8 Things You Didn’t Know About Assisted Living

Are you familiar with what assisted living covers and how it differs from other types of senior care communities? Learn more from our blog about assisted living communities and what they provide to families and residents.8 Things You Didn’t Know About Assisted Living

If you’re just beginning your search for an assisted living community to care for an aging loved one, you may not be entirely clear about what an assisted living community is or what living in one means. It is easy to assume that an assisted living community is the new “nursing home” or “retirement home.” However, senior care professionals and senior living designers have worked over the past 30 years to revolutionize communities to make them truly feel like home.

Things You Didn’t Know About Assisted Living

According to the National Investment Center’s Investment Guide, there were 6,315 professionally managed assisted living communities in the U.S. with approximately 475,500 apartments.

We spoke with a few of our caring staff members at A Place for Mom who have knowledge of assisted living communities across North America, and they provided us with some great insight for our article.

1. Assisted Living Provides Different Levels of Care

Because there is no nationwide definition for assisted living (although it is regulated in all 50 states), senior facilities that call themselves assisted living communities can offer differing levels of care. They offer a more cost-effective, residential approach to delivering many of the same services available in skilled nursing, either by employing home health agencies or personal care staff.

An A Place for Mom Advisor in Chicago, Dovid Grossman says, “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 Is Unique

Care aside, the look and feel of communities vary as well. Some communities have a more formal, traditional design while others may have a more home-like, down to earth ambiance. Some communities may have art deco decor while others are more firmly grounded in mid-century modern design. Assisted living communities come in all shapes and sizes. They can be towering apartment buildings in city centers, sprawling complexes in the suburbs, or more intimate cottages or 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 could have hundreds of residents.

Krystal Chan, Partner Account Manager at A Place for Mom, says, “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. Fido Can Come Too!

Senior living communities have different pet policies with specific breed restrictions and weight limits, 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 all pets under 20 lbs. Birds and fish are also welcome in many communities, and some communities even have Pet Coordinators to care for any feathered or furry friends. So make sure to contact your communities of choice and ask about their particular pet policy.

For more in-depth information about the benefits seniors receive from their furry companion, read our article on “Companion and Healing Pets at Senior Living.”

4. Some 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 A Place for Mom Senior Care Cost Calculator can help you determine the cost of assisted living in your city and state, and you can also compare it to the cost of maintaining a home or employing a full-time home care aide.

Additionally, more seniors are purchasing long-term care insurance to help finance their long-term care needs. Wartime veterans and their spouses may eligible for VA benefits that can offset the cost of care. A Place for Mom’s Guide to Financing Senior Care has details about creative financing plans that can make care affordable as well. Those with low income may need to 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. This Type of Care Is Not Synonymous With Nursing Homes

Our research suggests that many families believe 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 bedridden 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. There Are Culturally Diverse Options

An increasing number of assisted living communities are designed to meet the unique cultural, dietary, lingual and religious-based needs of local populations. On the West Coast, there are many Asian senior living communities such as Fremont Hills in Fremont, California, and more are on the way. Our corporate partner, Aegis of Newcastle recently broke ground on a new community designed to meet the needs of the predominantly Chinese population in the area.

Jewish communities are popular too, particularly in Florida. Many assisted living communities serve kosher foods (some even have certified kosher kitchens), celebrate Jewish holidays and have weekly Shabbat services. Five Star Residence of Boca Raton in Boca Raton, Florida is just one of the many predominately Jewish communities in our network of options.

Some communities offer multiple cultural, religious and dietary options. Beverly Hills Loving Care has an equal share of Jewish and Persian residents, and have staff that speaks both Farsi and Yiddish.

As America ages and diversifies, we’ve also seen an ever-increasing demand for niche retirement communities, including golf-oriented communities, LGBT oriented communities and communities with themes no one has even thought of yet.

7. Specialized Dementia Care Is Also Offered in Assisted Living

The latest facts and figures show that more than 5.4 million Americans with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia require specialized dementia care treatment.

Many assisted living facilities offer dedicated Alzheimer’s memory care programs for residents which are designed to decrease 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 to the memory care area of the assisted living community. Memory care is considered to be specialized assisted living that is secure to protect residents, and also has staff specially trained to care for those with the disease.

8. Some Communities Will Work to Place Couples Together

Are you worried that one of your parents needs more assistance than the other, but are not sure how their needs will be met in assisted living together? Be sure to contact communities with your inquiries about your parents’ needs ahead of time.

Most communities will work to accommodate couples in assisted living by placing them into double occupancy apartments, but the price can sometimes be costly. Research the space that your parents will need, consider what individual v. shared needs they will have and plan for future health changes. The process of arranging care for couples can be more difficult than planning for one resident in assisted living, but it is entirely worth the legwork to keep your parents from being separated.

Caitlin Burm is a Content Manager based in Phoenix. She currently oversees content at A Place for Mom and its affiliate websites, a position she's held since 2014. She is an advocate for enhancing care for seniors and volunteers her time providing support to local senior living communities. When she's not working with content, she's at the airport out exploring the U.S. with her daughter and husband. You can connect with her on Google+, LinkedIn or Twitter.

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