What is Assisted 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 "assists" seniors with activities of daily living (also known as ADLs) like cleaning, bathing, and preparing and eating meals. Assisted living communities or facilities also provide medical care services, ranging 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. With a rapidly growing senior population comes a greater interest in the types of available care options. Of those care options, assisted living is a popular choice for aging adults looking for a living situation that suits both their current and future care needs. 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 can provide a 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 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. Examples of ADLs include:

  • Housekeeping
  • Laundry
  • Making meals
  • Bathing
  • Dressing
  • Other personal hygiene practices


While these may sound like simple tasks, having assistance for daily activities that become difficult to accomplish alone as you age 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 time and energy as adults age.


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, this assistance comes from 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 ability, many seniors find that, as they grow older, they may need some kind of help with ADLs. That’s where formal care options—such as in-home care, skilled nursing facilities, and assisted living communities—come into play.



Active & Independent

What makes assisted living different from other forms of senior care?


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 image does not describe assisted living communities.


Rather than what the myths of assisted living would have you believe, communities are designed to only provide assistance for ADLs that seniors are unable to complete on their own, and allow independence in the other areas of their lives. Rather than force seniors to sit all day, assisted living works with residents to find a balance between assistance and independence.


Assisted living communities retain staff 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 private or semi-private housing with private or shared bathrooms, and various living arrangements with a spouse, partner, or friend.


View community floor plans here

Benefits of Community Living

What does day-to-day life look like in an assisted living community?


But of course, independent doesn’t mean isolated—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 improving physical health, as well as helping with mental and emotional health.


Social isolation, which is experienced by seniors who live alone, can have extremely harmful effects on the brain—including the 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 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 talking, playing games, or simply enjoying the company of others.


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—such as discussion groups, art classes, and outdoor activities like gardening or trail walking—keep aging adults active and social.



Specialized Care

What types of care are available in assisted living communities?


In addition to tending after seniors’ 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.


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)


It's important to understanding that assisted living communities vary from facility to facility. With that in mind, the differences in care services between communities needs to be considered carefully. One community may offer memory care services, 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 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, 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 or surgery. Rehabilitation includes 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. From seniors who haven't yet developed these conditions to seniors already at different stages of memory disease, memory care assistance is an important part of care services. Assisted living communities that offer memory care 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.


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.                                                         

Palliative Care

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.  


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 communities may offer different care services. Make sure you understand the extent of the services offered at the places you’re considering before you make your decision.




Holistic Care Options


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



Because of how our brains are wired, our sense of smell is closely linked to our memory and 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.


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 holistic care into the environment of an assisted living community, residents can receive the benefits, whatever they're doing. 


Music Therapy

Music is a holistic care approach that can stimulate sensory and cognitive areas of the brain. Both mental and physical, music therapy can include singing, listening to, and moving to music that is tailored to assist with things like pain management and Alzheimer's 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.

Cost Considerations

What does assisted living cost?


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 when 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 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 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 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 what options apply to your situation.

When to Make the Move

When should you choose assisted living?


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:

  • Struggle with personal hygiene
  • Have difficulty navigating around their home
  • Need assistance in getting to doctors appointments and grocery stores
  • Show signs of dementia or memory disease
  • Cannot make their own meals
  • Need help taking medications
  • Can no longer clean or care for their home


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. However, these seniors may want to consider a senior living waitlist so they have pre-approved access to their chosen community when the time comes. 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. You can also download our free eBook by clicking below.

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Last Updated: September 4, 2019