Independent but supported living
For most people, it’s inevitable: As you age and your health concerns increase, you’ll probably need some help with previously easy tasks like shopping or housekeeping. Many families turn to assisted living communities to support and care for older relatives.
“An assisted living community is housing for seniors that provides long-term senior care, including daily support around personal care services like meals, medication management, bathing, dressing and transportation,” says Sue Johansen, a San Francisco-based executive vice president with A Place for Mom, a senior referral service. These communities also offer a wide range of activities to help seniors live vibrant and enjoyable lives.
Each community is unique.
Assisted living communities are regulated at the state level, but regulations can vary significantly from state to state, says Alyssa M. Lanzi, a research assistant professor in the department of communication sciences and disorders at the University of Delaware in Newark. Even within the same state, each community is unique in its size, layout, scale and service offerings. For example, “some communities are high-rises, and others are actual homes,” she says.
While there can be a lot of variation from one community to the next, “in general, assisted living communitiesinclude individual or shared apartments that have a bathroom, bedroom, kitchen and living space,” Lanzi says.
But, she adds, these communities also feature several shared spaces, such as a dining room, living space and place for activities.
If you or a loved one is looking to move into an assisted living community, there are a lot of factors to consider in choosing the right one. Among these decisions is the type of room or apartment you’ll move into.
Here are six of the most common types of rooms in assisted living.
In many assisted living communities throughout the country, “residents live in their own units, which may include a living quarter, private bathroom and sometimes a small cooking or food storage area,” says Dr. Susan D. Leonard, a geriatric medicine specialist at the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Assisted living apartments can have many different setups or layouts, and they can be furnished or unfurnished. There may be many units in the same building (typically 50 to 100 units), but other communities are much smaller.
These private apartments typically cater to “seniors who want and are able to live independently but may require some assistance,” Johansen says. These assisted living housing options may be studio, one-bedroom or two-bedroom apartments.
No matter the configuration of the apartment itself, the level of assistance needed can be tailored to the individual resident. In most cases, assistance with bathing and toileting, meals and medication management is standard.
Brian Geyser, the chief clinical officer at Insp?r, a senior living facility in Manhattan, says that the square footage of an assisted living apartment typically ranges between 350 and 1,000 or more, depending on the number of rooms the unit contains.
“Studios usually have kitchenettes, a refrigerator and sometimes a microwave. A one- or two-bedroom apartment might come with a full kitchen,” he says.
Leonard emphasizes that “these are non-medical facilities, so they’re different from skilled nursing facilities or nursing homes,” which do provide some medical services.
Some communities now offer high-end options, which can be quite comfortable and feel more like a luxury condominium than a bare-bones apartment, Johansen says. These condo-like settings allow residents a little more privacy when it comes to receiving care, which can be delivered on a schedule the resident prefers by a consistent staff.
Condo-style housing may be a little larger and include fancier furnishings, appointments and activities than a less expensive apartment-style dwelling. This kind of luxury residence might be pricier, but it can sometimes offer more independence and privacy than other options.
Some communities offer assisted living rooms rather than entire apartments. In these communities, seniors may have a private bedroom, which may or may not include a private bathroom.
“The option of a private room caters to the senior for whom privacy is important,” Johansen says.
Any other living spaces, such as a sitting room or kitchen, would be shared with other residents.
A private room is typically more expensive than a shared room, so this option may be better suited for the senior who is willing and able to spend more money in exchange for more privacy and independence. This option is also usually less expensive than having an entire apartment.
However, the cost of senior living depends on several factors, including location in the country and services being rendered. Rooms may be furnished or unfurnished depending on the community.
Some assisted living communities also offer shared rooms — two or more seniors to a single bedroom in a dorm-style setting — as an option. This arrangement means “sharing a room with a roommate who is also from the community,” Johansen says.
Shared rooms may be best suited for seniors who need a more affordable living arrangement, Geyser adds.
“Sharing a living space can dramatically extend your resources, so for some people, it’s their best option,” he says.
In addition, a shared room “can provide more of a social aspect or even a companion to the senior,” notes Johansen. The socialization factor may be particularly important; the negative health impacts of loneliness are a growing concern among many experts in the senior care industry.
“Feelings of loneliness, boredom and isolation are very common as people age. Independent living communities are built specifically to fight against those feelings,” says Dr. Deena Goldwater, a cardiologist and geriatrician who serves as the vice president of care delivery at Welcome Health, a Southern California-based primary care practice that specializes in aging.
Some communities have different sizes of shared rooms available at different price points, which offers even more options for a senior. Johansen says if you opt for a shared room, it’s important to work with the staff at the assisted living community to help you find a compatible roommate.
It’s also critical to discuss the level of privacy that the senior may need to be comfortable and then find an option that meets those needs. Seniors typically have some say in who they will share a space with, but as with so many other aspects of long-term care, specifics may vary depending on the individual community.
Now that we’re in the age of internet-connected everything, some assisted living communities are leveraging technology to make senior living safer, more efficient and less disruptive to residents. Geyser says sensors and monitors in the apartment itself can help staff monitor a resident’s well-being from afar.
For example, high-tech devices in some of these so-called “wired rooms” can monitor movement, and if it seems that a resident is less active than normal, the apartment can alert staff to go check on the resident. Others offer voice-activated technology to assist with daily activities.
These assisted living rooms may be very expensive depending on location and the specific technology involved; however, they may offer better remote monitoring for seniors who need a little more oversight but want to maintain as much privacy and independence as possible.
Memory care rooms
Across the spectrum of senior care, “the apartment or room is often geared toward the care level needed,” Geyser says. For example, memory care rooms, which are designed to support older adults who have dementia, may contain (or lack) certain kinds of equipment.
“For people who have Alzheimer’s or later-stage dementia, they might be in a studio without a microwave, just for safety,” Geyser says.
Their living space might also be a little smaller than a standard assisted living room because “a person with dementia usually does better in smaller spaces with less stuff and clutter,” he adds.
People with dementia may benefit more than a resident without dementia from having a roommate and the social contact that cohabitation can offer. Again, because a shared room is often significantly less expensive and a person with Alzheimer’s may need care for many years, this option may be preferable for families on a strict budget.
There is a wide range of other considerations that should guide your decision-making when determining the best place for you or a loved one to live. These include:
— Community rules.
Each assisted living community is its own entity, and as such, each one has different ground rules and expectations of residents. Some have rules that prohibit residents from bringing pets or their own furnishings, while others encourage people to make the space completely their own. Finding out the rules of the community and what they permit is a critical piece of figuring out which community is right for you.
Price is also a concern for most families. According to Genworth Financial’s 2021 Cost of Care Survey (the most recent data available), the median yearly cost for an assisted living community is $54,000, up from $28,800 in 2004.
But that’s just a middle-of-the-road figure. If you opt for a luxury community in an expensive city, expect to pay a lot more. A shared room in a community in a less affluent part of the country will likely cost significantly less. This is why doing your homework is critical in finding the right fit.
Johansen says that the style and quality of the options available “can depend significantly on the community. It’s important for a senior who is making the transition from living on his or her own to living in an assisted living community to make sure to find the optimal living option that meets his or her needs.”
Leonard adds that it’s important for families to check that buildings and rooms are “geriatric-safe and not a fall risk or hazardous to the elderly.” For instance, she suggests examining door locks.
“Most doors have locks on the inside. However, some may allow for non-locking doors or allow outside staff to open the door if the resident’s safety could be of concern,” she explains.
It’s important to find out how the community manages safety so that you know what to expect once your loved one moves in.
“The facility is responsible for balancing the privacy, but also safety, of residents,” Leonard says.
When should you or a loved one move?
Knowing when it’s time to move isn’t always straightforward.
“The move to assisted living is often triggered when people begin feeling overwhelmed with tasks that are necessary for independent living, such as grocery shopping, laundry, cleaning the home and cooking meals,” Goldwater says.
Before you make a choice, Lanzi recommends reading about your state regulations for assisted living communities to learn which ones are in place and how well-enforced they are.
She also recommends starting the search process as early as possible.
“You can think of the process somewhat like buying a car,” she explains. “It’s better to shop for a new car while your old car is still running, so you can be thoughtful and intentional with your search and take your time rather than having to rush to buy a car because your old car is no longer running.”
In the end, it’s important for families to do their due diligence when selecting the right living arrangement for a loved one. U.S. News’ Best Assisted Living Communities ratings, for instance, may be helpful, and Lanzi notes that the National Center for Assisted Living has “wonderful resources for consumers, such as guides for helping individuals find a community in their state.” Your local Council on Aging can also be a good resource for senior care questions and concerns.
Most common types of room options for assisted living
— Private apartments.
— Private rooms.
— Shared rooms.
— High-tech rooms.
— Memory care rooms.
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Update 07/05/23: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.