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What are the Different Senior Living Options

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Top Takeaways 


  1. There are 5 main types of senior living options: Independent Living, Assisted Living, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing Facilities, and Continuing Care Retirement Communities 
  2. Different living options vary in the level of care that is offered and the costs 
  3. Independent Living and Continuing Care Retirement Communities are the best options for older adults who can perform ADLs independently, but want a community and amenities 
  4. Older adults who require some level of assistance with ADLs and/or day-to-day nursing care are better suited for Assisted Living, Memory Care, or Skilled Nursing Care 
  5. If you’re unsure which is best fit for your loved one, speak to their physician about the options



Today’s older adults have a variety of options when it comes to senior housing. However, searching for senior living options doesn’t have to be overwhelming or frustrating.

Generally speaking, there are five types of senior living options available: 

  1. Independent Living
  2. Assisted Living
  3. Memory Care
  4. Skilled Nursing Facilities
  5. Continuing Care Retirement Communities


It’s important to know the pros, cons, and costs of each one so you can make the best choice for your loved one.



Independent Living

Independent living communities are designed as vibrant communities for adults who are looking to downsize their household responsibilities.


The Pros

  • Five-star luxury resort feel
  • Multiple floor plan options including apartment homes, villas, or even single-family homes.
  • Amenities like swimming pools, fitness centers, spas, onsite restaurants, concierge services, and transportation around town
  • Making friends is easy to do by sharing experiences or meals with neighbors daily


The Cons

  • In most cases, you will have to downsize at least a little from your current home 
  • You will likely need to move out of your current neighborhood, which can be difficult for adults who already feel connected to their neighbors and friends
  • If you need any type of assistance at all, you will need to hire home care services at an out-of-pocket cost


Who Lives Here?

  • Independent living residents who are: 
    • Able to perform activities of daily living like bathing and dressing on their own safely
    • Seeking to live a maintenance-free and more social lifestyle



  • Just like any real estate, independent living communities vary in cost by location as well as by services offered
  • The average monthly fee is typically around $2,500-$3,000
  • Monthly fees cover everything from access to the fitness center and other amenities to the WiFi and utility costs

Assisted Living

Assisted living communities are designed to provide additional support and security for adults who need extra help with daily tasks.


The Pros

  • Caregivers are there to provide personalized assistance around the clock, which can help to decrease fall risk or other emergency situations 
  • Many assisted living communities are quite luxurious as well, featuring multiple dining options, outdoor spaces, and plenty of spots to meet up with new friends


The Cons

  • Assisted living communities often do not have nurses available around the clock, which can mean caregivers will still need to dial emergency services in a crisis. 
  • Costs can increase as needs do


Who Lives Here?

  • Older adults who are unsafe when performing tasks like showering or bathing
  • Residents often need some type of assistance with daily tasks
  • People who use a wheelchair, walker, or cane



  • Assisted living communities typically charge a monthly fee that includes nearly all services and amenities
  • Monthly fees average about $4,000 per month though those can increase as care needs do
  • Most assisted living communities do not take Medicare or Medicaid, though you can sometimes find financial assistance via Veterans Aid & Attendance benefits or other local waivers

Memory Care

Designed specifically for adults living with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia, memory care communities are highly specialized environments.


The Pros

  • Specifically designed to meet challenges that come with dementia
  • Secure and safe spaces
  • They increase quality of life and self-esteem for residents
  • They offer peace of mind to family members
  • Feature smaller neighborhoods with more staff to help fewer residents, which increases personalized interactions


The Cons

  • Memory care communities can be expensive
  • Residents who are in the early stages of the disease can feel frightened or out of place when mingling with the other residents there who are often in the middle to late stages of the disease
  • Costs might increase as needs do


Who Lives Here?

  • Residents in memory care communities have a diagnosis of some type of dementia and cannot safely live at home
  • Older adults in the middle to later stages of the disease
  • Residents are often confused and might have issues with safety or judgment



  • Memory care communities charge a monthly fee averaging $5,000 per month. 
  • This cost covers nearly all services and amenities but might increase as needs do.

Skilled Nursing

Formerly known as “nursing homes”, skilled nursing facilities offer short-term rehabilitation as well as long-term skilled nursing care.


The Pros

  • Skilled nursing communities have around the clock nursing care, which makes it perfect for residents who are living with complex medical conditions or chronic pain
  • Onsite therapy services can also speed up recovery after a hospital stay
  • Short-term stays are often partially paid for by Medicare after a qualifying hospital stay


The Cons

  • Because of its clinical nature, even the most home-like skilled nursing communities can feel more like a hospital
  • Loud call light or emergency systems, as well as late night wellness checks can make it difficult to sleep
  • It can be expensive if paying for it out-of-pocket


Who Lives Here?

  • There are typically two types of adults who live in skilled nursing: short-term and long-term
  • The first is someone who has just left the hospital after a stay or procedure and needs to recover more before returning home safely
  • This person is a short-term stay and spends a lot of time in physical, occupational, or speech therapy sessions before returning home
  • The next type is a long-term resident. This person has complex needs or medical considerations that make living at home or in assisted living unsafe or unrealistic



  • Costs for a private room typically charging an average of $250 per day
  • A qualifying hospital stay of at least three nights will allow Medicare coverage to kick in, paying 100% of costs for the first 20 days and then 80% of costs through day 100 
  • Many skilled nursing communities also accept Medicaid, though they may only have a limited number of beds available for this payment option

Continuing Care Retirement Communities

Continuing Care Retirement Communities, now known as Life Plan Communities, offer all four types of senior living all on one expansive campus.


The Pros

  • If care needs change, you won’t need to find a new community. You can find all care on one campus
  • Large campuses usually include luxury amenities ranging from hiking trails to tennis courts to multiple fitness centers
  • Residents in different levels of care all have access to campus amenities
  • It’s easier for couples with different care needs to live together


The Cons

  • A large “buy-in” fee is required, along with monthly fees, which can add up quickly
  • It can feel like independent living residents make the majority of the campus decisions and other levels of care can feel left out


Who Lives Here

  • Anyone can live in a Life Plan Community, as there is access to all levels of senior care
  • Typically, residents move in during the independent living phase of their life and move through the levels as medical needs change



  • Buy-in communities charge an initial fee based on real estate pricing in the area, which can be as much as $300,000
  • Monthly fees vary by level of care and are on comparable to nationwide averages
  • Some nonprofit communities have a benevolent fund which means if the resident runs out of money (through no fault of their own), their care costs are covered by the fund
  • The buy-in fee can be given to the estate in some cases

Next Steps

If you aren’t sure what type of senior living could be best for you or your loved one, talk to the doctor. They will have insight that can guide you in the right direction. 


Haley Burress

Haley Burress is a senior care and caregiving expert. She worked in senior care for more than 15 years before she started writing for senior care agencies and professional caregivers full time. She has experience in Skilled Nursing Facilities, Assisted Living, Independent Living, and Memory Care as well as Adult Day services and home care.

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