Assisted living communities are designed for people who can care for themselves if they have some help with daily activities. These communities can help older people who have problems with memory, who get confused, or who have physical problems. Some communities have special units for people with dementia where residents can be closely monitored. Assisted living communities may also provide help for couples who wish to continue to live together even though one or both partners require more assistance than the other can provide.
Assisted living communities vary from small and homey to large and elaborate. Residents usually have their own apartment or a bedroom with a bathroom. These communities provide meals, help with daily activities (including personal care), and offer some social and recreational activities. Residents can choose which activities and services they want. Most assisted living communities provide some health care, including 24-hour supervision if needed. Doctors and nurses may visit regularly, and physical therapists may be available. Services and activities offered vary greatly from community to community. Also, regulations for these communities differ from state to state.
When people need intensive treatment, they may have to move to another facility, such as a hospital or rehabilitation center. They may move back to the assisted living community if they are able. But to hold their living space while they are gone, they must continue to pay for it.
People who move to assisted living communities usually need help with daily activities because they have some health problems that limit their ability to function independently. Assisted living communities prefer people who do not need help moving (transferring), for example, from bed to chair. But even when people become relatively impaired, they may be able to stay in these communities because of the help provided. How much help is provided varies considerably from community to community. Generally, an assisted living community is not an alternative to a nursing home. More often, it is a transitional living arrangement that is followed by a move to a nursing home.
Assisted living communities are usually less expensive than nursing homes because they provide less care. However, they can still be expensive. Although Medicare does not pay for assisted living communities, Medicaid sometimes provides financial support. Many long-term care insurance policies help pay for a significant part of assisted living costs.
Last full review/revision February 2009 by Paul R. Katz, MD