Senior living, or seniors housing, is a group of housing options that cater to the lifestyle and care needs of senior citizens. These options, ordered from more lifestyle focused to more care focused, include independent living, assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing facilities (nursing homes).

Types of Senior Living
  • Independent living
  • Assisted living
  • Memory care
  • Skilled nursing

As seniors age, their care needs will drive a change from the more lifestyle focused (begins with independent living) to the more care focused (ends with skilled nursing). It's common for seniors to live in independent living for a couple of years then move to assisted living, memory care, or skilled nursing. This progression based on increasing care needs is what the senior living industry calls the continuum of care.

Since senior living is essentially a class, or group of housing options for seniors, these options are available in different combinations. For instance, independent living, assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing may be offered together as part of a larger senior living campus. Some of these campuses are called continuing care retirement communities or CCRCs. These campuses may be in one or several buildings and may offer hundreds to thousands of apartments or cottages. Many seniors prefer senior living campuses, because they allow seniors to age-in-place as their care needs grow over time.

Other senior living offerings are standalone where only one or two types of care are offered. Standalone memory care communities with 40-60 apartments are very common, due to the specialized needs of those suffering from Alzheimer's or dementia. Standalone assisted living or skilled nursing facilities are common as well.

Who Needs Senior Living?

The easiest way to think about who needs senior living is to think about how much care a person needs.

How Much Care is Needed?
  • Usually no care = independent living
  • 1-2+ ADLs = assisted living
  • 1-2+ ADLs due to memory impairment = memory care
  • 24/7 nursing care or rehabilitation = skilled nursing
What are ADLs?

Independent living residents need little or no care and are making a lifestyle choice to live in independent living. Assisted living residents need assistance with 1-2 or more activities of daily living (medication management, dressing, bathing, grooming, walking, etc.). Memory care residents need 24/7 supervision due to memory impairment from Alzheimer's or dementia. Nursing home residents typically have the highest care needs with either 24/7 nursing care or daily rehabilitation/therapy to recover from an injury.

Senior Living Costs
  • Independent Living - $2,500 - 7,000+ per month
  • Assisted Living - $3,000 - 8,000+ per month
  • Memory Care - $3,500 - 10,000+ per month
  • Nursing Homes - $6,000 - 10,000+ per month

Senior living costs range from $2,500 - $10,000+ per month. Senior living costs vary greatly by the type of care that is needed, by the quantity and quality of amenities and services offered/consumed, and by the competition relative to demand in the local market.

Independent living is typically the least expensive type of care while skilled nursing is usually the most expensive.

However, the costs can also vary greatly from community-to-community even for the same care type. For instance, a three-bedroom penthouse in independent living on a luxury CCRC campus may cost $7,000 per month or more, while a studio in an affordable independent living community may only cost $2,800 per month.

Why Senior Living Costs Vary
  • Care type
  • Community amenities
  • Apartment size
  • Care services needed
  • Market supply/demand
Who Pays for Senior Living

Who pays for senior living varies by type of care and the assets/income of the senior. Independent living is typically paid for through private means (social security, pension, investment income). Assisted living and memory care are also paid for through private means (including long-term care insurance). Some lower income individuals, however, can obtain assisted living or memory care through a state's Medicaid Waiver program. Nursing home care is often paid for by Medicaid for those that qualify, by private pay, or by Medicare for qualifying stays where the individual is receiving therapy or rehabilitation.

Veterans and their surviving spouses are often eligible for a Veteran's Aid & Attendance benefit that will pay for a portion of independent living, assisted living, memory care, or nursing home care.

More on Senior Living Costs