The many names for different kinds of senior living and care communities can get muddled and confusing. Retirement homes, assisted living, nursing homes, care facilities, old folk's home, and other terms are often used interchangeably, even when the facilities themselves are very different. So what is assisted living? And what makes assisted living communities a more favorable choice than other types of senior living?
The definition of assisted living is a senior living community that provides housing, personal assistance, and care services for seniors and people with disabilities.
As the name implies, assisted living facilities "assist" seniors with activities of daily living (also known as ADLs) like cleaning, bathing, or preparing and eating meals. Assisted living facilities—also known as assisted living communities—will provide medical care services in addition to daily care, ranging from simple medication administration to the type of highly skilled nursing care which previously was only associated with nursing homes.
Adults age 65 and older are expected to comprise as much as 20% of the United States population by the year 2030. As this growing senior population reaches retirement age and beyond, there comes a high interest in the types of available care options. Of those options, assisted living is becoming a more and more popular choice for aging adults. Assisted living communities provide a living situation that suits both current and future care needs for seniors. But what is assisted living? Here’s what you need to know.
Assisted living communities are broadly defined as housing for seniors or people with disabilities that provide housekeeping, meals, and medical assistance as needed. But while this definition provides a very basic understanding of what you can expect from an assisted living community, there’s so much more beneath this surface-level description.
With vibrant communities, quality care, and active and independent living, assisted living facilities help seniors age in place in an environment where they are able to get the most out of their golden years.
One of the most beneficial aspects of assisted living for residents is getting help with activities of daily living, or ADLs. Examples of ADLs include:
While these ADLs may sound like simple, everyday tasks, they can become difficult for seniors to complete on their own as they age. Having assistance for daily activities helps to alleviate stress and make a senior's life easier. Assistance also relieves the need to focus solely on day-to-day tasks, thereby freeing up both time and energy for different activities.
Many adults over the age of 65 require some level of assistance with ADLs, though the tasks they need help with and the level of assistance varies from person to person. For example, a senior who lives at home and can perform most ADLs on their own may still need help taking care of yard work or housekeeping that requires heavy lifting and sustained physical labor.
In many cases, assistance comes in the shape of an informal caregiver, such as an adult child, neighbor, or friend. Seniors with mental or physical health conditions may need more assistance with ADLs at younger ages, causing a family caregiver without training to feel overwhelmed.
Regardless of their current ability, many seniors find that, as they grow older, they need some level of help with ADLs. That’s where formal care options come into play. These typically include one of the following:
While many seniors initially prefer an in-home care option, they often find that after a while they miss social interactions and a sense of community. Skilled nursing facilities, or nursing homes, aren't a popular choice with seniors who still have high levels of independence. Therefore, assisted living communities become a perfect option for seniors who want the best of both worlds.
Whether from personal experience with an elderly family member or from stories in the media, formal care options for seniors tend to get associated with bleak images of nursing homes. In our minds, seniors are confined to semi-private rooms for most of the day with no activities or entertainment to keep them occupied. Thankfully, this depressing image of senior living does not describe daily life in assisted living communities.
Rather than what some of the myths of assisted living would have you believe, assisted living communities are designed to only provide assistance for ADLs that seniors are unable to complete on their own—allowing older adults to maintain independence in the other areas of their lives. Rather than force seniors to accept help they don't need, assisted living works with residents to find a balance between assistance and independence.
Assisted living communities retain regular staff members to help with ADLs, as well as trained nurses and other medical staff to provide medical care. With plenty of assisted living communities to choose from, finding a community that suits your loved one's needs isn't difficult.
Because personal preferences for privacy are different, when looking at an assisted living facility it’s important to consider what types of housing a community offers. Many assisted living facilities offer apartments, cottages, or suites that have a luxurious atmosphere and look and feel like an independent home. Other options include:
But of course, independent living doesn’t mean isolated living—especially in an assisted living community. A Place for Mom’s Senior Living Preferences Survey reported that for residents of assisted living communities, the quality of a community was the number one priority in choosing a place to live.
Staying socially active and cognitively engaged is critical to the mental and emotional health of seniors. Socialization actually encourages a more active lifestyle which improves physical health, as well as helping seniors with their mental and emotional health.
Social isolation, which is experienced by seniors who live alone or who only have limited interaction with a family caregiver, can have extremely harmful effects on the brain—including the
Living in a community with other people in a similar stage of life can help seniors feel connected and make socializing feel effortless. The proximity of others in apartment living allows residents of assisted living communities to form close relationships with those around them without having to stray far from their private residences. And for times when they’d rather wander, welcoming community spaces are available for:
In addition, assisted living communities have activities, events, and opportunities that encourage residents to become acquainted with others. Depending on the community, meals are provided for residents one, two, or three times a day, often with an option to eat in a communal dining setting. Some assisted living communities will offer varied dining experiences such as pubs and fine dining.
In addition to meals, activities keep aging adults social and active, including:
In addition to tending to general wellness and assisting with ADLs, assisted living communities usually employ skilled nursing staff, physical, behavioral, and mental health therapists, coordinators for community activities, physicians by appointment, and more. All these dedicated professionals work to provide personalized, specialized care for assisted living residents.
The senior population in the United States is growing rapidly as thousands of Baby Boomers reach retirement age every single day. For many of them, having a place to live that can provide a spectrum of care to meet their needs as they age is a priority. Assisted living communities are happy to provide what they are looking for.
While the basic definition of assisted living is clear, it's important to understanding that assisted living communities
If you’re a senior who may be at risk of a health condition that requires specialized care, or if you’re researching options for a loved one with unique, specific needs, it’s critical to look closely at your care requirements and ensure that the community you are looking at can provide the services needed to age in place.
For examples of care options offered by assisted living facilities, here are the services offered by various Vista Springs communities:
Recovering from injuries and illnesses can be hard for anyone, but for aging and elderly adults, returning to their maximum level of function can seem impossible. Rehabilitation services focus on restoring every aspect of a person who has undergone a life-changing event, such as a major injury or surgery. Rehabilitation can include:
Seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia require different levels of care than other aging adults. From seniors who haven't yet developed any symptoms to seniors already within a stage of memory disease, memory care assistance is an essential part of assisted living care services.
Assisted living communities that offer memory care often have buildings and staff that are focused on providing comfort, safety, and treatment throughout the development of memory loss—empowering seniors with the best possible quality of life available.
In the final stages of life, hospice care aims to provide comfort, support, and counsel to patients and their families. Hospice care staff work to bring peace to those nearing the end of life.
Many assisted living communities are adding palliative care teams to their staff, or making arrangements for personal palliative care teams to work within assisted living homes. Palliative care focuses on relieving pain and managing symptoms for a serious illness that doesn't necessarily mean end-of-life.
For caretakers of seniors such as adult children, extended family, or friends, care can be taxing and stressful even if they take pride and joy in the role. Respite care offers the chance for seniors to relax and enjoy a stay at an assisted living community while their caretakers take some time for themselves.
Once again, different assisted living communities may offer different types of care services. Make sure you understand the extent of the services offered at the communities you’re considering before you make your final decision.
Some assisted living facilities offer residents non-medical therapies, or holistic care, in conjunction with medical care services. Seniors enjoy these care services as they don't involve additional medications and invasive medical procedures.
Holistic therapies have a broad approach to health that encompasses a variety of beliefs and needs. Some options found in assisted living communities include:
Because of our brain chemistry, our sense of smell is closely linked to our memory, which means smells can evoke strong emotions. Aromatherapy is a type of holistic care that uses aromatic substances known as essential oils, which are derived from plants like flowers, grasses, fruits, and tree bark and are highly concentrated. They promote wellness for a number of conditions, such as anxiety, pain, and sleeplessness.
Similarly, our brains react to certain colors in ways that are leveraged through color therapy. For example, blues and greens tend to be calming and healing, while reds can stimulate appetite. By working a color therapy holistic care plan into the environment of an assisted living community, such as in the paint color, residents receive the benefits every day.
Music is a holistic care approach that can stimulate sensory and cognitive areas of the brain. Helping seniors both mentally and physically, music therapy can include singing, listening, and moving to music that is tailored to assist with things like pain management and memory disease.
As the population of aging adults grows in the United States, more senior living communities are offering complementary treatment options in addition to best-in-class medical care. When selecting an assisted living community, be sure to look for those that offer a number of diverse and holistic care and wellness options.
The same Senior Living Preferences study referenced above found that for residents of assisted living communities, affordability was the top priority for only about 30% of respondents. However, for many seniors and their families looking into assisted living, discovering how to pay is still among their chief concerns before making a final decision.
Many communities have their prices—which can include things like rent, care services, ADLs, and luxury upgrades—included in monthly packages so family members can see pricing without hidden costs. These packages make it easier for families to find assisted living communities within their budget.
When compared to the prices and services provided through other senior care options, assisted living is quite affordable. The majority of assisted living communities charge monthly rent, with additional fees based on the resident’s needs for additional or specialized care services.
The national average monthly rent in 2019 was $4,000, although costs can range from $2,844 to $9,266 based on what state you live in. Compared to a skilled nursing facility, in which a shared room can cost an average of $245 a day, or $7,350 a month, or senior home care services that offer medical assistance at $3,872 for 22 days out of the month, the services, living environment, and cost of assisted living makes it one of the best and most cost effective options available.
Depending on your state, veteran status, and insurance coverage, there are also options for financial assistance for assisted living. Some options include:
Talk to your insurance agent or financial advisor to see what options will apply to your situation.
Coming to terms with the need for care as you age, or talking to a loved one who may need more assistance that you as a caregiver can provide is a difficult and emotional undertaking. However, it may be time to talk to your loved on if they:
Even seniors who can still live independently may choose to move to assisted living purely because of the array of amenities and rich community that is offered. In addition, seniors may want to consider a senior living waitlist so they have pre-approved access to their chosen community when the time comes.
Want to talk to us about whether assisted living is the right choice? Still wondering: what is assisted living? Contact us for more information or to tour one of our Michigan and Ohio based assisted living communities. You can also download our FREE eBook about assisted living communities and nursing homes by clicking on the link below.
Last Updated: February 20, 2020