We know growing old gracefully has its challenges. A major one involves the elderly being forced to alter their current living arrangements and move to a senior-assisted facility. In most situations, this is due to physical disabilities or other unusual and questionable behavior, it gradually or suddenly becomes necessary. The decision is often made by the person’s family member, guardian, or another concerned individual. This possibly involves the senior facing the grim reality of choosing to leave the comfort of their home where children and pets were raised, dinner parties were held and many other loving memories were made. The best living lifestyle depends on which individual services are needed. The level of quality care required with daily health, safety, and maintenance needs should be considered.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about 70% of people age 65 or older, require long-term care services. Although most people believe long-term care affects only those in their senior years, 40% of individuals currently receiving these services are under the age of 64.
Knowing the differences in making the best choice on your senior living arrangements does not have to be complicated, frightening, and/or expensive. Here is what’s offered and the differences between Assisted, Supportive, and Independent Living communities.
Most Assisted Living Facilities (ALFs) also known as retirement homes, residential care, or long-term facilities primarily help residents with minor medical services. The goal is to treat each resident like family and provide personalized care in maintaining or regaining their independence. Currently, over 800,000 Americans currently reside in assisted living facilities, with just over half of the residents being aged 85 years and older.
Choosing assisted living vs. living at home greatly enhances the quality of life and improves health and safety. At a minimum, the apartments offer one unfurnished room, a private wheelchair-accessible bathroom, and a kitchenette. At-home maintenance is provided when needed and to make the resident’s life easy, a registered nurse and experienced care team are on-site around the clock. They assist with first-aid wound care, bathing, dressing, toileting, medication management, and physical, speech, and occupational therapies.
In addition, most ALFs have an on-site fitness center with a personal trainer, wellness center, 24/7 security, and emergency call system. Scheduled transportation is arranged to assist with medical appointments or shopping. There are three delicious and nutritious chef-prepared meals to enjoy every day. To stay sharp and fit, a monthly calendar of events is planned to encourage participation in social, spiritual, recreational, cultural, and educational programs on-site.
Care.com allows you to search for and connect with caregivers and senior living communities in your area.
The size of the facility, type of services included, and the number of services required all impact monthly fees. According to Genworth Financial, the average cost of assisted living in 2020 was $4,300 per month or $51,600 annually. Costs vary by state. A Florida resident’s daily rent cost $122 (average $3,700 monthly) for a one-bedroom apartment while in New Jersey the cost is $219 (average $6,650 monthly).
Supportive living communities provide personal care, daily socialization, and educational activities in a comfortable, home-like setting. Residents enjoy private apartment homes (either studio, one or two rooms), and depending on their chosen community may have access to relaxing outdoor spaces, recreational rooms, and beauty or barber services.
In contrast to assisted living, these services are provided in supportive living at a reduced or subsidized cost. Also unlike in assisted living, if a resident becomes unable to pay for the care, they are not required to move from their apartment. These financial safety nets are why supportive living communities are such an asset to seniors, their families, and communities.
For example, in 2019 my 77-year-old family member had enjoyed living in an independent senior building for many years. The camaraderie and family-like environment greatly enriched her quality of life as a senior. She was involved in coordinating various social events and made many friendships. Due to a debilitating medical diagnosis, she suddenly needed assistance with housekeeping, personal care, and more. She was faced with moving into a supportive living community. Prior to moving in, proof of income and other items were required.
Documents Needed for Supporting Living
- Birth certificate and social security card
- Medicare and/or Medicaid Insurance
- Primary physician’s name, address, and phone number
- Life insurance policies including cash surrender value
- Irrevocable Trust State showing a funeral home as Trustee
- Funeral home’s financial worksheet
- Maximum of $2,000 in total assets
- List of properties sold, transferred, or given away in the last 5 years
- Financial accounts; checking, savings, 401K, trust, IRA, investments, life insurance, etc. (closed or cashed in the last 5 years)
- Car ownership within the last 5 years
- Any Power of Attorney (POA) for Health Care and financial property
With supportive living, rent cost is determined by personal income. She received social security insurance benefits, therefore, after the monthly rent was withdrawn this left her with a $90 monthly allowance.
Just like other senior living opportunities, services and amenities can vary from community to community. In Illinois, the minimum services required in supportive living communities include:
- 24/7 Nursing assistances (CNAs)
- Assistance with bathing, dressing, and medication management
- Three meals a day
- Housekeeping and laundry service
- Social, educational, and wellness activities
- Arranged transportation for appointments
- Wheel-chair accessible kitchenette with microwave
- Wheel-chair accessible bathroom with walk-in shower
- Wall-mounted TV and basic cable services
- 24/7 Security and Emergency Call Systems
- On-site activity room, library, beauty and barber salon, fitness center and more
- Social programs and activities
Most Independent Living communities are also known as retirement communities, senior living communities, or independent retirement communities. Residents are typically 55 years and older and are mentally and physically capable of living alone without assistance with day-to-day activities. Some residents may need assistance with a few activities of daily living and can obtain various outside home health care services.
Seniors who wish to downsize or travel freely without the burden of managing a home may benefit from residing here. There is less home upkeep and increased access to nutritious meals, social interaction, physical and mental stimulation.
The most significant difference between assisted living and independent senior living is the care provided. Residents of a purpose-built independent senior living complex have taken an active decision to improve their quality of life by living in a secure, low-maintenance apartment, cottage, or home.
Independent senior living residents are able to live on their own with limited assistance and without around-the-clock supervision. Neither assisted living nor senior independent living communities offer 24/7 skilled nursing that is provided at nursing homes.
A few amenities of most independent living facilities include:
- Housekeeping and laundry service
- Stove, dishwasher, and full-size refrigerator
- On-site activity room, library, beauty and barber salon, fitness center, and more
- Social programs coordinated by residents and staff
- Transportation to appointments and shopping
- 24/7 Security and Emergency Call System
- Low-income residents are also accepted at most
- Small pets are welcome (in some communities)
Choosing to live in a senior-assisted community is possible as we grow older. Assisted Living assists you with around-the-clock minor medical needs whereas Supportive Living is based on reduced and subsidized costs and provides a few useful daily care amenities. Independent Living is for the active senior who does not require 24/7 assistance.
Moving to a senior living community can be the perfect solution. if you are struggling with making a decision, please keep in mind it’s based primarily on your physical condition and income. If you are unable to completely care for yourself, physically get around your home or community as before, it may be time to seek assistance and advice.
For more information, start with consulting with your physician, a family member, a close friend, and the Department of Health and Human Services to see the various providers and facilities. Go online for senior living communities in your area. Be it independent, supportive, or assisted living, I sincerely wish you all the best in reaching a comfortable living arrangement in improving your quality of life and fitting your needs.
Retired at age 57, living in suburban Chicago, Tracy has started a new chapter as a writer of novels and the president of an active book club.