If you’re just beginning your search for a senior community to care for a loved one, you may not be entirely clear about what an assisted living community means. It might be easy to assume that “assisted living community” is the new “nursing home” or “retirement home.” But, assisted living is not just a form of the institutional nursing homes where we visited elderly relatives prior to the 1980s. A few decades ago, senior living designers and senior care professionals asked, “What is it about nursing homes that make can make them sometimes feel dreary and institutional? How can we achieve the something different?” Out of their inquiry, assisted living was born.
Little Known Facts About Assisted Living
According to the National Investment Center’s 2010 Investment Guide, there were 6,315 professionally managed assisted living communities in the U.S. with approximately 475,500 apartments.
1. What Assisted Living Provides
Because there is no nationwide definition for assisted living (although it is regulated in all 50 states), senior communities that call themselves assisted living facilities can offer differing levels of care. They offer a less-expensive, residential approach to delivering many of the same services available in skilled nursing, either by employing personal care staff or contracting with home health agencies and other outside professionals.
Not all assisted living communities are equal. Some provide lighter care, and some can even provide care for those who bedridden or who need help eating while still remaining in assisted living as opposed to a nursing home. It often depends on the community’s licensing. Many states have a tiered system of licensing whereby communities with a higher degree of licensing are able to provide more care.
2. Each Community Has a Unique Personality
Care aside, the look and feel of communities varies as well. Some communities have a more formal, traditional design sensibility, while others may have a more home-like, down to earth ambiance. Some communities may have art deco décor while others are firmly grounded in mid-century modern design. The range of senior community designs is on display in the ALFA 2012 Senior Living by Design Awards. Assisted living communities come in all shapes and sizes. They can be towering apartment buildings in urban centers, sprawling complexes in the suburbs, cottages or more intimate communities catering to a relatively small number of residents. There’s no nationwide standard size, but according to our own definition, assisted living communities are licensed to care for at least 20 people, but many communities have hundreds of residents. Smaller communities usually offer a homelike atmosphere while the larger communities offer an abundance of interest clubs, recreational opportunities, and acreage for recreation.
Every assisted living community has a different personality. You can visit two communities down the street from one another that offer the same care and services, they may even look identical to one another, but that feel very different. Just because your loved one didn’t like one community, doesn’t mean the next one won’t feel right.
3. Yes, You Can Bring Your Pet
Senior living communities have different pet policies with specific weight limits and breed restrictions, so it’s important to do your research. For example, some communities have “pet interviews” to determine whether the pet is right for their community, while others allow dogs and cats under 20 lbs. Birds and fish are also welcome in many communities, and some communities even have Pet Coordinators to care for the furry and feathered friends. Some communities only allow pets on a case-by-case basis. So make sure to contact your communities of choice and ask about their particular pet policy.
Read more about the health benefits of pets and why many assisted living communities have begun to integrate pets into their care programs in our Pet Therapy and the Benefits of Pets in Senior Living blog post. For more in-depth information about the benefits seniors receive from their furry companion, read our article on How Pet Therapy Has Changed Assisted Living.
4. Assisted Living Costs are Lower Than You Think
Assisted living is often less expensive than home health or nursing home care in the same geographic area. The national average rate for a one-bedroom apartment is approximately $3,300 per month. While 86.2% of assisted living residents pay from their personal financial resources, 41 states offer “home and community-based waivers” that allow low-income residents to live in assisted living.
Additionally, more seniors are purchasing long-term care insurance to help plan for and finance their long-term care needs. Wartime veterans and their spouses may eligible for VA benefits known as Aid and Attendance that can offset the cost of care. Those with low income and assets may to need use Medicaid to pay for senior care. To explore this option, contact your local Area Agency on Aging Office, which can be located at www.eldercare.gov.
5. Assisted Living is Not Synonymous with Nursing Homes
Research suggests that many families believe they need they need nursing homes for their ailing older loved one when in fact assisted living is the most appropriate option. An assessment by an Advisor or medical professional is the best way to determine the care type needed, but some general distinctions can be drawn between assisted living and nursing homes. For instance:
- Assisted living residents are mainly independent but may need help with daily living personal care tasks such as bathing and dressing, while nursing home residents tend to need 24-hour assistance with every activity of daily living
- Assisted living residents are mobile, while those who are bed ridden require nursing homes
- Nursing home residents generally have a single or semi-private room, while assisted living residents typically live in a studio or one-bedroom apartment
- Nursing home residents require fully staffed, skilled nursing medical attention on a daily basis, while assisted living residents are more stable and do not need ongoing medical attention
6. Assisted Living Dementia Care
In 2012 there were more than 5.4 million Americans with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia who required specialized dementia care treatment. Many assisted living facilities offer dedicated Alzheimer’s memory care programs for residents which are designed to decrease wandering, agitation and improve their quality of life. Generally residents with early stage Alzheimer’s or dementia can live among the regular population of assisted living residents, but when the condition becomes advanced, residents are then transitioned from the regular assisted living section to the memory care area. Memory care is specialized assisted living that’s secure to protect residents, that has staff specially trained to care for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia, and that have other design and caregiving adaptations for the comfort and safety of memory-impaired residents.