How to Choose Assisted Living for Your Loved One

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on February 22, 2015
4 min read

If your loved one needs help with daily tasks but doesn't need intensive medical care, "assisted living" may be the answer. It's a way to let them live independently in a safe and caring atmosphere.

Sometimes an assisted living home is part of a larger nursing care center or hospital, retirement community, or senior housing complex. Or it may be an independent place that isn't linked to other outfits.

Most people who live in assisted living are seniors. Some may have Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia. Others may have certain disabilities.

Residents have their own private apartment with a bedroom, bathroom, small kitchen, and living area. Or they can share an apartment with a roommate.

Most places also have common areas where people can socialize and do activities. So you can get privacy if you want it, but also a sense of community.

"Assisted living was founded on the principles of choice and independence," says Maribeth Bersani, senior vice president of public policy at the Assisted Living Federation of America. "Residents in assisted living live life the way they want to, with dignity and respect."

Most assisted living homes have:

  • 24-hour supervision, assistance, and security
  • Three meals a day in a group setting
  • Help with personal care (bathing, dressing, eating, toileting)
  • Housekeeping and laundry
  • Medication reminders or help taking medicine
  • Health care management and monitoring
  • Things to do for fun
  • Social services
  • Exercise and wellness programs
  • Transportation

There are many benefits, especially if your loved one is living on their own now, says eldercare expert Barbara McVicker, host of the PBS television special Stuck in the Middle: Caring for Mom and Dad. Those benefits include:

Chances to socialize. Your loved one is less likely to be isolated or lonely.

Nutrition. Three balanced meals may offer better nutrition than if they cook for themselves.

Activity. Your loved one will have more chances for physical and mental stimulation.

Less stress. Your loved one's needs are taken care of, so there's less stress for family members.

Make an appointment to visit each place you're considering. "Don't be afraid to ask questions," Bersani says. "This is an important decision and can take time to find the right fit."

When you visit, ask these questions:

  • What types of training does your staff have?
  • What's the staff-to-patient ratio?
  • Will you create a written care plan that's tailored to my loved one's needs?
  • Will the facility be able to continue to care for my loved one as they need change?
  • Is the group of residents a good match for my loved one?
  • Are there shopping centers and other businesses nearby? Are they within walking distance?
  • Do you offer fun, social activities? Spiritual ones?

Some things to look for on your visit:

  • Visit during mealtimes and sample the food. Check to see if the kitchen is clean and the service is good.
  • Find out about safety measures. Are there call buttons? Is there a medical doctor or registered nurse on duty?
  • What does the outdoor space look like?
  • How does the staff talk to residents?
  • Watch how residents interact with each other.
  • Talk to residents and their adult children. Ask questions.
  • Visit each center more than once. Drop in without notice.

You can review state licensing reports to see if there are any areas of concern and see if anyone has filed complaints about the facility. You can also check with your local Better Business Bureau.

Assisted living may cost less than $25,000 a year or more than $50,000 a year. It's usually less expensive than a nursing home.

"Different levels of care at any facility have different price points," McVicker says.

Many places charge a base rate. When you add services, you pay more. Avoid surprises by asking what's included in the basic price and how much it costs to get extra care.

The costs are usually paid by the resident or their family. If you or your loved one has a long-term care insurance policy or health insurance policy that includes assisted living care, some of the expense may be covered.

Some assisted living facilities offer a financial assistance program. Ask for details.

Medicare does not cover the costs of assisted living. In some states, Medicaid may pay for the service portion of assisted living expenses.

If your loved one is a veteran or veteran's spouse, they may be eligible for benefits that pay some of the expenses. Contact the Department of Veterans Affairs.