistance and support to seniors who are living with different challenges and abilities. The majority of senior living options fall into four categories: independent living, assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing. However, assisted living is often the most versatile and popular choice for older adults.

Assisted living communities provide luxury amenities and supportive services designed to enhance wellness for the residents who live there. Caregivers are there around the clock to provide personalized assistance as well, giving residents a friendly helping hand with tasks ranging from showering to housekeeping. Nurses are also there to develop and oversee personalized care plans, ensuring residents receive the types of support they need to stay as healthy as possible.

In addition to the amenities, services, and personalized care, assisted living communities offer spacious apartments, entertaining spaces, chef-prepared meals served in a dining room with neighbors, and planned events, excursions, and programs for residents to enjoy.

In short, assisted living is the ideal solution for many seniors who might feel lonely or unsafe at home or who are simply looking to say goodbye to household chores.

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What Are the Benefits of Assisted Living?

Assisted living is a popular senior living option because it is effective. Residents and family members see the benefits of assisted living daily. Though not all residents come to assisted living for the same reasons, most of them end up staying because of the service, the support, and the opportunities available within a few steps of their apartment door.

The benefits of assisted living include:

  • Personalized assistance and support, which can help to reduce the risk of falling
  • Medication management services, which can decrease the risk of medication errors
  • Housekeeping and laundry services, which give residents the chance to use their time and energy for other opportunities around campus
  • Chef-prepared meals served three times daily in the dining room, providing nutritional support and eliminating the need to grocery shop or to prepare meals for themselves
  • Planned activities, events, and trips that are all designed to enhance whole-person wellness and give residents the chance to connect with neighbors
  • Better and more consistent socialization; recent research from the Centers for Disease Control and other sources has found that isolated and lonely seniors are more likely to experience negative health consequences ranging from dementia to heart disease to premature death
  • Peace of mind that comes with knowing someone is always available to assist in case of emergency
  • Easy access to health and wellness resources, including many on-site visits from local medical professionals
  • Transportation services to comfortably take residents to run errands or visit their physician
  • Concierge services to assist with answering questions or offering friendly assistance
  • Use of amenities such as theaters, libraries, walking paths, on-site salons, and more

What Does Assisted Living Not Provide?

Assisted living provides around-the-clock support from trained caregivers. However, it does not provide skilled nursing interventions. Seniors with more complex medical needs might need to seek short- or long-term care in a skilled nursing facility.

Assisted living communities do not provide skilled nursing interventions such as:

  • Complex wound care
  • IV therapy
  • Injections
  • Catheter care

Further, though assisted living communities often offer physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy services on-site, these services are considered “outpatient” or “in-home.” In contrast, therapy services received in a skilled nursing setting are considered inpatient.

What Is the Difference Between Assisted Living and Other Senior Care Types?

The good news for all older adults is that they have a choice when it comes to senior living solutions that are ideal for them now and in the future. However, with more choices comes more confusion, making knowing your options and how they differ even more important. Here are a few key differences that separate assisted living from the other types of senior living out there.

Assisted Living vs. Nursing Homes

Skilled nursing facilities, sometimes referred to as SNFs or nursing homes, are more clinical environments. Most similar to a hospital, these communities offer care for complex conditions, chronic pain, or intense rehabilitation or recovery.

Assisted living communities feel more like home than a hospital. These communities feature caregiver support and personalized assistance with activities of daily living but do not provide complex skilled nursing tasks.

Assisted Living vs. Memory Care

Memory care communities, sometimes called dementia care communities, are specialized versions of assisted living communities made specifically to support those living with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia. These communities share similar hallmarks of assisted living, such as around-the-clock caregiver assistance, but all interventions and environments are designed to support those living with cognitive decline.

Assisted Living vs. Independent Living

Independent living communities are for the active adult who wants a maintenance-free retirement lifestyle with opportunities for more socialization. Independent living communities feature luxury amenities and services but do not have around-the-clock caregivers or provide access to nursing services.

Assisted living communities often share the same amenities and services with independent living communities, just with the bonus of added caregiver support.

Assisted Living vs. Home Care

Finally, seniors also have the option of staying at home instead of moving to a senior living apartment. Home care agencies can provide visiting caregivers who come to the home during scheduled times to assist with personal care tasks or household chores such as grocery shopping, meal preparation, or light housekeeping. However, these scheduled visits are often paid hourly and can get quite expensive quickly, especially if the senior needs 12- to 24-hour care.

When Is It Time for Assisted Living?

It is never too early to begin looking at assisted living communities. Unfortunately, many seniors and their family members wait until a health crisis or emergency makes the decision for them. The transition is more exciting and smooth when the senior has the opportunity to research and tour multiple communities before choosing one for themselves. In addition, moving to assisted living sooner than later means your loved one has plenty of time to enjoy and benefit from the amenities, services, and care offered at their new home.

Not sure if it is time to start looking for assisted living? Here are a few signs that it is time to begin your search:

  • A fall at home in the past three months
  • Increased stress or frustration over managing their own medication schedule
  • Expressed feelings of loneliness
  • Increased depression or anxiety
  • Decreased attention to personal hygiene
  • Difficulty managing chronic pain

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How Much Does Assisted Living Cost?

Assisted living communities typically charge a monthly fee to residents who live there. The monthly fee includes more than just a spacious apartment. It also covers all utilities, three meals per day (plus snacks), housekeeping services, laundry services, transportation services, and care.

Similar to real estate, assisted living monthly fee rates vary from location to location. However, Genworth reports that the national average for assisted living is just over $4,000 per month. This number might seem large at first glance, but most seniors and their family members are pleasantly surprised to see that they can actually afford it when they compare their monthly costs acquired while living at home alone.

Does Medicare or Medicaid Cover Assisted Living?

Although there are ways to offset the cost of assisted living, Medicare is typically not one of them. Seniors can look at their specific long-term care insurance to see if assisted living services are covered, and they can seek VA Aid & Attendance benefits if they are a qualified veteran or spouse.

Another way to offset costs of assisted living is to research local waivers that are sometimes offered through city, village, and state organizations.


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