What Is Assisted Living?

Assisted living is a residence for older people or people with disabilities who require help with some of the routines of daily living as well as access to medical care when needed. Such people, or their families, may choose an assisted living facilities so that professional help is on hand. Assisted living residents may require ongoing medical care as well as trained nursing services.

In terms of the level of care provided, assisted living is a step below a nursing home or skilled nursing facility. They are regulated by state laws, which vary by state.

Key Takeaways

  • Assisted living provides skilled help and nursing for older people and people with disabilities in a residential setting.
  • They are designed for people who want some degree of independence and access to help as needed.
  • Residents may stay for as little as a month or long-term.
  • Those who need assistance with ADLs can opt for in-home, assisted living, or nursing home care.

Understanding Assisted Living

Assisted living generally allows more independence and costs less than nursing home care, but is more expensive than an independent living facility. The assisted living setting is similar to a personal residence, compared to a nursing home's hospital-like setting. Assisted living is suitable for individuals who cannot manage on their own but want to maintain as much independence as possible.

Insurance company Genworth estimates the national median cost of a private one-bedroom space in an assisted living facility at $51,600 per year, as of 2020. Costs vary depending on the level of care required, location, and housing type. Arrangements can be made on a month-to-month basis or longer term. Services may be all-inclusive or charge for extras such as meals and housekeeping.

Paying for Assisted Living

Some people buy insurance that includes coverage for long-term care. Standard Medicare coverage does not usually include the costs of assisted living.

In addition, some states offer financial assistance to help low-income individuals pay for assisted living facilities. For example, California provides Supplemental Security Income to help pay for non-medical out-of-home care, which was set at $1,206.37 per month for 2020.

Military veterans and their surviving spouses can apply for "Aid and Attendance" or "Housebound" benefits through the Veterans Administration. These benefits pay a higher monthly pension amount to qualifying veterans. Veterans with one dependent can qualify for up to $21,063 in annual Housebound benefits or $27,195 in annual Aid and Attendance benefits.

Most assisted living residents are at least 85 years old, but younger individuals with disabilities may also choose assisted living.


The national median annual cost of assisted living in 2020.

Options for Assisted Living

There are thousands of assisted living facilities in the U.S., many of them offering specialized services, so prospective residents have options depending on their circumstances and preferences.

Assisted living facilities generally provide meals, housekeeping, transportation, security, physical therapy, and activities for residents. Healthcare and supervision are available 24/7 in most facilities. The facility will create a written care plan for each resident and reassess and update the plan as needed.

Understanding Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)

Over a third of Americans who turn 65—a common retirement age—will eventually enter a care facility because they are unable to perform specific activities of daily life, or ADLs, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. While the majority of care facility admissions will be for the short term (less than a year), about a fifth will stay longer than five years.

Being able to perform ADLs while aging is directly linked to independent living, as physicians and adult care social workers use ADLs to determine if a person needs assisted living or to be placed in a nursing home. Why are ADLs so important? Because they affect a person's ability to do housework, prepare their own meals, go shopping, drive or use public transportation, and take prescription medication. They can also leave the person prone to dangers such as falling downstairs or slipping in the shower.

The 6 Key Activities of Daily Living
1. Eating Able to feed oneself
2. Bathing Able to bath/shower, brush teeth, and groom
3. Getting Dressed Able to dress and undress
4. Mobility Able to sit, stand, and walk
5. Continence Able to control bladder and bowel functions
6. Toileting Able to get to and from the toilet and clean oneself
The 6 Key Activities of Daily Living