7 Senior Living Options

Sophie Bebeau

Written by Sophie Bebeau on Thu Oct 20 2022.

The aging process can be a time of major transition and many seniors will need the help of family members or caregivers to figure out next steps when it comes to housing options as they age. There are many things that can lead to a transition to a new living arrangement, like a new medical condition, the death of a spouse, the inability to keep up with home maintenance, or simply the need for a lifestyle change.

The aging process can be a time of major transition and many seniors will need the help of family members or caregivers to figure out next steps when it comes to housing options as they age. There are many things that can lead to a transition to a new living arrangement, like a new medical condition, the death of a spouse, the inability to keep up with home maintenance, or simply the need for a lifestyle change. Given the number of options that exist for senior living, it’s important to consider:

  • medical and physical needs

  • location and closeness to family and friends

  • social and emotional needs

  • affordability

Below is an overview of the 7 most common types of senior housing to help you easily narrow down the option or options that will work best for your loved one.

Aging in Place

Aging in place is simply a fancy way of saying your elderly loved one will either stay put in their own home or live in a home with family members.

While aging in place may often be preferred by your loved one, it comes with greater responsibility for the caregiver. It’s important to consider both the needs of the older adult and the caregiver when deciding if aging in place is the right decision.

Aging in place is a good fit for seniors who

  • have a nearby network of family, friends, and neighbors who are willing to help

  • are still able to safely drive or who have easily accessible transportation nearby

  • are still able to complete most home and property maintenance tasks themselves

  • do not need a high level of physical or medical care

Other things to consider

  • You may need to make modifications to your home or your loved one’s home to make it safer for them. This includes adding things like grab bars, ramps, or a medical alert system.

  • You can use services like meal delivery, senior transport, and cleaning services to help your loved one with daily living activities.

Relative cost: Low to medium, but can become more costly with more complex home modifications.

NORC or “The Village”

We all know the phrase “it takes a village” and often hear it in regards to raising a child, but what happens to the village when you’re older? Many seniors are building their own village or what is known as a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC). A NORC is commonly a neighborhood or housing development with a high volume of older adults who work together with other members of the community to organize a senior-friendly community.

A NORC is a good fit for seniors who

  • are still relatively independent and are able to complete some of the activities of daily living themselves

  • already have a wide network of friends, family, and neighbors

  • do not want to leave their homes but want benefits similar to that of a retirement community

Other things to consider

  • A NORC or senior village works similarly to a concierge service. Other able-bodied members of the community or businesses in the area donate their time and services to help members of the NORC with their needs. For example, if a member needed a wheelchair ramp built, they could call their central NORC or Village office and get connected with an approved contractor.

Independent Living

Independent living is a term that covers a wide variety of senior living options, including retirement communities, active living communities, senior apartments, congregational retirement communities, and more. 

An independent living community is good for seniors who

  • want to live in a community setting with built-in activities

  • don’t need major assistance with the activities of daily living

  • don’t want to do a lot of chores and maintenance

Other things to consider

  • Independent living communities usually feature housing that is tailored to senior living, including modifications like grab bars and walk-in tubs and few, if any, stairs.

  • Independent living communities do not include any on-site medical care.

Relative cost: Medium to high. The average cost of an independent living community in the United States is $2,000 to $5,000 per month, with the biggest impact on that number being location and types of services offered.

Residential Care Home

Residential care homes are similar to independent living facilities but offer smaller, more personalized services to a smaller group of older adults (usually no more than 10) who need full-time assistance with daily living activities. Residential care homes are also sometimes referred to as adult family homes, elder care homes, personal care homes, or board and care homes.

A residential care home is good for seniors who

  • need regular assistance with daily living activities, like laundry and meals

  • need medication administration and management

  • want the feeling of living in a community with built-in activities but with more individual attention

Other things to consider

  • A residential care home is a good transitional senior living option for aging loved ones who are in need of some assistance with the activities of daily living but do not yet require a higher level of care or medical assistance.

Relative cost: Medium. Costs vary depending on location and amount of services offered, but generally speaking, residential care homes are more affordable than assisted living and are often half the cost of a nursing home. The average cost for a residential care home in the United States is $1,000 to $5,000/month.

Assisted Living Care

Assisted Living Care is the next step for senior living when greater daily assistance is required and some medical care may be needed. Though assisted living amenities and services can vary widely from place to place, you can typically expect an assisted living care facility to be staffed 24 hours a day, serve meals, manage medication, bathe and dress residents, offer housekeeping and transportation, provide recreational activities, and sometimes offer additional medical services.

An assisted living facility is good for seniors who

  • need regular, reliable transportation

  • need a higher level of assistance with the activities of daily living

  • need minor medical assistance

  • want to live in a community with built-in activities

Other things to consider

  • Assisted living facilities often require residents to meet certain health criteria to qualify for residency. For example, many assisted living facilities require residents to be able to move in and out of a wheelchair without assistance or eat without assistance.

Relative cost: High. Costs vary greatly depending on the services provided, but the average assisted living cost in the United States is $4,000/month. 

Continuing Care Retirement Communities

Continuing care retirement communities, sometimes also called life plan communities, are a hybrid of independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing facilities. These communities are the ideal transitional senior living option because they allow residents to live in different segments of the community based on the level of care they need. This means a resident can begin in a more independent living situation and remain in the same community even as their assistance and medical needs increase.

A continuing care retirement community is good for seniors who

  • are still somewhat independent but have declining health or progressing illness

  • want the stability and familiarity of living out the rest of their lives in one place

  • don’t want to worry about having to move for future medical needs

  • want to continue living with or close to their spouse who may require more assistance and medical care

Other things to consider

  • Most continuing care retirement communities require a high entry fee.

  • Entrance fees are often not refundable if a resident moves out or dies.

  • There are several different contract types to choose from when signing up to live in a continuing care retirement community. You may want the help of an eldercare attorney to make sure you understand each option fully.

Relative cost: High. This is the most expensive senior living option. Entrance fees in the United States range from $100,000 to $1 million. Living agreements require monthly fees that are usually increased annually and as resident needs increase, and there can be many add-on fees for different services.

Nursing Home/Skilled Nursing Facility

A nursing home is a residential and medical facility for older adults who need 24-hour supervision and a high level of medical care. It is staffed by physicians, nurses, and other medical professionals, like physical and occupational therapists. There are also nursing homes that specialize in the care of older adults with specific health problems like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.

A nursing home is good for seniors who

  • do not require hospitalization but have health issues that cannot be cared for at home

  • have needs surrounding a specific disease

Other things to consider

  • If your elderly loved one needs to live in a nursing home, prepare to be a strong patient advocate for them or appoint someone in your family who can take on that role. Seniors in nursing homes often reach a point of health where they are no longer able to manage their own decisions or advocate for themselves.

  • Most nursing homes participate in Medicaid.

Relative cost: High. Costs vary depending on the type of facility, but the average cost of a private room in a nursing home in the United States is $9,032/month. 

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Sophie Bebeau
Sophie Bebeau

Sophie Bebeau is a writer, graphic designer, poet, and multidisciplinary artist living in Green Bay, Wisconsin. When she’s not writing or making things for the internet, she can be found cross-stitching, writing poetry, and snuggling on the couch with a cup of tea and her husband, son, and dog, Buttercup.