Assisted living is a home for seniors who need support daily. Communities assist with activities of daily living, medication management, meals, and housekeeping. Assisted living also gives residents the opportunity to socialize and enjoy activities together. Many assisted living communities provide transportation to medical appointments, shops, and community events.
Help with activities of daily living, or ADLs, include personal care needs such as:
- Using the restroom
- Taking medication
- Preparing meals
Many communities also provide care for incontinence, diabetes, and feeding. Needs vary and depend on the individual, as some seniors need very little help while others need more. The term "level of care" refers to the amount or type of help and care an assisted living community provides. Some communities have up to six levels of care, while others offer minimal help.
What care does assisted living provide?
Care in an assisted living community may or may not include nurse oversight. Nurses do the initial assessment and oversee medication distribution. Nurses also coordinate medical care with residents’ physicians.
All assisted living communities have caregivers managing the day-to-day needs of their residents. The most reputable communities have staff working 24/7. Some communities have Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs), as well as Medication Technicians, who assist in administering medication to residents.
Most assisted living communities offer in-house physician or nurse practitioner services. This provides a high level of continuity of care for residents and is an added convenience. A podiatrist or dentist may visit a participating community quarterly. Physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy are also available daily on-site at many senior living establishments. These services and others, such as beautician services, are always optional for residents.
What accommodations can I expect in assisted living?
Assisted living communities come in all sizes. Some are smaller with fewer residents in a residential home in a neighborhood. Other larger communities can serve over one hundred residents.
Apartment sizes vary from community to community. Most will offer studios, one and two-bedroom apartments, and companion rooms. Apartments come furnished or unfurnished, though unfurnished is more common. Residents can bring their favorite furniture and wall art.
Outdoor accommodations may include front porches, patios, gardens, or walking paths. There are comfortable sitting places where residents can enjoy the outdoors.
What is there to do in assisted living?
Any reputable senior living community offers activities, events, and social outings. A well-organized activities calendar is a special part of life in assisted living. Daily schedules offer things to do and experiences to encounter. There are also options for exercise and physical activity. A good activities director will vary the calendar to meet a wide variety of interests.
Examples of activities include:
- Arts and crafts
- Card games
- Board games
- Social games
- Wii bowling
More specialized events include:
- Family brunches
- Holiday and birthday celebrations
- Movie nights
- Live entertainment
- Day trips to local shops
- Cultural events
Amenities often include a fitness center with both equipment and exercise classes. Some communities have pools for aquatic exercise and swimming laps. Beauty and barbershops are very common and a community may even offer other services like manicures and pedicures. Some assisted living centers include spas with whirlpools and massage therapy.
What assisted living does not do
Assisted living provides help for residents and their daily care needs. Needs that are more medical such as catheters, IV drug therapies, feeding tubes, and high-level wound care are not included in assisted living care.
Is assisted living free?
Most assisted living communities require private pay funds. It is paid monthly. Many nursing homes do take public assistance or Medicaid as a payor source for those who cannot afford to pay but need care.
Patients who require physical, occupational, and speech therapies after a hospital visit may be eligible to use their Medicare benefit for their skilled nursing stay to receive therapy.
Assisted living philosophy
The focus of assisted living is to care for residents’ whole being: mind, body, and spirit. Residents may need help, but a full and engaging life awaits. Life in assisted living offers opportunities to get excited every day and live life in a community with others. Residents often enjoy close friendships with fellow residents and staff, spending days doing the things they love or trying things they never had time for.
Benefits of assisted living
The decision to move into assisted living comes easy for some. Some seniors decide because of an unforeseen event or the risk that they may no longer be safe at home. In helping many seniors and their families find the right solutions, so many find themselves asking why they didn’t do it sooner because it just makes sense.
There are many benefits of assisted living. These advantages include the following:
- Mental Health — Research by the National Institute on Aging (April 2019) claims social isolation and loneliness in older people pose mental and physical health risks, and the detrimental effects of isolation can lead to cognitive decline, depression, and heart disease. See: Social isolation, loneliness in older people pose health risks | National Institute on Aging (nih.gov)
- Activities — Seniors stay active with things to do and experience every day. The world of an aging senior will often become smaller as everyday abilities or mobility becomes more challenging. In assisted living, a senior can be as independent as they can be but with support to make sure they enjoy all the community has to offer.
- Independence — Many seniors are relieved to have the freedom of not needing to rely on family and being able to decide what they do when they wake up each day with the support available to make it happen.
- Medication Reminders and Management — According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, up to 60% of older adults mismanage medications, with a large percentage requiring a trip to the ER when they do. About 140,000 seniors die each year as a result. In assisted living, medication reminders and management are critical factors for the well-being of every resident. Attention and oversight are given to directions of each prescription, possible side effects, time of day to take medications, and possible drug interactions with other prescription drugs. With seniors taking an average of five to six prescription drugs daily, this oversight is imperative. See: Medication Management of the Community-Dwelling Older Adult - Patient Safety and Quality - NCBI Bookshelf (nih.gov)
- Nutrition — Proper nutrition is important to health and well-being. In assisted living, creating delicious meals, desserts, and snacks that appeal to a wide variety of palettes is key in creating memorable dining experiences. Many assisted living communities can cater to special dietary needs.
- Maintenance-free living — Freedom from housekeeping, yard maintenance, cooking, and laundry frees up a lot of time for assisted living residents.
- Safety — Apartments in assisted living are senior-friendly. Bathrooms have grab bars and easy-to-access showers. Emergency response systems, like pull cords, are standard in assisted living apartments. Additionally, the entrances in most communities have security measures with greeters at the door, sign-in sheets for all visitors, and an intercom for evening access.
- Medical oversight — Many assisted living communities provide transportation and coordination of medical care and medical appointments. Thus, proper attention is promptly given to any changes in a resident’s condition.