Jul 12, 2022

What are the different types of senior living communities?

Manny Cominsky

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Today’s senior living communities offer a wide range of customized and luxury housing options for the full spectrum of older adult needs, from those looking to maintain completely independent lives (and just want to get rid of the chores and headaches of home ownership) to those who need assistance or daily medical care. The senior living industry has seen a massive influx of exciting new developments and building trends, and while some may have the dated and incorrect notion that senior living means a dreary nursing home, today’s senior living communities offer resort-style amenities and exciting social calendars which encourage wellness and a great sense of community. While each senior living community will have its own unique features and offerings, senior living communities are generally broken into several categories, including: independent living, assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing facilities.

Acuity Level

Before describing the different types of senior living communities, it’s worth explaining the term acuity level as it is generally the most important factor in determining the appropriate senior living community for you. Acuity level refers to the amount of daily, medically required support an individual needs. For many people in senior living communities, particularly those in independent living, the acuity level is very low if not zero as many seniors in independent living do not require any daily assistance. However, as an individual’s daily needs increase, in other words as their acuity level rises, they may require higher levels of care such as that offered at an assisted living or memory care facility. 

Independent Living

Independent senior living communities are designed for seniors who are still active and social and who do not need daily assistance. In many cases independent senior living communities resemble their age-restricted community cousin, the 55+ active adult community. Like 55+ active adult communities, independent senior living communities often offer their residents luxury amenities like fitness centers, resort-style pools, movie theaters, and salons (to name just a few of the most popular examples). Also like 55+ active adult communities, life at an independent living community does not involve daily nursing or care (like the type of care you would receive at an assisted living or memory care senior living community). To the extent that independent senior living communities offer daily care, this takes the form of laundry and housekeeping services or maintenance that is provided by the community, as well as planned transportation to things like doctors or groceries. But this assistance is only meant to make your life easier and chore-free, and doesn’t change that independent senior living communities are meant for active seniors looking to lead independent lives.

Independent senior living communities are designed for seniors who are still active and social and who do not need daily assistance

Oftentimes the main difference between a 55+ active adult community and an independent senior living community is that active adult communities are often composed of standalone or condominium style homes, while independent senior living communities are often apartment-style. That being said, some independent senior living communities do offer individual housing units, often in the form of small cottages or, particularly in the southwest, casitas. 

Finally, because independent living communities do not include the medical care associated with assisted living, memory care, or skilled nursing facilities, independent senior living communities are also generally less expensive than higher acuity level facilities. While monthly rates are of course dependent not only on the facility and can be different around the country, a rough ballpark for the average cost of senior living communities is roughly $3,000-3,500 per month.

Assisted Living

Assisted living is a senior living option designed for those who need some form of assistance with daily living activities, even if only rather minor assistance, but who do not need daily medical care. Generally, this will take the form of assistance with daily tasks like dressing, bathing, eating, and some daily chores like cooking or tidying up. While life in an assisted living community generally does not mean that you are receiving daily medical care, assisted living communities will usually have access to round-the-clock nursing or emergency services should they be needed, and so are ready to take care of any health events.

Assisted living is a senior living option designed for those who need some form of assistance with daily living activities like dressing or getting in and out of bed.

While assisted living senior communities do provide a higher level of care than independent living, they are still designed to allow older adults to live largely independent lives. Assisted living is meant for older adults who are starting to have difficulty accomplishing daily tasks due to mobility or strength issues, but who are otherwise happy to live independent, social lives. This assistance allows residents to spend their time taking advantage of all the amenities that assisted living communities offer, like state of the art fitness centers, libraries, or salons and barbershops. 

The average cost of an assisted living senior living community in the United States is about $4,300, although just like with independent living communities this will depend not only on the state and city where the senior living community is located, but also on things like the number and quality of the amenities offered by the community. Because assisted living communities offer a higher level of care than independent living communities, assisted living communities generally are slightly costlier than independent living options. Thankfully, there are financial assistance programs that can help cover the cost of assisted living care, the most popular of which are generally Medicaid or long-term care insurance. As with any major financial planning decision, it is worth seeking the advice of a professional investment advisor to understand how best you can afford assisted living.

Memory Care

Memory care is a specialized form of senior living community designed for seniors with advanced memory impairments such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. Because of the unique requirements involved with adequately caring for memory impairments, memory care facilities employ staff who are specifically trained in caring for those with memory impairments. Memory care facilities often also provide separate, specialized facilities that provide safety, security, and unique therapeutic facilities for treating memory impairments. Because of these unique requirements, some senior living facilities only work with seniors with memory conditions.

Staff at memory care facilities are available 24-hours a day, and provide a host of daily services from house-keeping, to assistance with eating, to transportation. In addition, many memory care facilities also provide specialized programming and amenities, such as exercise and fitness classes designed specifically for those with memory impairments. While memory care facilities offer high-touch, around the clock support they are not medical facilities and their staff are not medical professionals. For those seeking routine medical care, skilled nursing facilities (described below) are generally more appropriate.

Like assisted living, memory care senior living communities are generally more expensive than independent living communities. The national average price for memory care is roughly $5,300 per month (again accounting for the existence of regional differences). While Medicare does not cover residential memory care, under certain circumstances Medicaid can help cover some services provided by memory care facilities. And like assisted living facilities, some people also choose to pay with long-term care insurance. 

Skilled Nursing Facilities

At the far end of the acuity spectrum are skilled nursing facilities, also sometimes known as nursing homes. Skilled nursing facilities provide around the clock medical care by trained medical professionals, and are designed for those with chronic medical conditions or those undergoing rehabilitation such as those who have undergone a surgery and are recovering before returning to their primary residence. Because these facilities are designed with medical care, not lifestyle, in mind, they generally do not have the resort-style amenities that you would generally see in an independent, assisted living, or memory care senior living facility. Skilled nursing facilities are often rather expensive, with rates in the $7,000-$8,000 per month range. Unfortunately, Medicare only covers a portion of nursing home costs and only for a short period of time. While Medicaid can provide more comprehensive coverage, exact coverage and eligibility details will differ by state.

Continuing Care Retirement Communities

A final type of senior living community that you will see is what’s called a continuing care retirement community. Like their name implies, continuing care retirement communities provide a range of care options, from independent living right through to skilled nursing facilities. What makes continuing care retirement communities unique, therefore, is not necessarily the type of care or services they offer, but rather the fact that they provide a wide range of care options under one roof (or, as is often the case, under several roofs!). The main benefit of a continuing care retirement community is that you can stay with the same community as you age. This not only makes the move itself convenient, sometimes just moving a floor over, it also allows you to stay with a community that has come to know everything about you.

If you’re interested in learning more about senior housing options, either for yourself or for a loved one, please reach out to us at info@sunboundhomes.com or check out our services page to find out how Sunbound can help you find the perfect destination for your retirement or senior living. Senior living communities are amazing options for older adults of all acuity levels, as they allow you to leave the stress and worries of home ownership behind and focus on enjoying your retirement years. From independent living options with luxury-style amenities and non-stop social calendars, to memory care facilities offering the highest level of nursing and care, the team at Sunbound wants to make sure that you find your perfect home. 

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