Maintaining independence is important 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 houses – and understandably so. But the reality is that 1 in 5 U.S. adults age 85+ 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.
Actually, this level of care has several names. Certain states license services under terms such as residential care or personal care, but although there are important distinctions between the different licenses, the level of care associated with each is designed to offer necessary support so residents can enjoy optimal levels of independence.
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 support, 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 Assisted Living Doesn’t Provide
Assisted living is not the same as skilled nursing or nursing home care. In a skilled nursing facility, residents receive full-time care by a specially trained medical staff. 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 and/or Medicaid and are focused on short-term rehabilitation and long-term medical care.
You may also come across the term supportive services, which can have different definitions in different states. Sometimes, it’s a level of care similar to assisted living. Other times, it means care specifically designed for developmentally challenged adults.
What Are Activities of Daily Living?
Needing help with activities of daily living (ADLs) is the most common reason seniors choose assisted living. Those seeking assistance typically needs help with at least two everyday tasks. Studies show residents most common ADL needs are:
- 77% need help with bathing
- 69% need help with walking
- 62% need help with dressing
- 49% need help with toileting
- 51% need help with bed transfer
- 26% 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 almost 29,000 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: 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.
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 2019 Quality of Life in Assisted Living Survey found some encouraging news. When seniors moved into assisted living, 87% of residents and 78% of family members reported being satisfied or very satisfied with their overall experience in the community.
How do you know it may be time for your loved one to make the move to assisted living? (Read about the 10 Signs Your Aging Parent May Need Help.) 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 occurred, 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 2021 estimates the national median monthly rate for assisted living is $4,500, which breaks down to around $148 per day. To put that into some context, the same survey says a private room in a nursing home will cost around $297 per day ($9,034 per month). Home health aide services average $154 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.
Find and tour qualified assisted living communities in your area to help determine if one would be right for you or your loved one. We’ve made it easy with the community locator tool.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics
Older Americans 2016 Report on Key Indicators of Well-Being
Genworth Cost of Care Survey 2021
People, Place, Programming: Quality of Life in Assisted Living 2019
Family Caregiving, Today’s Research on Aging, February 2016
Assisted Living or Nursing Home? Caring.com, December 2016
National Center for Assisted Living