According to the Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA), "assisted living" is a "long-term care option that combines housing, support services, and health care, as needed." Assisted living can be a good option for anyone who needs help with everyday tasks such as preparing and/or eating meals, bathing, getting dressed, using the bathroom, managing medications, getting around, and more. Today, assisted living is popular among families of both the elderly and the disabled as an alternative option to nursing home care, but a more hands-on long-term care model than in-home care.
The ALFA notes that there are currently more than 31,000 assisted living communities around the country, "serving almost one million seniors." While assisted living is often pursued as an option for those with disabilities, elderly seniors are absolutely the top demographic for this particular long-term care option, with the ALFA indicating that over 50% of all assisted living residents are 85 or older.
Why Choose Assisted Living?
Often, assisted living is the most effective long-term care option for seniors who can no longer live alone safely or comfortably, but who do not yet require the more intensive medical care and attention that is often provided in a full-service nursing home. According to the ALFA, those living in assisted living homes usually require help with three or more daily activities.
However, while seniors living in assisted living communities do demand a certain amount of day-to-day attention and assistance, the goal of assisted living programs is to give seniors as much independence and freedom of choice as is possible, reasonable, and realistic. According to the United States Department of Heath and Human Services, most of the residents of assisted living communities are facilities "have their own units or apartment." A support staff employed by the assisted living facility then monitors and checks up on residents, providing assistance with everything from bathing to shaving to laundry to transportation, as needed. Other services-such as physical therapy, hospice care, and emergency medical assistance-are also available as part of assisted living care.
The Costs of Assisted Living
Like other types of long-term senior care, the main drawback of assisted living is that it can be quite expensive. The Department of Health and Human Services notes that the average annual cost of assisted living for a single person can fall anywhere between $25,000 and $30,000. Of course, that's quite the range, and the price can vary depending on the assisted living community. Different facilities include different services-and the fees for those services-in their basic resident rate, so families considering assisted living care for an elderly or disabled loved one will want to carefully review the services and pricing packages of any assisted living facilities they consider.
For a more precise number, the National Investment Center's 2010 Investment Guide put that the median monthly rent rate for assisted living communities in the United States at $3,326. That would translate to an annual median at $39,912. Since those numbers were researched in 2010, they may have increased since, though the NIC has noted that cost increases in senior housing have slowed in recent years.
As pricy as those amounts may seem, though, they still posit assisted living as a markedly more affordable option for long-term senior care than nursing care. In the same 2010 investment guide, the National Investment Center provided a median of $7,001 for the monthly cost of nursing home care. That number would equate to an $84,000 bill for a year.
Signs That It's Time to Consider Assisted Living
Perhaps the biggest question that seniors and their families have about assisted living is when it is time to seriously pursue this kind of long-term care. Sometimes, it can be difficult for seniors to assess when it is no longer safe for them to live independently, or for friends or family members to decide when an elderly loved one needs help with day-to-day tasks. Here are just a few of the many possible signs that could indicate a need for assisted living.
- The senior recently had an accident of some sort: Whether it was a fall or a car accident, incidents that leave an elderly loved one injured-regardless of the seriousness of the injury-could indicate a need for assisted living. As we get older, the chances of accidents and injuries recurring increase, and you want to know that someone is going to be there to help if an older loved one has another incident.
- Kitchen red flags: Is there spoiled or moldy food in the fridge? Are there dirty dishes sitting in the sink? Are there multiples of the same item in the fridge or pantry? Do you see a bunch of takeout containers in the trash? All of these signs can indicate that it's time for assisted living-whether because a loved one has lost the energy to keep the house clean, because they can't remember what they have and have not bought at the store recently, or because they've lost the physical or mental ability to cook their own meals.
- A messy house: A messy kitchen will normally be the tip of the iceberg if a senior has lost the energy to clean up the house. If there's clutter collecting everywhere, if the bathroom is grimy and smelly, or if mail is building up on the kitchen counter, then your elderly loved one may no longer be able to handle taking care of their own home.
These are just three common signs that an elderly friend or relative might need help with their day-to-day living. However, know that there are dozens of other signs that you should watch for as well, including signs of dangerous driving, abandoned hobbies or friendships, noticeable changes in hygiene, slow recovery from illness, and more. Assisted living can help to resolve all of these issues, taking the pressure off a senior to maintain their home, cook meals, open mail, pay bills, or drive.