What Is Assisted Living?

Maintaining independence is a big deal for people as they age. In fact, losing it is one of the biggest fears seniors have. An overwhelming majority want to remain in their own homes – and understandably so. But the reality is that almost half of U.S. adults age 65+ say they either need or currently receive help with activities of daily living (ADLs). Is there a way to get that kind of help and still be as independent as possible? Yes – it’s called assisted living.

What Does Assisted Living Provide?
What Are Activities of Daily Living?
What’s an Assisted Living Community Like?
Assisted Living vs. Nursing Home Care
Benefits of Assisted Living
How Much Does Assisted Living Cost?
Does Medicare or Medicaid Cover Assisted Living?

What Does Assisted Living Provide?
Simply put, assisted living communities give older adults personalized care in a residential setting. They’re for seniors whose health or well-being requires a higher level of personal care, which is determined through a health assessment by the community according to state regulations. Assisted living also provides a healthy lifestyle and social engagement.

The most common assisted living services offered include medication management and assistance with using the bathroom, dressing and grooming. Housekeeping, meals, laundry and transportation services, as well as social programs and activities, are typically included. Staff is available 24/7 to help with safety, care and support. Residents are encouraged to bring furniture and personal items to make their new home feel, well, like home.

Residents are assessed when they move in, so they can get an individualized service plan to meet specific needs and make their care truly personal.

Some assisted living communities are also licensed to provide memory care. These will often have separate dining rooms and menus based on residents’ nutritional needs.

What Are Activities of Daily Living?
Needing help with activities of daily living is the most common reason seniors choose assisted living. To qualify for assisted living, a person typically must need help with at least two everyday tasks. According to the National Center for Assisted Living, these are the most common ADL needs residents have:

  • 62% need help with bathing
  • 47% need help with dressing
  • 39% need help with toileting
  • 30% need help with bed transfer
  • 20% need help with eating

(National Center for Assisted Living)

What’s an Assisted Living Community Like?
Assisted living communities are a lot like independent living communities, providing the same types of social and lifestyle benefits. They also offer specially designed programs and opportunities adapted for assisted living residents.

There are over 30,000 assisted living communities in the U.S. today, so there’s a community to fit just about every preference. While the types of assisted living settings vary from high-rise apartments to multi-acre campuses and everything in between, the approach is the same: to treat all residents with dignity, provide privacy and encourage independence.

Assisted living is regulated in all 50 states. Be sure to check your state’s regulations.

Assisted Living vs. Nursing Home Care
Assisted living residents typically need help with a few ADLs. People who require a higher level of medical care, either short term or long term, need what’s known as skilled nursing care, extended care or long-term care. These facilities are licensed by Medicare or Medicaid and are focused on short-term rehabilitation and long-term medical care.

Benefits of Assisted Living
There are more benefits to assisted living than simply getting a helping hand. It can actually make the quality of life significantly better for the person needing assistance, and can make life easier for the main caregiver (usually a loved one).

The 2016 Family Quality of Life Survey found some encouraging news. When a senior moved into assisted living, 73% of families reported improvement in their loved one’s quality of life. Assisted living residents themselves said their nutrition, social well-being and physical health all improved after moving.

How do you know your loved one might need to make the move to assisted living? Think back over the last year or so, and see if you can recall any of these issues, which can be criteria for assisted living:

  • They’ve experienced at least one fall, with or without injury.
  • Meal preparation is becoming more difficult.
  • You’ve noticed signs of hunger or that nutritional needs aren’t being met.
  • It’s getting harder for them to safely maneuver around the house.
  • More help is needed getting dressed, bathing, managing medication or with other activities of daily living.
  • You have worries about isolation and/or their safety.

If any of these have been happening, it may be worth your time to explore assisted living options.

How Much Does Assisted Living Cost?
Because assisted living costs vary from one community to the next, residence size, types of services needed, and even which part of the country you live in, there’s no single answer to the question of cost. It is, however, often less expensive than home health or nursing care in the same area.

The Genworth Cost of Care Survey 2017 estimates that the national median monthly rate for assisted living is $3,750, which breaks down to around $123 per day. To put that into some context, the same survey says a private room in a nursing home will cost around $267 per day ($8,121 per month). Home health aide services average $135 per day. You can see what assisted living could cost in your state at Genworth.

Does Medicare or Medicaid Cover Assisted Living?
Typically, no. Every state, however, has specific limitations and provisions. While your personal health insurance coverage continues and your pharmaceutical coverage continues, Medicare typically doesn’t pay for assisted living.

Most assisted living residents pay for this kind of care from their personal resources (“private pay”) or with help from the limited coverage provided by long-term care insurance. However, many states offer home and community-based waivers that can help low-income residents afford assisted living. Check with your state Medicaid resource to address your situation and needs.

As you think about assisted living as an option, remember that it’s not about giving up your independence or the good parts of life. It’s about getting the right kind of help – which can go a long way toward maintaining a higher quality of life.