7 Things You Didn’t Know About Assisted Living

8 Things You Didn't Know About Assisted LivingUnless you have a loved one who lives at an assisted living community, you may not be familiar with what assisted living is and how it differs from other kinds of senior communities. Learn more about seven facts about assisted living facilities that are not common knowledge.

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.

7 Things You May Not Know 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.

We spoke with a few of our caring staff members at A Place for Mom with knowledge of assisted living communities across North America, and they provided us with some great insight for our article. Here are seven facts you may not know about assisted living:

1. One Size Does Not Fit All – Varying Levels of Care

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.

A Place for Mom’s 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 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.

Krystal Chan, Partner Services Projects Manager at A Place for Mom said, “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 feelvery 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. According to the 2012 A Place for Mom Cost of Senior Care Survey, 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. 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 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

5. Assisted Living is Not Synonymous with Nursing Homes

Our 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. Culturally Diverse Options

An increasing number of assisted living communities are designed to meet the unique cultural, religious, dietary and language-based needs of local populations. On the West Coast, there are many Asian senior 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 the Northeast and East 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 Persian and Jewish residents, and have staff that speak both Farsi and Yiddish (in addition to English of course).

As America simultaneously diversifies and ages, we’re bound to see 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. 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.

Did anything on this list surprise you? Do you have anything that you’d like to add to this list? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


Care homes (also known as adult family homesboard and care homesresidential care homes or personal care homes)are residential facilities that provide lodging, meal services and assistance with daily living activities such as doing laundry, managing medications, bathing and dressing.

Limited, part-time medical care is often provided but is not a primary service of a care home. This differentiates care home from other types of assisted living residences, which are usually much larger, both in size and population, and place greater emphasis on access to medical services for residents. Assisted living usually indicates that medical personnel are regularly on site.

What Are Care Homes Like?

Care homes provide a more personal, familial atmosphere than other types of long-term care facilities.  Residences generally house less than 10 people and are located in traditional homes in residential neighborhoods.  Residents usually have their own rooms for sleeping, and share common recreation and dining areas.  Living arrangements can be personalized.  Some homes allow residents to bring along pets or allow couples to room together.  Social activities and outings to nearby attractions and retail often are provided.

Who Are Typical Residents?

Care homes are a viable option for seniors who may be losing mobility or mental capacity, and need help with basic living tasks such as meal preparation, toileting and housekeeping.  Residents are relatively independent, communicative and free of complex, debilitating illness.  Typically, one would not find seniors who have severe medical conditions that require intensive, supervisory medical care.

Who Regulates Care Homes?

Most privately-owned homes are licensed and regulated at the state level. This means that in order to operate, each care home must submit itself for regular inspections by state health inspectors who verify the quality of the nutrition, care and health of residents as well as continual upkeep to the facilities. Some states even require background checks of all caregivers employed at the care home as a requirement for licensure. This ensures that residents of adult family homes are receiving the highest quality of care from a qualified staff.

What Are the Advantages?

For seniors who do not need or want 24-hour access to medical care, care homes and adult family homes can bridge the gap between completely independent living and an institutional care facility. They provide attractive accommodations, professional care-giving services and extra security for a senior.  Residents can benefit from the close relationships they form with other residents, alleviating the feelings of loneliness and depression often associated with aging. Residing in a communal residential facility can also decrease the financial and physical burden of owning and maintaining a home since housing costs are shared among all of the residents.

Services Provided

        §  Twenty four Hour Assistance by Certified Caregivers

  §  Nutritious Meals, Snacks and Special Diets are Gladly Prepared

  §  Bathing and Grooming Assistance

  §  Medication Management

  §  Arrangement of Home Visits by Nurse and Physical Therapist

  §  Podiatrist

  §  Services (Charge to Medicare)

  §  Emergency Call bell Available

  §  Memory Stimulation Exercises

  §  Daily House Keeping and Laundry

  §  Hair Dresser (On Call)

  §  Entertainment, Games, Arts and Crafts

Our quality certified caregivers provide each resident with support in

daily activities, while encouraging Independence. We also specialize in providing

care for residents with Alzheimer, Dementia and other Memory Impairments.

Other Sources:

Department of Health and Services

Division of Licensing Services


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