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Guide to Senior Living and Housing Options

man at front door of his house

Finding the right senior housing options for you or a loved one depends on many factors. Physical and mental health often top the list of concerns when finding the right living situation for senior citizens, but other issues include budget, geographical location, and personal interests and preferences.

Independent Living as Senior Housing

For many seniors, independent living is the preferred living and housing option. Independent living is essentially living in the exact same way you have been all your life - independently in a house, RV, condo, or apartment (or a combination thereof if you are a snowbird) without additional oversight, help, or services. There are a number of independent living options available for senior citizens and retired adults.

Aging in Place

For many seniors, the ultimate goal is to "age in place" without outside intervention. This means staying in your home and continuing to live as you have throughout your life. Aging in place is an excellent plan for seniors who have the physical health, independence, and budget to maintain their lifestyle exactly as is. This allows you your independence and to keep pets and hobbies associated with your home.

Senior Cohousing

For seniors who may not have the financial wherewithal to remain in their family home but who still wish to remain as independent as possible, cohousing is an option. In cohousing, two or more seniors pool financial resources to purchase a private home, multifamily home, or planned neighborhood of homes for the purpose of communal living. This confers the benefits of home ownership with less financial burden on the individual, so it may be a great choice for able-bodied, lower income individuals who wish to remain independent while still enjoying some of the benefits of communal living. Cohousing communities are gaining popularity as well. Planned cohousing neighborhoods are centered around collective living, and they can help combat a sense of loneliness and isolation some seniors experience. While members of cohousing communities may have their own living spaces, the pooled finances and resources allow each resident to pitch in for community projects that support their strengths. This also allows residents to lend a helping hand when someone in the community is struggling, such as due to illness or temporary disability.

Retirement Homes or Communities

Retirement homes and communities vary in structure from a group of single-family homes, to condos, to multi-family homes or apartments. Residents may be able to buy their homes, or they may rent depending on the community itself. For example, some communities are rental apartment complexes for low-income seniors, while others may be mobile home parks, condominiums, or even neighborhoods with single-family homes. Retirement communities range in income and lower age limit, but they tend to be adult only, and typically older adults. In general, retirement communities are a good choice for able-bodied seniors with a varying range of incomes who wish to live in an adults-only environment with group or communal activities available. Some retirement communities may also have communal facilities such as dining halls and common spaces, and others may have an assisted living component available as well.

Elderly people making music

Subsidized Senior Housing

Low or fixed-income seniors may qualify for subsidized senior housing. In order to qualify for subsidized senior housing, you must meet certain low-income requirements. Subsidies for such housing are provided by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Much subsidized housing is independent living in apartments or rental homes, and some may have communal elements as well.

Supported Independent Housing Options for Seniors

Seniors who need some support but not full-time care, or those who anticipate needing some support as they age, may benefit from various types of supported independent living options.

Congregate Housing

Congregate housing may offer some assisted living, such as activities or community meals, but it is not an assisted living facility. It's typically multi-unit housing, such as an apartment complex where each member has their own apartment with a kitchen, and it may have supported or communal aspects such as a communal dining facility and common spaces. This type of housing doesn't necessarily provide health support, but it often has community activities and help with transportation. This is an excellent option for seniors who are seeking community and a small degree of support while still maintaining as much independence as possible.

Continuing Care Retirement Communities

Continuing care retirement communities are the next stage of retirement communities. People in these communities require varying levels of service and support, ranging from social support to help with medications, meals, transportation, housekeeping, assisted living, and skilled nursing care. The level of care offered is based on individual needs. The units are typically apartment or campus style housing. It is is a good option for seniors who anticipate having more care needs as they age. By choosing continuing care retirement communities, seniors can stay where they are throughout the aging process, even if their health status or care requirements change.

Assisted Living

Assisted living facilities can range from independent homes to large multi-unit complexes. Everyone in assisted living is provided with a level of care and support that may include activities, nursing and health management, supervision, and other support services. Typically, these services include meals, medication management, and more and require qualified skilled health care professionals. Assisted living offers the highest level of support outside of skilled nursing facilities, so it's a good option for seniors who need more social, mental, emotional, and physical health support to manage activities of daily life.

Adult Foster Homes and Board and Care Homes

Board and care homes are essentially smaller facilities that supply all of the same benefits and support services as assisted living facilities. They typically have 10 or fewer residents, and they may be in licensed private homes adapted for senior care or in small facilities. These are a good option for seniors who need a moderate level of support in activities of daily living such as cooking, transportation, housekeeping, and medication management.

In-Home Support

Seniors who need help with activities of daily life but wish to stay in their homes can also opt for in-home support that allows aging in place. This usually involves hiring care workers to provide housekeeping, transportation, medication management, and more.

Fully Supported Living

Seniors who require full-time care have a few housing options, as well.

Nursing Homes

Nursing homes provide 24-hour fully supported care for seniors who have emotional, mental, or physical health issues that require continuous medical management. Included are 24-hour nursing services, meals, help with personal care activities, therapeutic activities, and more. Nursing homes are for seniors with mental or physical health issues who require continuous monitoring and care who are unable to live independently. Stays may be temporary, such as following surgery or an injury, or they may be for longer terms.

Elderly woman in retirement home

Memory Care Facilities

For seniors with progressive dementia conditions such as Alzheimer's, memory care offers a fully supported, residential option. These facilities are similar to nursing homes and provide extra security to keep people with dementia conditions safe, secure, and healthy.

Hospice

Hospice can offer facilities for people with terminal conditions, or hospice care can occur within the home. Services include 24-hour nursing care and support, social and emotional support for the resident and family members, and full-time medical supervision and support. Hospice care is for seniors with terminal conditions.

Chart of Senior Housing Opportunities

The following chart summarizes the various housing opportunities for senior housing.

Housing Type

Independence

Who It's Best For

Aging in Place

Independent to Fully Supported

Able-bodied seniors who wish to and can afford to live in their homes

Senior Co-Housing

Independent

Able-bodied seniors seeking community

Retirement Homes/Communities

Independent

Able-bodied seniors wanting an adults-only community and social activities

Subsidized Senior Housing

Independent

Low/ fixed-income able-bodied seniors

Congregate Housing

Mostly Independent with some support

Seniors who can mostly live independently but may wish for a small level of support

Continuing Care Retirement Communities

Independent to fully supported

Seniors who anticipate needing more support as they age who wish to stay in the same place

Assisted Living

Some independence with full-time support

Seniors requiring assistance with activities of daily living

Adult Foster Homes/Board & Care Homes

Some independence with full-time support

Seniors requiring assistance with activities of daily living

In-Home Support

Some independence with full-time support

Seniors wishing to stay in their homes requiring assistance with activities of daily living

Nursing Homes

Full-time care

Seniors with significant health issues that require skilled care and supervision

Memory Care

Full-time care

Seniors with significant memory and/or dementia issues who require full-time skilled care and supervision

Hospice

Full-time care

People with terminal illness requiring full-time care and emotional support

Seniors Have Many Housing Options

Seniors have an array of housing options from aging in place all the way to fully supported nursing, memory, or hospice care. Which option you choose depends on a number of factors such as finances, health issues, and the level of support required. If you're struggling with deciding which is the right option, consult with a senior housing consultant.

Guide to Senior Living and Housing Options