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NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine, Trusted Health Information from the National Institutes of Health

Senior Living

Assisted Living

A woman with her arms around a man

Photo: Getty Images

Mom and dad are finding it harder to live by themselves at home. I think they need a place where they can have at least some assistance day-to-day.

Quite often, adults reach a point when they should no longer live on their own but don't need round-the-clock nursing care. Assisted living facilities provide an alternative. Assisted living is for adults who need help with everyday tasks of dressing, bathing, eating, or using the bathroom. But they don't need full-time nursing care. Often they are part of retirement communities or are near nursing homes, so a person can move easily if their needs change.

Although assisted living costs less than nursing home care, according to the U.S. Administration on Aging, it is still fairly expensive. Older people or their families usually foot the bill. Health and long-term care insurance policies may cover some of the costs. Medicare does not cover the costs of assisted living.

Licensing requirements for assisted living facilities vary by state. There are as many as 26 different names for assisted living, among them: residential care, board and care, congregate care, and personal care.

What Services Are Provided?

Residents of assisted living facilities usually have their own units or apartments. In addition to having a support staff and providing meals, most assisted living facilities offer at least some of the following services:

  • Health care management and monitoring
  • Help with bathing, dressing, and eating
  • Meals (some or all)
  • Housekeeping and laundry
  • Medication reminders and/or help with medications
  • Recreational activities
  • Security
  • Transportation

How to Choose a Facility

A good match between a facility and a resident's needs depends as much on the philosophy and services of the assisted living facility as it does on the quality of care. The Administration on Aging, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), offers these suggestions to help you get started in your search for a safe, comfortable, and appropriate assisted living facility:

  • Think ahead. What will the resident's future needs be and how will the facility meet those needs?
  • Is the facility close to family and friends? Are there any shopping centers or other businesses nearby (within walking distance)?
  • Does the facility have limits on admitting or allowing residents to remain if they have mental impairments or severe physical disabilities?
  • Does the facility provide a written statement of its philosophy of care?
  • Visit each facility more than once, sometimes unannounced.
  • Visit at meal times, sample the food, and observe the quality of mealtime and the service.
  • Observe interactions among residents and staff.
  • Check to see if the facility offers social, recreational, and spiritual activities.
  • Talk to residents.
  • Learn what types of training staff receive and how frequently.
  • Review state licensing reports.

Summer 2009 Issue: Volume 4 Number 3 Page 6