Assisted living is apartment-style living that offers supportive services for older adults. Although assisted living comes in many shapes and sizes, the concept of assisted living is fairly consistent. This simple guide will also explain what you can generally expect in an assisted living community and will answer some frequently asked questions.

1. When Is the Right Time to Start Looking?

Assisted living not only creates an environment that supports those who are in need of assistance but oftentimes offers an environment where one can thrive. It’s hard to truly understand the life-changing capabilities an assisted living community has until you’ve lived in one. Many senior living residents realize after a short time that there are programs, activities, and dining opportunities they don’t have access to at home.

Assisted living communities are designed to provide residents with assistance with ADLs (activities of daily living) such as bathing, grooming, dressing, medication management and administration, and more. In addition to the personal care support you can receive in an assisted living community, a variety of activities, programs, outings, and a dining program that is tailored to the unique nutritional needs of older adults is available.

So when should you do your research? The earlier the better! But if you haven’t, here are some reasons you may want to consider it:

1. Living alone can lead to loneliness, isolation, and depression.

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

2. 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. 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 are among the top three concerns of widowed or single older women surveyed. Although it may seem scary making such a big change as moving, most wish they had done it sooner

4. 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 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. Some communities also offer apartments with kitchens that allow residents to continue baking or cooking at their leisure.

5. 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 oftentimes at the expense of the health of the caregiver. 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.

Signs It's Time to Start the Search for Assisted Living

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

Although most are familiar with the concept of long-term care in a nursing home (and find it an undesirable option), assisted living is still fairly new and can be misunderstood. Identifying the right senior living option for a parent or spouse ensures they receive the right level of care at the most affordable price, in the most independent environment they can thrive in. Knowing the difference between assisted living care and what a nursing home offers can preserve assets. Generally, assisted living is less expensive than nursing home care. Long-term care policies and veterans benefits can typically be used to offset the cost of assisted living care or nursing home care. Here are a few ways assisted living and nursing homes differ.

Medical Services

Nursing homes offer medical care for seniors with debilitating medical conditions or for those with medical conditions that require close monitoring by a nurse because of possible changes in nursing treatment. Nursing homes are equipped to manage complex medical services. Nursing homes are usually equipped to handle IVs, wound care management, or recovery after surgery.

However, not all seniors that need health care support have a skilled nursing need that would require them to live in a nursing home. Assisted living communities have 24-hour staff available, which is usually a mix of licensed nursing staff and care providers.

Recreational Activities and Outings

Recreational activities, programs, and outings offered in a nursing home as compared to assisted living 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 to scheduled outings, allowing residents to stay connected in their communities.

What is the difference between assisted living and nursing home care?

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

The physical environment of an assisted living community is typically more appealing to both potential residents and their families. Assisted living communities offer apartment-style living options that allow you to live in a home-like environment while receiving assistance with activities.

In a nursing home, residents usually have rooms that more so resemble a hospital. Your loved one may share a room with another resident. Adjusting to having a roommate can be a challenge. Differences in daily routines, level of functional abilities, and personality can all cause challenges.

Unlike a nursing home room, assisted living apartments are typically furnished with items you bring from home. Residents are encouraged to furnish and decorate their apartments to suit their individual tastes. Some communities offer full kitchens, while others may offer kitchenettes that feature a small refrigerator and microwave.

Is Assisted Living Just Like the Nursing Home?

3. How Much Will Assisted Living Cost?

Pricing of assisted living can be best 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 the upkeep of the landscaping.

4. Recreation Programs

The recreation program offered can also play a large part in the rental amount with communities that offer a 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. Some assisted living facilities have kitchens in the apartment, others have kitchenettes, and some only offer a communal dining experience in a common dining room.


Assisted living costs for supportive care services also varies 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. A third option for assisted living service pricing is the “all-inclusive” concept. Here is a deeper look at pricing for health care 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 re-assessed 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 be. 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 upon 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.


How to Pay for Assisted Living Costs

4. Where to Start

Now that you know a little more about what assisted living can offer, here’s a short list of 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 itself. 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 is better explained 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.

How to Find the Best Assisted Living Community

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