What is Assisted Living?

What is Assisted Living?

Assisted living is housing for seniors and people with disabilities that provides assistance with activities of daily living such as cleaning, bathing, and preparing and eating meals. Some assisted living communities or facilities also provide medical care, from administering medication to skilled nursing care.


Adults age 65 and older are expected to comprise as much as 20% of the United States population by the year 2030; and with a rising senior population comes a greater interest in the care options available for them. Of those care options, assisted living is a hugely popular choice for aging adults looking for a living situation that suits their current and future care needs. But what is assisted living? Here’s what you need to know.

Assisted living facilities and communities are broadly defined as housing for seniors and/or people with disabilities that provide housekeeping, meals, and medical assistance as needed. But while this definition will suffice at providing a basic understanding of what is expected from an assisted living community, there’s so much more beneath the surface-level description. From vibrant communities, to quality care, to active and independent living, assisted living helps seniors get the most out of their golden years.

Personalized Assistance

What are ADLs?

One of the most beneficial aspects of assisted living for residents is getting help with activities of daily living, or ADLs. While these activities, such as housekeeping, laundry, making meals, bathing, dressing and other hygiene practices, may sound basic, assistance helps to alleviate stress and the need to focus solely on day-to-day tasks, thereby freeing up time and energy as adults age.

Many adults over the age of 65 require some level of assistance with ADLs, though the activities and the people who assist them vary 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 or sustained physical labor. In many cases, this assistance comes from an informal caretaker, 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 an informal caretaker without training to feel overwhelmed. Regardless of ability, many seniors find that, as they grow older, they need more help with ADLs. That’s where formal care options, such as in-home care, skilled nursing facilities, and assisted living communities, come in.

What is Assisted Living 1

Active & Independent

Whether from personal experience with an elderly family member or stories in the media, formal care options for seniors tend to get associated with bleak images of nursing homes, where seniors are confined to semi-private rooms for most of the day. Fortunately, this perception does not describe assisted living communities. While assisted living communities retain staff to help with ADLs, as well as trained nurses and other medical staff to provide medical care such as medication administration, assistance is provided in order to facilitate residents’ autonomy and independence.

Depending on your personal requirements for privacy 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 look and feel like an independent home. Other options include private or semi-private housing with private or shared bathrooms, and various living arrangements with a spouse, partner, or friend.

View apartment floorplans in any of our resort-style communities here.


Benefits of Community Living

But of course, independent doesn’t mean isolated from others, especially in an assisted living community. A Place for Mom’s 2017 Senior Living Preferences Survey reported that for residents of assisted living communities, community quality was chosen as the number one priority in choosing a place to live. Staying socially active and engaged is critical to mental and emotional health for seniors, and can actually encourage a more active lifestyle for improving physical health as well. Social isolation, which is experienced especially by seniors who live alone, can have extremely harmful effects on the brain, including development of mental health issues such as depression. In the case of seniors who are at risk of developing or are currently developing dementia, isolation can hasten cognitive degeneration and memory loss.

Living in a community with other people in similar stages 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 talking, playing games, or simply enjoying the company of others.

In addition, assisted living facilities almost always have activities, events, and opportunities to encourage residents to become acquainted with others. Depending on the facility, meals are provided for residents one, two, or three times a day, often with the 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, such as discussion groups, art classes, and outdoor activities like gardening or trail walking, keep aging adults active and social.

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Specialized Care

In addition to caring for seniors’ wellness and assisting with ADLs, assisted living facilities usually employ skilled nursing staff, physical, behavioral, and mental health therapists, coordinators for community activities, physicians by appointment, and more, all dedicated to providing personalized, specialized care for their 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.

Over the past 10 years, the population 65 and over increased from 36.6 million in 2005 to 47.8 million in 2015 (a 30% increase) and is projected to more than double to 98 million in 2060. (Administration on Aging)

Understanding that assisted living communities vary from facility to facility, the differences in care services should be considered with utmost importance. One may offer memory care while another may not. 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 can provide the services you need.

For examples of care options offered by assisted living facilities, here are the services offered by various Vista Springs communities:

  • Rehabilitation: Recovering from injuries and illnesses can be hard for anyone, but for aging and elderly adults, regaining 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 an injury, including physical ability, mental and emotional wellness, and if necessary, speech and language capacity.
  • Memory Care: Seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia require different levels of care, both from seniors without these conditions and from seniors at different stages of the developing diseases. Assisted living facilities that offer memory care have buildings and staff that are focused on providing comfort, safety, and treatment throughout the development of their memory loss, empowering them with the best possible quality of life available.
  • Hospice Care: 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 under their care.
  • Respite Care: 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 facilities may offer different care services. Make sure you understand the extent of the services offered at the communities you’re considering before you make your decision.

What is Assisted Living: an older woman and her doctor look at a digital tablet

Holistic Care Options

Some assisted living facilities offer their residents non-medical therapies in conjunction with medical care services. These therapies allow a holistic approach to health that encompasses a variety of beliefs and needs. Some options include:

  • Aromatherapy: Because of how our brains are wired, our sense of smell is closely linked to our memory and can evoke strong emotions. Aromatherapy 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.
  • Color Therapy: 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 color therapy into the environment of an assisted living community, residents can receive the benefits, whatever they're doing. 

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 diverse and holistic number of care and wellness options.

Cost Considerations

The same 2017 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, how to pay for assisted living is among their chief concerns when making a decision.

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 2017 was $3,750, although costs range from $2,600 to $5,750 based on state. Compared to a skilled nursing facility, in which a shared room can cost an average of $227 a day, or about $6,810 a month, or a senior home care service that offers medical assistance at $3,696 for 22 work days out of the month, the services, living environment, and cost of assisted living is 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 long-term care plans, veteran assistance programs, and state senior assistance programs will help seniors cover the cost of assisted living. Talk to your insurance agent or financial advisor to see if your situation applies.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you still have questions about what assisted living facilities are, and what they do, you're far from alone. We get questions from seniors and their families all the time about the details of assisted living, and all of them are important to the process of deciding whether or not assisted living is right for them. Here are some commonly asked questions:

1. Is there an age limit for living in an assisted living community?

Short answer: no. People choose to live in assisted living communities for many reasons. If you're seeking to live independently, but don't want to deal with housework, yard work, or meal prep, you may seek an assisted living community with catered independent living as soon as you retire. In addition, some assisted living communities offer a range of care services all the way to hospice and palliative care, in which case there is no upper age limit.

2. What health issues cause someone to seek assisted living?

While you can be in perfectly good health and move to an assisted living community, many people seek out assisted living because of some change in their health. Conditions that are exacerbated by aging, such as arthritis and osteoporosis, can limit mobility and increase risk of falls, making assisted living an attractive option. In addition, seniors at risk of or suffering from dementia, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer can benefit from assisted living facilities that offer skilled nursing and memory care.

3. What are the different levels of assisted living?

People are unique, so there is no single care service or care path that can encompass assisted living. Many communities categorize services or groups of services into levels, from independent living all the way to palliative care. Here are some common levels:

  • Catered Independent Living: For seniors who want to live independently, with only occasional help with housework, grocery shopping, meal prep, and other ADLs.
  • Assisted Living: For seniors who want most or all of the burden associated with ADLs lifted from their responsibilities.
  • Memory Care: For seniors suffering from dementias such as Alzheimer's who require specialized care in living happy, fulfilling lives.
  • Hospice Care: For seniors who require end-of-life care, most often with support for loved ones.

When to Make the Move

Coming to terms with the need for care as you age, or talking to a loved one who may need more care, is a difficult emotional undertaking. If you or a loved one has trouble with activities of daily living, difficulty navigating the house, or is developing health problems that require specialized assistance, it may be time to talk about moving to assisted living. Even seniors who can still live independently may choose to move to assisted living purely because of the array of amenities and the rich community it offers. But regardless of your or your loved one’s level of ability, the decision ultimately comes down to you and those who care about you.

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 Midwest assisted living communities, or download our free eBook by clicking below.

Vista Springs

Last Updated: November 21, 2018