Senior Guidance

Senior Housing Guide

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Senior Housing Guide

While most of us still firmly believe in the saying that “there’s no place like home,” sometimes home may no longer be the ideal environment for an aging parent. The onset of a serious medical condition or increased need for more dedicated care and assistance or additional social interaction and stimulation may prompt a search for living options for independent adults.

And while the idea of putting your parents in a different home can already inspire feelings of guilt, it’s also important to consider the fact that they will get the support and care they need. The good news is that there are now so many options that provide this kind of care and support. With so many senior housing options, there are usually many senior living facilities available nearby, and it’s important to note that not all are the same.

There are different types of living options for independent adults. This senior housing guide helps explain every type of senior living option available and will help you decide which is ideal for you or your aging loved one. Here are senior housing choices available, depending on your loved one’s current state of health and needs.

Living options for independent adults

Below are the senior living options available for those older adults who are generally independent and do not need day-to-day assistance.

Senior Apartments

Senior apartments for independent adults are homes exclusively designed for individuals aged 55 years old and over. The kind of homes you can find under this vary widely, from detached homes in small communities to one bedroom, studio, 2-bedroom and even 3-bedroom apartments. While the structures are different, what makes them similar to each other is that they are designed specifically with convenience in mind, with more compact layouts that allow easier navigation, little to no stairs and in-unit laundry options, just to mention a few. Apartments senior living is suitable for older adults because it eliminates the need for yard work, maintenance and household repairs. Senior apartments can also be in the form of cooperatives

These complexes or communities are age restricted, and only admit residents when they reach a certain age. Hence, older adults are surrounded by residents of similar age and interest. Other than some social activities in the community, senior apartments for independent adults offer few additional services, since they are designed for seniors who are independent and need almost no assistance with daily activities.

Senior Living Communities

Senior living communities are basically like senior apartments, except that they offer more services and amenities such as meals, housekeeping, laundry service, transportation and community activities. This kind of living arrangement also features easy access to lifestyle and dining options so that seniors can stay connected and involved in the community. These lifestyle options include restaurants, spas and fitness facilities and regular social activities for residents. Such communities can be all age or age-restricted such as 55+ communities, or 62+ communities.

Another feature that distinguishes senior living communities from senior apartments is that they also provide access to emergency systems and assisted care, in case the need arises.

This setting is perfect for older adults who start out independently but want to avoid moving to another type of living option in case their needs change later on in life.

Before choosing independent living:

  • Both senior apartments and senior living communities are great choices for seniors who are relatively active and independent and require very little to no need for assistance.
  • Payment is usually private pay, but may also be covered by U.S. government funding, through Section 202.
  • The cost for these senior living options ranges from $1,500 to $3,500 per month (sometimes more). It’s important to keep in mind that this only covers payment for the apartment or the unit and amenities within the community or complex.
  • See our detailed guide to independent living.

Living options for adults who need assistance

The next section discusses all senior living options available for older adults who require assistance with daily living activities. Such assistance is not always the same – some require help getting dressed, others require help with moving around because they have mobility issues, while others need all-around care because they are very frail. Let us look at each senior living option in more detail:

Assisted living facilities

Assisted living facilities are options for seniors who are somewhat independent but may require a certain level of support with day to day living activities.

For this option, residents stay in private apartments, which can range from studios to two bedroom apartments, and share common spaces. Services include 24-hour assistance in day to day living activities like dressing, eating, mobility and hygiene, preparation of daily meals, housekeeping and laundry, transportation, community events and health programs. They also provide medical monitoring and will have medical care practitioners available onsite.

Before choosing assisted living facilities:

  • Assisted living facilities are excellent if you feel that your loved one will need assistance with day to day living activities.
  • There are also services that specialize in residents who have dementia (more on this later).
  • Assisted living facilities do not offer medical care, so it may not be a feasible option for those who require round the clock medical supervision and assistance.
  • Many providers charge a flat rate covering only the essential services, which are usually apartment rental, daily meals, daily help in day-to-day activities and housekeeping. One can then opt to avail special services (such as transportation) for an additional cost.
  • The cost of assisted living facilities varies widely, depending on the type and size of the residence and the type of service that one chooses to avail. In general, older adults might spend anywhere from $2,200 to $5,000 per month.
  • See our detailed guide to assisted living.

Memory Care – Dementia and Alzheimer’s

Memory care facilities are generally part of assisted living facilities, either as stand-alone units or part of a larger complex. Seniors can expect to see the same types of amenities as with assisted living. Memory care facilities are generally staffed with dedicated personnel who are trained to handle dementia cases, as seniors with memory care problems are generally harder to take care of than those who are without them. So, what is different about memory care vs assisted living in general?

  • Cost – memory care facilities will cost more than general assisted living because they need more staff to take care of dementia residents.
  • Security – you will generally see tighter security in memory care facilities because those with Alzeimer’s or dementia are prone to wandering away.
  • Special programs for memory care – those with dementia generally need to have their minds stimulated in such a way as to prevent and slow down cognitive decline.
  • See our detailed guide to memory care facilities.

Board and care homes

Situated in real homes within residential areas, board and care homes provide non-medical assistance and care for single adults. This living option is typically housed in single family homes which are run by individuals or families and can serve anywhere from two to ten residents.

Board and care homes offer similar services as assisted living facilities, but are available in a much more home-like setting, making it ideal for people who like quieter or smaller communities.

A stay in the residential care home includes board and lodging in either private or shared rooms, which come with three home cooked meals a day. Residents also receive various levels of assistance for day to day activities, ranging from hygiene to financial management. Other services include different levels of custodial care such as housekeeping, laundry and transportation to doctors’ appointments. Lastly, they also receive medication management, whether through reminders to take medication or actual administration of medicine.

Before choosing board and care homes:

  • The high staff to patient ratio and tight-knit community are just two of the major things that make board and care homes an ideal choice for many. It makes an excellent choice for those who are looking for a more familiar or residential setting.
  • For active senior citizens, though, this setting may not be stimulating enough and they prefer assisted living communities instead.
  • Moreover, since these services are situated in residential homes, some service providers can go past regulations and operate without licenses.
  • The cost of board and care home services vary greatly depending on many factors such as location, size of the home, amenities and services. Some homes may cost as little as $1,500 per month, but on the average, they can range from $3,500 to $4,500 per month.
  • See our detailed guide to board and care homes.

Nursing Homes

Outside of a hospital, nursing homes for seniors offer the highest level of care for the elderly. Assisted living vs nursing homes – what’s different? Nursing homes build up on most of the amenities and services that are provided by assisted living communities such as round the clock nursing care for those who need constant or complex medical assistance. While nursing homes were originally created for long-term care, many companies now offer short-term stay options for those who are recovering from illnesses, injuries, and surgeries.

Some specific features of nursing homes include private or shared rooms, daily cooked meals, (served in a common dining room unless residents are too frail to participate), housekeeping and laundry service and medical supervision by licensed physicians and skilled nurses.

Before choosing nursing homes:

  • A nursing home may serve as a good choice if your loved one needs sophisticated medical care, which is not something family members may provide given the lack of medical training.
  • Residents also get round-the-clock, full-time care by people who are professionally trained to do so.
  • Nursing homes also provide residents with a structured schedule involving meals, medication, therapy and social activities. This situation, however, may also be a downside since some elderly individuals may feel that they lose their sense of freedom.
  • Another downside is that nursing homes are more expensive than other senior living options for adults.
  • The cost of nursing home care varies state by state, but the average price for a shared room is around $255 per day.
  • From a financial standpoint, the great thing about nursing homes is they are generally covered by Medicaid / Medicare, unlike assisted living facilities which are private pay.
  • See our detailed guide to nursing homes.

Living at home care

Living at home care means receiving care from a home health care agency in the comfort of one’s own home. This option is the most flexible because there are services available to meet a variety of needs – whether it be from licensed medical professionals or non-medical professionals. Some seniors may only need help with daily activities as well as custodial care, while others may need more complex medical care.

Before choosing at home care:

  • The main advantage of in-home care services is the most obvious – your loved one can stay in the home they’ve always lived in. This is often a more comfortable option for many senior citizzens because they do not have to adjust to new surroundings.
  • Care is also administered by a home care professional, sometimes in conjunction with loved ones.
  • If your loved one lives with you, you may still need to cover some care responsibilities, even while hiring home care professionals.
  • You are dependent on the home care agency in terms of hours they will allocate to care for your loved one. So, you may not get 24/7 home care assistance, even if you want to, unless you pay privately. If you use federally funded insurance such as Medicaid or Medicare, you are stuck with the number of hours that a home care agency determines is appropriate for your case.
  • Home care can be affordable if you decide to hire professionals to work on a particular shift, but it may also end up being quite expensive if your loved one requires round-the-clock assistance.
  • Likewise, you may need to renovate your home to make sure that it adapts to changes in your loved one's physical abilities and mobility.
  • Even with in-home care professionals, in-home care does not provide direct and automatic access to health care practitioners in the event of an emergency.
  • The cost for at home care varies, some professionals or aides charge no less than $21 per hour. Homemakers, on the other hand, cost a bit lower at $14 per hour minimum. These hourly rates mean that it will cost you about $3,300 to $5,040 a month for eight-hour shifts.
  • See our detailed guide to home health care.

Continuing Care

Another option that cuts across all these different senior living options is continuing care retirement communities or CCRCs, which are a combination of all the facilities mentioned above. These facilities are designed to provide different levels of care for residents, all in a single location.

Continuing care starts with residents living in independent living facilities, which may be studio units or apartments. There are also units available for couples. During this period, residents can avail of services like cooked meals, housekeeping and laundry services. They may also avail of acute medical facilities if ever a need arises.  As the resident’s need changes over time, he or she will then be able to move to the next senior living facility, which is assisted living or nursing home, without the need to relocate to another residential environment.

The assisted living and nursing home facilities of CCRCs are usually only available to residents who avail of the independent living units and are not usually offered for seniors outside of it.

Before choosing continuing care:

  • Continuing care retirement communities are fitted with different facilities and provide a broad range of activities and amenities to meet different needs and personalities.
  • CCRCs are quite expensive, and may usually require an upfront entry fee, which can range from $60,000 to $100,000. This upfront payment allows you long-term access to your unit of choice. This is often non-refundable.
  • Other than the upfront fee, residents then pay monthly fees which can range from $1,000 to $1,600 depending on the level of care required. Given their high cost, they are usually not subsidized or covered by Medicaid.
  • While expensive, it still is an appealing solution for many who are concerned about having to move from one place to another and should be a good option for many seniors who have prepared and saved well for their retirement.
  • See our detailed guide to continuing care retirement communities.

The key to successfully choosing the right senior living option is first to understand what to expect from the different kinds of senior living facilities. After that, the next task is to lay down important factors and requirements on your part such as your loved one's current health status, his/her medical needs (if any), lifestyle requirements, personality and of course, how much you are all willing and able to afford for the long-term care. You can then match these needs and choose the best type of care facility for your loved one.