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Your Complete Guide to Senior Living Options

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What is senior living?

Senior living is a term used to describe various housing and care options for older adults.

Today, adults 65 years of age and older have a 70% chance of eventually requiring long-term care, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Senior living communities are a solution to this growing need, as they can provide elderly adults with supervision, socialization, and on-site care and assistance.

There are many different types of senior living facilities that provide a maintenance-free lifestyle — from 55+ communities for active seniors, to secure, fully staffed communities for seniors with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. This guide details the wide range of senior living options to help you find the right type of senior living community for your needs.

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What are all the senior living options?

Senior living communities fit a diverse range of care needs. It’s best to think about senior living in terms of the level of care that a prospective resident requires. Consider the following senior housing scenarios below.

For independent seniors who don’t need assistance

Active, independent senior living are communities for seniors that can take care of themselves. Active senior living options generally include two different experiences, so it’s important to consider your situation and preferences when comparing the types.

  • Senior apartments. These maintenance-free complexes often feature amenities like pools, tennis courts, and fitness centers for active adults over the age of 55. However, they may not feature a wide range of socialization opportunities, and seniors may be responsible for cooking and cleaning for themselves.
  • Independent living. This type of community is tailored to seniors who would benefit from regular socialization and a hassle-free lifestyle. Maintenance, dining, housekeeping, transportation, and many other resort-style services and amenities may be offered at these communities.

For active seniors who need some assistance

The senior living types below might be a good fit if your loved one does not have complex medical issues but needs some personal care support.

  • Assisted living. These communities provide similar amenities, services, and socialization opportunities as independent living communities. Additionally, they provide personal care services to help support a resident’s activities of daily living (ADLs) — like dressing, bathing, and mobility.
  • Board and care homes. For seniors who prefer a more home-like environment, board and care homes — also called residential care homes — offer a smaller, more family like setting. These homes provide the same types of services as assisted living, but in a smaller, residential setting with less on-site amenities. Board and care homes also offer socialization opportunities and activities tailored to the current residents’ interests.

For older adults with complex health conditions

If your loved one has complex medical conditions that require routine care, it may make sense to look at the senior living options below.

  • Memory care. These communities offer specialized care for seniors who have Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia. Memory care communities typically have staff trained in dementia care, enhanced security features, and engaging memory-enhancing therapies and activities.
  • Nursing homes. This senior living type offers skilled nursing and round-the-clock supervision with medical oversight. This type is for older adults with chronic or complex medical conditions or those recovering from an illness or injury.

For seniors who wish to only move once

It can feel overwhelming for some seniors to move from a lifelong home into a senior living community. Building a new social network and learning a new environment can be stressful, so it can provide stability and reduce stress to only move once.

Combined care communities

You may want to consider looking at senior living communities that combine care on a single campus. It’s common for communities with independent living to also have assisted living or memory care offered within the same complex. Some of these communities even have on-site skilled nursing options.

It’s important to note that combined care communities may have a limited scope of care in some cases. It’s a good idea to speak with prospective communities about the care needs for your unique situation.

Continuing care retirement communities

Continuing care retirement communities, or CCRCs, offer the full continuum of care on-site from independent living to assisted living and skilled nursing care all on one campus. Some also have memory care wings on-site. These communities ensure that all the care needs of residents are addressed across the full range of possible needs. This enables residents to remain in the same community and just switch care types, should their needs change over time.

However, CCRCs tend to have a large buy-in for new residents. The median buy-in fee is $111,100 at A Place for Mom’s partner communities, according to A Place for Mom’s proprietary data from its brand partners. Buy-in fees may range from $5,000 to more than $1 million. Seniors can potentially cover this cost by selling a home or utilizing retirement funds.

For seniors who want to remain in their home

In some cases, a senior may feel it’s best to remain in their home instead of pursuing the community care options listed above. In these cases, in-home care may be the best choice to meet changing care needs. In-home care services can provide necessary help for seniors living alone. There are two types of in-home care services: basic home care and more advanced home health care. Below, we go into the distinctions:

  • Home care. This type of care offers support with personal care, like ADLs, shopping, and transportation. These caregivers may also provide companionship, help with meal preparations, light housekeeping, and transportation to medical appointments.
  • Home health care. While this may sound very similar to home care, this type of care is heavily focused on medical needs. A home health caregiver is usually a licensed nurse or nursing assistant trained to provide skilled nursing care. They are qualified to assist a senior with their medications, chronic health conditions, and medical equipment. This type of care is commonly covered by Medicare or other private insurance. Be sure to check your policy for specific details on coverage options.
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What are specialty senior living options?

It’s important to note that within the above types of senior living options there are subtypes of communities that provide for specific lifestyles. These might include the following:

Luxury senior living

Luxury senior living communities are typically located in highly desirable locations, such as downtown in a major metropolitan, on a beachfront property, or with sought after natural views. These communities tend to be at a higher price point because they not only offer a top-tier location, but they also provide more expensive features, such as:

  • Spacious private outdoor spaces
  • Laundry machines located in en suite
  • On-call concierge doctor
  • On-site travel agent
  • On-site spas
  • In-room haircuts and hairstyling
  • Fine dining offered on-site

These communities can make it feel like you are on vacation every day in the luxury of a five-star resort. This may be a good fit if you value a more luxe lifestyle.

LGBTQ+ senior living

The senior living industry has recognized the growing need for LGBTQ+ tailored communities across senior living types. These communities typically offer unique features, such as:

  • Respecting preferred pronouns and preferred names
  • Supporting cohabitation between same sex partners
  • Utilizing a community-wide anti-discrimination policy

Religious-based senior living

Spiritual seniors may be looking for a community that will help foster their religious beliefs. Many center the community experience on faith and fellowship, and may even offer on-site services led by a pastor, priest, rabbi, or other spiritual leader. These specialized religious senior living communities could include the following:

Environmentally friendly senior living communities

For seniors who wish to live in eco-conscious communities, there are now more options than ever. With the rise of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications, senior living communities are being built with smaller environmental footprints to meet certification standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council. These eco-friendly communities may offer the following green features:

  • Greywater recycling systems
  • Rainwater harvesting systems
  • Reduced water consumption elements, such as low-flow toilets
  • Reduced energy consumption devices, such as LED light bulbs
  • Alternative power sources, such as solar panels
  • Energy-efficient appliances
  • Indoor air quality systems

Pet-friendly senior living communities

A wag of a tail or a soft purr can bring a smile to many people, including older adults. For seniors who have a companion animal, it can be important to bring their four-legged friend with them to their senior living community. A number of communities now offer pet-friendly senior living, but additional fees and breed restrictions may apply.

It’s important to note that service dogs in senior living do not generally fall under the same guidelines as pet animals. Federal laws typically provide specific protections for people with disabilities and their service animals.

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What are the benefits of senior living communities?

Senior living enhances quality of life for older adults and gives loved ones peace of mind. Communities empower seniors to remain as independent as possible while also supporting their unique needs and personal preferences.

The quality of life benefits of residing in a senior living community include, but are not limited to the listed categories below.

Increased safety for older adults

Communities often offer layouts designed for seniors, with environments specially tailored to prevent falls and staff available to assist in the event of emergencies. Additionally, some types of communities may offer a secured environment or have emergency alert systems in seniors’ rooms.

Socialization opportunities for seniors

It’s common for senior living communities to offer activities to keep older adults connected to their fellow residents, friends, and family. Communities often host the following types of activities and events:

  • Birthday parties
  • Holiday celebrations
  • Movie nights
  • Clubs, such as walking clubs, book clubs, or gardening clubs
  • Educational classes on art, music, or technology
  • Field trips to nearby attractions
  • Game tournaments

In addition, communities typically encourage friends and family to visit their loved one throughout the year as a way to maintain important social and familial connections.

The socialization opportunities at senior living communities are key to preventing the negative effects of senior isolation in older adults.

Healthy meals designed to support aging adults

The dining services in senior living communities typically include three nutritious meals per day and snacks. It can give older adults and their families peace of mind to know that these meals are designed to meet seniors’ daily dietary needs and dietary preferences. Even better, senior living communities often work with chefs and dieticians to create their menus.

Communities can generally accommodate the unique dietary needs of those with health conditions. For example, a community might offer adjustments to cater to the following diets:

  • Low-sodium diets
  • Diabetic diets
  • Heart-healthy diets
  • Gluten free diets
  • Vegan or vegetarian diets
  • Halal diets
  • Kosher diets

Low-stress lifestyle for older adults

While communities vary in their offerings, most have staff that handles maintenance, laundry, and housekeeping for residents. This allows older adults to pursue what’s really important to them — spending time with grandchildren, meeting up with friends for coffee, or just enjoying a good book at the community’s on-site bistro.

Additionally, for seniors who no longer feel comfortable getting behind the wheel, many communities offer free or at-cost on-site transportation options. With this service, older adults no longer have to worry about getting into an accident, paying for increasingly expensive car insurance, or dealing with their vehicle in dangerous weather.

Wellness support tailored to seniors

Many senior living communities offer professional care planning and care coordination services to help residents maintain their health and wellness. Care planning and coordination is invaluable to seniors who wish to get the most out of on-site care services such as physical therapy, diabetes management, speech therapy, medication management, and much more.

For older adults who need support with activities of daily living (ADLs), a community that offers personal care assistance, such as help with showering, hygiene activities, and incontinence support, may be a good fit.

Senior-friendly on-site fitness classes are also offered at many communities, so active seniors can stay healthy through exercise. A typical fitness class schedule at a senior living community might include things like yoga, chair weightlifting, or water aerobics.

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Average long-term care and senior living costs

The cost of senior living depends on several factors, including location, care type, and on-site services and amenities offered.

Some senior living options, like senior apartments, mirror more typical apartment or rental home prices. Others, like assisted living, memory care, and nursing homes, are generally more expensive due to the costs of additional services rolled into the monthly rent.

The figures below represent the monthly median senior living costs across the nation based on data from A Place for Mom’s 2023 Cost of Long-Term Care and Senior Living Report. To fill in some gaps, we’ve also included cost information from Genworth.

Care typeMedian monthly cost
Independent living$3,000
Assisted living$4,807
Memory care$5,995
Nursing homes, private room$9,034

In-home care rates are generally calculated on an hourly basis and hours per month may vary depending on your unique needs. In 2023, the national median costs of homemaker services was $30 per hour, according to A Place for Mom’s proprietary data, while the median for a home health aide was about $28, according to Genworth.

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How to pay for senior living and long-term senior care

Whereas senior apartments have similar price points to rent on a regular apartment, other care types may require families to use a variety of funding sources and payment strategies. It can be helpful to understand the following to plan for senior living costs:

  • How to pay for long-term care. This guide outlines the most common options families use to pay for senior care, including savings, pensions, investments, Social Security benefits, insurance, and selling a house to pay for care.
  • Medicaid coverage. Medicaid — currently the largest source of health insurance in the U.S. — can often cover senior health care services for low-income or medically needy older adults.
  • Veterans benefits for long-term care. Specifically, the VA Pension and Aid and Attendance benefit can provide monthly stipends to cover some or all of the care services for veterans with significant disabilities.

In total, families typically use private funds — such as savings or insurance — to cover the costs associated with long-term senior care. However, public pay methods, such as Medicaid and Medicare, may offset some costs depending on your situation.

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Touring and choosing senior living communities near you

To find the right senior living community for yourself or a relative, evaluate your budget and priorities. For example, is your family member highly social, making activities and outings a deciding factor? Do they require a high level of care, meaning employee training and staff-to-resident ratio are most important?

Above all, touring is the best way to choose a senior living facility. In fact, 97% of families took a tour before making a decision, according to A Place for Mom’s family survey. This experience allows you to meet community staff, see the unit your family member would live in, and ask important questions.

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Learn what to look for in a community

A Place for Mom’s touring guide helps you keep your notes, observations, and questions all in one place. Compare different options with this downloadable resource.

Download the senior living touring checklist >

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Not sure what type of senior living you need?

Start by exploring top-rated senior care near you. Use A Place for Mom’s service to help you find housing and care options. Our local advisors will work with you to better understand your budget, concerns, and questions. From there, you’ll receive a personalized list of the three best senior living communities for you in your area, all at no cost to you.

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Assisted Living

Assisted living facilities offer housing and care for active seniors who may need support with activities of daily living, like bathing, dressing, and medication management.

The score shown is the overall experience rating which is an average of the reviews submitted for those communities. The overall experience rating is a star rating that ranges from 1 being the lowest to 5 being the highest.

Below are the 51 largest cities grouped by their metropolitan area.

Top states for Assisted Living

California (CA)
3390 facilities
Oregon (OR)
600 facilities
Washington (WA)
1405 facilities
Massachusetts (MA)
353 facilities
Texas (TX)
1379 facilities
Ohio (OH)
929 facilities
Wisconsin (WI)
1145 facilities
Colorado (CO)
425 facilities
Idaho (ID)
188 facilities
Illinois (IL)
697 facilities
Virginia (VA)
492 facilities
Maryland (MD)
403 facilities
Arizona (AZ)
964 facilities
Florida (FL)
2041 facilities
South Carolina (SC)
399 facilities
Nevada (NV)
121 facilities
Pennsylvania (PA)
1100 facilities
Minnesota (MN)
883 facilities
Louisiana (LA)
125 facilities
New York (NY)
521 facilities
Michigan (MI)
1066 facilities
Georgia (GA)
827 facilities
Iowa (IA)
474 facilities
Delaware (DE)
41 facilities
Maine (ME)
145 facilities
Tennessee (TN)
452 facilities
Kansas (KS)
321 facilities
Indiana (IN)
481 facilities
New Jersey (NJ)
364 facilities
Mississippi (MS)
189 facilities
Oklahoma (OK)
248 facilities
Missouri (MO)
532 facilities
New Hampshire (NH)
100 facilities
Kentucky (KY)
272 facilities
North Carolina (NC)
704 facilities
North Dakota (ND)
101 facilities
Connecticut (CT)
171 facilities
Alabama (AL)
299 facilities
Nebraska (NE)
310 facilities
Montana (MT)
135 facilities
Utah (UT)
167 facilities
Arkansas (AR)
137 facilities
Rhode Island (RI)
66 facilities
Wyoming (WY)
47 facilities
West Virginia (WV)
59 facilities
New Mexico (NM)
138 facilities
Vermont (VT)
60 facilities
Alaska (AK)
54 facilities
South Dakota (SD)
127 facilities
Hawaii (HI)
39 facilities

Reviews and awards

The Best of Senior Living Award showcases top senior living communities stand out for their exceptional care and support of seniors.

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Before passing on, Dad spent his last four months at Vista Lakes. He was very pleased with his experience there as the...

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Winners of our Best Meals and Dining Award are the best communities for meals and dining, as determined by recent, highly rated reviews.