Navigating the world of senior care options is not an easy task. A wide variety of care options exist, and understanding which option is the best for you and your family can be challenging. That’s why we’ve created this helpful guide that unpacks what assisted living has to offer and how it’s different from other care options your family might consider. Throughout this guide, we’ve included a wide variety of links to useful articles and hope that you find this guide a valuable tool for continuing your research.

— Your friends at Highgate Senior Living



When most people think of assisted living communities, they consider what kind of care and support a loved one might receive. Some families begin their search by looking for help with activities of daily living (ADLs) such as bathing, grooming, dressing, and medication management. Others look for support with cooking, cleaning, laundry, and other tasks.

Senior care options range from moving a loved one in with family to home care, senior living (such as independent living, assisted living, or memory care), and long-term care in a nursing home.

Senior living options also offer a variety of activities, recreational programs, scheduled outings, and other social opportunities many seniors don’t have access to living in their own homes. The quality and diversity of these programs is very dependent on the level of importance a senior living provider has placed on these offerings.

These programs are not typically the primary reason families search for assisted living care options, but as families learn the importance of socialization, living a life with purpose, and interaction with others our own age has on overall happiness in our later years, this often becomes a key piece of the research families do when considering senior care options.

Take a Look at This Slideshow to See Examples of Recreational Activities


Senior living providers also typically offer some type of nutritional dining program, with the exception of some independent living apartment providers.

These programs can also vary significantly from provider to provider depending on the level of importance that has been placed on the dining program’s overall impact on resident satisfaction. High-quality dining programs are tailored to the unique nutritional needs of older adults. Eating nutritious foods can make a world of difference in overall well-being, but providers who incorporate residents’ interests and preferences, and offer culturally diverse meals will exceed expectations.

The approach to care can differ from assisted living to assisted living community. While some communities resemble a more clinical approach to care and treatment, others practice a holistic approach that takes psychological, physical, emotional, and social needs into consideration.

Read This Guide to Learn More About Holistic Health Care


2. What is the Difference Between Home Care, Assisted Living, and Nursing Home Care?

Home health care offers a wide range of health care services that can be provided in the home. For families who are considering both home care and assisted living, research often begins with identifying how much support a loved one needs with activities of daily living, as well as instrumental activities of daily living.

Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) refer to a series of personal care activities that are fundamental to caring for oneself and maintaining independence, such as bathing, dressing, grooming, toileting, transferring, walking, and eating.

Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs) are activities that require more complex thinking skills and organizational skills, such as shopping, cooking, managing medications, using the phone, doing housework and laundry, driving or using public transportation, and managing finances.

Senior living options range from independent senior living and assisted living communities to nursing homes and dementia care facilities.

Most families easily understand the difference between home care and senior living, but understanding the difference between long-term care in a nursing home and senior living options (like assisted living) isn’t as easy.

One benefit of understanding the difference between assisted living care and what a nursing home offers is the potential to preserve assets. Often, assisted living is less expensive than nursing home care if it is an option for your loved one depending on the amount of support they need.

Let’s take a closer look at how assisted living and nursing homes differ.

Medical Services

Nursing homes offer around-the-clock nursing care for seniors with debilitating medical conditions or for those with medical conditions that require close, frequent monitoring by a nurse because of possible changes in nursing treatment.

Nursing homes are equipped to manage complex medical services and are usually equipped to handle IVs, wound care management, or recovery after surgery.

Not all seniors that need healthcare support require 24-hour nursing care.

Assisted living communities have 24-hour staff available, which is usually a mix of licensed nursing staff and care providers.

What's the difference between home care and assisted living

Recreational Activities and Outings

Compared to assisted living, recreation activities, programs, and outings offered in a nursing home usually differ greatly. Due to physical and psychological limitations of nursing home residents, the activities program tends to focus on activities that can serve a larger population of residents regardless of functional status.

Some assisted living communities offer robust programs with activities that cater to spiritual, physical, emotional, and social needs and wants. Some also have transportation available for scheduled outings, allowing residents to stay connected in their communities.

However, others have fairly limited activities programs that only offer a few activities daily. Careful consideration should be taken when comparing communities, and the comparison should extend beyond health care capabilities and cost.

Physical Environment

In a nursing home, residents usually have rooms resembling a hospital-like setting or small studio apartments which your loved one may share with another resident. Assisted living communities typically offer apartment-style living options that allow you to live in a home-like environment while receiving assistance with activities.

Nursing home rooms are often furnished with a hospital bed and a bedside table. Their small size often significantly limits what furnishings or personal items can be brought from home. Assisted living apartments are typically furnished with items you bring from home, with the exception of respite stay apartments, a short-term living environment that allows caregivers a scheduled break from providing direct care, or an opportunity for seniors to try senior living before making a final commitment to moving.

Residents are encouraged to furnish and decorate an assisted living apartment. Some families choose to move furnishings and decor a loved one already owns, while others look at the move as an opportunity to buy new.

Because of the level of care provided in a nursing home, all three meals are provided, and rooms are not equipped for cooking. Assisted living communities vary, with some offering full kitchens and others offering kitchenettes that feature a small refrigerator and microwave or small cooktop. The number of meals offered in each assisted living community can range from one to three meals per day.

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Having a pet has many benefits, including warding off depression, keeping you active, and promoting socialization. While many nursing homes have pet therapy programs, it is unlikely you can bring a family pet to live with you. Some assisted living communities are pet-friendly and encourage you to bring your furry friend with you. Depending on the provider, they may also help you care for your pet.

Living Arrangements for Couples

In some circumstances, if the care needs are drastically different for a couple, they may not be given the option to live together in a nursing home. Alternatively, senior living providers like Highgate Senior Living have created programs specifically to accommodate couple’s care and the preferences of couples when it comes to living together or apart. Not all senior living providers offer care that promotes couples cohabitating, so careful consideration and vetting should occur when researching senior living options.

3. When Is the Right Time to Start Looking?

So when should you do your research? The earlier the better! There are many benefits to proactively searching for senior living.

But, if you haven’t, here are some reasons you may want to consider it:

1. Socialization

As seniors age, living alone can lead to loneliness, isolation, and depression, and driving usually becomes more difficult at some point. Living in an assisted living community allows access to activities, outings, and more.

Most women don’t want to live alone. According to a study completed by Elaine M. Eshbaugh, lack of companionship, no one to help with the housework, and fear of falling or getting hurt were among the top three concerns of widowed or single older women surveyed. While it may seem scary to make such a big change as moving, most wish they had done it sooner.

Living in a community allows residents to build and maintain relationships with others their own age who have similar interests. Residents are also able to develop new intergenerational relationships with those providing care and support for them, a responsibility that can place strain on the parent-adult relationship.

Your loved one may not be the most outgoing person, but having even one friend can prevent the downward spiral that occurs when isolated.

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2. Safety

Older adults who live alone have an increased risk of infection, falls, dehydration, and injuries. Daily oversight by trained clinical staff can prevent missing health changes that could indicate a reason to be concerned.

In assisted living communities, trained clinical professionals monitor your loved one’s health daily; it’s much easier to catch health issues before they become too severe. A second set of eyes can be invaluable, especially when no one wants to run to the doctor for every sneeze or stomach ache.

3. Nutrition

Getting proper nutrition can become more difficult. As we age, proper nutrition becomes more important than ever. Certain medications can make it difficult to have an appetite, but the aroma of home-cooked food is hard to argue with.

Shopping and cooking for one can be difficult. Shopping for groceries and cooking can feel more like a burden or an unwelcome chore. Assisted living communities offer an opportunity for residents to enjoy time around the dinner table with others, without having to worry about what they will cook. For many assisted living residents, it’s one of their favorite times of the day.


Nutrition at Assisted Living vs Home

4. Family Health


Caregiver stress can take a toll on relationships, and your own health. Family caregivers (whether an adult child or a spouse) run a high risk of feeling isolated because of reduced social interaction. 

Caregivers tend to put their health second and 24/7 family caregiving is frequently at the expense of the caregiver’s health.

A common misconception about assisted living is that it’s for just single men and women. Many couples choose to pursue assisted living as well because of the support it provides the spouse that is the primary caregiver.

Assisted living not only creates an environment that supports those who are in need of assistance, but it also promotes an environment where one can thrive. It’s never too early to equip yourself with information and visit senior living communities, even if there isn’t an immediate need to make a decision, visiting communities gives you a first-hand glimpse at how life may look as a resident.



4. How Much Will Assisted Living Cost?

Assisted living costs can best be understood when broken into two parts — the cost of the apartment, and the cost associated with health care services.

Your rental rate for the apartment you have chosen varies based on the apartment size, style, or sometimes location of the apartment. Some communities offer only one or two different styles of apartment but use value pricing to allocate a higher cost to apartments that are closer to elevators, have better views, or are on the first floor of the building. Unlike a stand-alone apartment complex, assisted living facilities also include other benefits that are typically tied into the rental rate, such as:

1. Utilities: Rental fees typically include utilities, except for phone or internet.

2. Laundry: and Housekeeping Services: Some offer laundry or housekeeping services within their base rental fees; others allow you to add this into your service package as needed.

3. Maintenance: Expected maintenance of the apartment is usually included in the base rent, which also includes upkeep of landscaping.

4. Recreation Programs: The recreation program offered can also play a large part in the rental amount with communities that offer dynamic activities programs.

5. Dining Programs: Some assisted living communities include a dining package in their base rental fees and others allow you to add one to three meals per day based on the resident’s preferences and their accessibility to a kitchen within their apartment.

Assisted living costs for supportive care services can also vary greatly. Some assisted living communities offer a’la carte pricing where you are able to individually select the services your loved one needs.

Other communities have an all-in-one pricing package based on which “level” of care your loved one needs. The third option for assisted living service pricing is the “all-inclusive” concept.

Here is a deeper look at pricing for healthcare services in assisted living:

1. A’ la Carte: Assisted living facilities that offer an a ’la carte pricing option individually select the services needed as you need them. It allows you to only pay for what you need, and if your loved one’s needs change over time you can adjust the care plan.

2. Levels of Care: Packaged services, also known as levels of care, have a price plan based upon usually three or four different levels of care. After your loved one requires a certain level of care, the price increases. Rather than continually adding or removing services as with an a’ la carte program, residents are periodically reassessed, and the level of care that best fits their needs is chosen.

3. All-Inclusive: The idea of all-inclusive assisted living facilities may sound appealing when you first hear about it, but your loved one may be paying more than they need to. All-inclusive communities account for every amenity and service in one bundled price, such as monthly rent, activities, meals,  housekeeping, and personal care. One of the biggest downfalls of all-inclusive pricing is that it doesn’t allow for the price to be customized based on the needs of your loved one. Those needing more care get better value for the all-inclusive price they pay than those needing little to no care at all. Staff ratios may also be challenging in a community that offers all-inclusive since care fees do not adjust based on the resident’s needs. With an all-inclusive pricing structure, there is little flexibility for those with higher care needs. Either an extended care package is assessed, or your loved one is referred elsewhere for housing and services.

Worried About the Cost of Assisted Living? 

Download this free eBook and learn the most cost-effective ways to pay for assisted living. 

How to Pay for Assisted Living

6. Where to Start

Now that you know a little more about what assisted living can offer, here’s a short list of the next steps to continue your research:

  • Find out what assisted living options are in your area.
  • Call before visiting a community that may not fit what you are looking for. The way your inquiry is handled can tell you a lot about the culture of the community. Calling before visiting a community allows the community representative you meet with time to prepare a unique tour experience based on the information you share with them. Gather information about the services, amenities and programs offered, but don’t be surprised if you are encouraged to discuss pricing information in person, rather than receiving it over the phone. The complexities of apartment styles, services offered, and programs available at each community are better seen in person where you can ask any and all pricing questions you have, after experiencing the community in person.
  • Make a list of questions before you visit communities. Be sure to inquire about care services, dining, recreation, and apartment rental fees. Don’t visit more than two communities in one day. Space out your visits and allow yourself the opportunity to compare and contrast each community you visit.
  • Visit, and plan to revisit communities. Making a big decision like this takes time. Once you’ve narrowed down your top choices, revisit each community to talk to staff, residents, and other family members.

Download the Checklist: Questions to Ask When Touring a Senior Living Community

Questions to Ask When Touring Assisted Living

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