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Senior Living: Making the Choice Between Assisted and Independent Living

Senior Living: Making the Choice Between Assisted and Independent Living

As you and your loved ones age, you may find it beneficial to move into a senior living community. There are two types of senior living: independent living and assisted living.

Independent living

Independent living communities are places where seniors can enjoy social activities with their peers while living in an apartment on their own. These communities are good for seniors who are still mobile and can generally take care of themselves, but want to have social interaction and certain services available.

Since meals are usually provided, seniors no longer have to worry about cooking. Laundry and housekeeping services are also provided. Units come with a small kitchen, so residents can still prepare their own meals if they want to. The price of living in an independent living community ranges from $1,500 to $3,500 per month. Note that meals and housekeeping services usually come at an additional cost.

Signs that an independent living community might be right for you:

  • You’ve experienced loneliness and want social interaction.
  • You don’t want to deal with maintaining your home.
  • You need transportation to and from places.
  • You want to maintain an independent lifestyle.

Assisted living

Assisted living is usually a good choice for those who are dealing with chronic health conditions, dementia, or Alzheimer’s. In assisted living, the senior has their own small apartment, plus the assurance of around the clock medical care if needed. Also included are medication management and help with activities of daily living (ADLs). Some assisted living facilities have memory care units with extra security and specially-trained staff for those with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Signs that assisted living might be right for you:

  • You need help with activities of daily living.
  • You have a serious medical condition.
  • You have Alzheimer’s or dementia.
  • You have trouble cooking your own meals.
  • You have trouble cleaning.
  • You’ve experienced anxiety or depression.

Assisted living costs

The average cost of an assisted living facility is $2,500 to $4,000 per month. The most expensive states for assisted living expenses are Alaska, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. The states with the least expensive monthly assisted living costs are Missouri, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, and Michigan. Costs depend on the kind of apartment you are looking for and the size. Costs also depend on the level of care you need, and any additional administrative fees. Click here for a list of the average costs for assisted living in each state.

How to pay for assisted living

There are ways to get help with paying for assisted living if you need to go that route. Unfortunately Medicare does not cover the cost of assisted living.

  • Long term care insurance. Visit LongTermCare.gov to find out more.
  • Medicaid waiver. Visit your state’s Medicaid website to find out more.
  • Department of veterans affairs. Visit VA.gov to see if you qualify.
  • Bank loans. Contact your local bank to find out your options.

Meet with an estate planner or geriatric planner to work out how you can pay for assisted living. Many people use more than one source of funds to help pay for assisted living. For more information, contact your local Area on Aging Office.

Nursing homes

Seniors who have serious physical and mental problems are advised to seek a nursing home, skilled nursing facility, or around-the-clock in-home care.

Reasons to consider a senior living community

There are many reasons which might steer one toward senior living. The top reasons are as follows:

  • Social isolation/loneliness. Social interaction is a major factor in quality of life and longevity for seniors. Being with others can keep the mind sharp and prevent memory loss. 
  • Dementia. Dementia is one of the main reasons seniors move into assisted living. Specially-trained staff can help with fun activities, social interaction, feeding, and more.  
  • Chronic health conditions. Living with one or more chronic conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease, can be difficult as you age. Moving into a senior living community comes with the added benefits of medication management and medical care. 
  • Depression. Many older people have periods of depression and don’t even know it. The social interaction and medical attention of an assisted living community can greatly help with the symptoms of depression. 
  • Anxiety. Anxiety in elderly can be caused by fear, medical problems, traumatic past events, and more. Doctors and staff in an assisted living facility can help detect the symptoms of anxiety and work on a plan to treat it. 
  • Lack of emergency help. Living alone can pose a problem should a loved one fall or get hurt. A medical alert system can help. In time, moving into a senior living facility will improve overall safety as well.
  • Risk of falling/home hazards. Making home modifications can help with fall risk. But the assurance of a safe community might put loved ones’ minds at ease. 
  • Need for medication management. Seniors living alone at home are at risk of accidentally overdosing on medication. Many medical alert systems offer a medication reminder option, and trained staff at an assisted living community can help as well.
  • Optional provided meals. Once a senior reaches a certain age, they may no longer be able to cook meals safely, or they may just enjoy the ease of having meals available. 
  • Housekeeping. Small daily household chores can be difficult as one ages. At a senior living facility, these will be taken care of. 
  • Monitoring of symptoms. Common symptoms of physical and mental ailments might be missed when a loved one lives at home alone. Having staff who monitor symptoms, especially in the case of serious medical problems, is a major benefit of assisted living. 

Making a choice

Here are a few tips for avoiding mistakes when making your choice on a senior living community for a parent.

  1. Think like your parent. Consider you parent’s preferences, not just your own. Many people want to choose a place they like, but it’s important to consider your parent’s tastes and needs. Take into account your parent’s current state of mind and level of anxiety/dementia.
  2. Don’t go it alone. Choosing a senior living facility for a parent is a big choice. Talk to friends, family, your parent’s doctor, senior advocate, and a financial advisor to be sure you are making the right choice.
  3. Trust your intuition. Just because a facility seems luxurious on the outside, it does not mean that the level of care is up to par. Make sure to visit each facility, get a feel for it, talk to residents and staff, and research reviews of the facility online. The happiness of the people living there is perhaps the best marker of a good senior living community.
  4. Don’t rush in. Make sure to visit at least three communities and see how they work. If you rush in, you risk making a choice that might make you and your parents unhappy in the end.
  5. Anticipate the future. If you think your loved one might need to move into a nursing home soon, choose a community that has that option.
  6. Think about cultural needs. Does your parent have a strong ethnic or cultural connection that he or she wants to remain involved with? Today, there are many senior living communities that are tailored to specific groups, such as Chinese or Jewish people. Do some research to find the best place out there for your parent.
  7. Don’t just choose the closest one. Do your research to see which community has the best quality of care and best lifestyle fit for your parent. A community a little farther away might be a better fit.
  8. Read the fine print. Before you sign a contract, make sure you know how the pricing structure works and what is included in care. If needed, see an elder attorney to go over the contract before you sign.

When you’re making your senior living choice, visit at least three communities so that you can get a feel for what it’s like to live living there. Make a list of questions to ask before you go.

Joan Biddle
Joan Biddle
Joan Biddle is a Content Developer at Med-Alert Pros. With nearly 20 years of editing, research and writing experience, Joan crafts detailed, reliable articles that help people navigate complicated topics. She enjoys movies, reading, poetry and art.

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