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Assisted Living Options for People with Disabilities

11 minute readLast updated October 7, 2022
Written by Kevin Ryan, senior living writer

It can feel challenging to navigate the search for assisted living, especially for a loved one living with a disability. But your options are not as limited as you think. Most assisted living facilities provide specialized services and amenities and can be a great option for a senior living with a disability. Read on to learn more about assisted living for disabled adults, the costs, and the various care options communities offer that support individuals living with disabilities.

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Key Takeaways

  1. Assisted living provides supportive care that can help seniors with physical disabilities. Offering assistance with activities of daily living, assisted living communities can be a great living option to help seniors with physical disabilities live more independently.
  2. Assisted living isn’t the best option for every type of disability. Individuals with cognitive impairments or severe physical disabilities may find more supportive options in memory care or nursing homes.
  3. There are several ways to pay for assisted living for a senior with a disability. Private pay is a common way to pay, but Medicare, Medicaid, and the VA offer additional options for qualifying seniors.
  4. Each state has its own assisted living regulations. Understanding your state’s assisted living regulations is an important step to finding the best assisted living facility to support you and your loved one’s needs.

What is a disability?

A disability is a mental or physical impairment that limits one or more major life activities, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This law provides civil protections that aim to ensure your loved one with a disability has the same rights as those without.[01]

When looking for assisted living options for your loved one with a disability, it’s important to understand their type of disability so that you can effectively communicate their care needs to staff or caregivers.

Following are examples of some of the more common disability types:

Physical disability

A senior living with a physical disability, permanent or temporary, has limited use of one or more of their limbs.[02]For example, they may need to use an assistive device such as a wheelchair or cane to move around safely. They may also need hands-on assistance with activities of daily living.

Cognitive disability

A cognitive disability affects the way your loved one interacts with the world around them. For some individuals, a cognitive disability may affect how they acquire information and communicate. Alzheimer’s disease is an example of a condition that leads to cognitive decline.

Intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD)

Often present from birth, intellectual and developmental disabilities can affect your loved one’s physical, intellectual, and/or emotional development.[03] Seniors living with an IDD may require a combination of supports, including supervision, as well as help with communication and activities of daily living.

Is assisted living the right fit?

Let our free assessment guide you to the best senior living options, tailored to your needs.

Assisted living for disabled adults

Assisted living helps seniors with disabilities by providing supportive care in a residential setting, and this support may aid in their ability to live a more independent and social lifestyle. These communities may be a particularly good fit for seniors with a physical disability who are unable to complete daily tasks without some assistance.

What services and amenities may benefit my loved one with a disability?

Families best understand what their loved one living with a disability needs to remain safe and comfortable. Creating a list of your expectations will help you evaluate which assisted living communities are the best fit for your loved one.

While each state has its own standards for licensure of an assisted living facility, most require assistance with several common activities of daily living (ADLs), which can include:

  • Bathing
  • Dressing
  • Toileting
  • Ambulation
  • Eating

Assisted living facilities can often help to improve the quality of life for a senior with a disability by providing helpful services and amenities, such as:

  • Meals
  • Laundry
  • Housekeeping
  • Social activities
  • Transportation

Facilities may also offer numerous therapy and medical care services:

  • Occupational therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Nurse and doctor visits

The benefits that these therapies can provide for seniors with disabilities include improved strength, mobility, pain management, and social confidence.

Assisted living communities offer a variety of care and supportive services, but they may not always be the best choice for a family whose loved one is living with a more severe physical or cognitive disability. For seniors who require round-the-clock care and/or frequent medical supervision, a nursing home could be a better fit.

Assisted living costs

Although the varying costs of assisted living facilities depend mostly on amenities and accommodation types, the average cost is about $4,500 per month.[04][05]

However, when exploring the costs of assisted living, be aware that some communities have all-inclusive payment plans and some will charge a la carte for care or services. It is possible that a community will charge extra for services or care required to support your loved one with a disability. To avoid any surprises, be sure to clarify that the care services your loved one requires are included with the total cost.

How to pay for assisted living for disabled seniors

There are numerous resources available to provide assistance with paying for assisted living, although you may find it necessary to use a combination of options. From government-sponsored initiatives like Veterans Affairs (VA) programs and Medicaid to private pay options, there are several ways to help pay for assisted living for disabled adults.

VA programs

The VA offers three grant programs to help disabled veterans adapt their homes to their needs.[06] The Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) and Special Home Adaption (SHA) grants are available to eligible veterans who own their homes and have a qualified, service-related injury.

For disabled veterans who are temporarily living with family or with a caregiver, the Temporary Residence Adaption (TRA) grant provides funding for home modifications to meet that veteran’s needs.

The VA Aid and Attendance and Housebound allowance benefits are available to eligible veterans and surviving spouses to help them pay for long-term care. These particular programs are part of the VA’s long-term care benefits and are available to veterans regardless of their disability status.

Social Security

Many seniors with disabilities receive monthly benefits through Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), but it is rarely enough to cover assisted living costs. However, SSDI can be combined with other services and aid programs to help pay for the assistance your loved one needs.

To be eligible, they must have a qualifying disability as determined by Social Security, and they need to have worked long enough to pay Social Security taxes.[07] When a senior who has been receiving SSDI benefits reaches retirement age, their SSDI benefits automatically convert to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.

Income, living situation, personal assets, and the state you live in can impact SSI benefits. Some states add to federal contributions, which may increase monthly benefits. Meanwhile, individuals with a qualifying disability may receive additional benefits through SSDI.

Medicare

Seniors qualify for Medicare, the government-funded health insurance program, when they turn 65, and the coverage options offered are the same for seniors living with disabilities.[08] While Medicare will not pay for room and board at an assisted living community, it may cover some of the health care costs provided at such a facility.

Medicaid and Medicaid waivers

A form of government health insurance, Medicaid — which provides health coverage to low-income seniors — may pay for some assisted living services and care but generally doesn’t cover room and board.

Medicaid waivers vary from state to state. Waivers generally focus on providing services and care for individuals who can show both a financial and a functional need. Waiver programs most often cover in-home or community-based services and usually don’t cover assisted living room-and-board costs.[09]

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Low-income assisted living for disabled seniors

For seniors living with a disability who are also considered low-income, there are several assistance programs to help them pay for housing and the care they need. While programs vary greatly from state to state, families can generally look to Medicaid, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and your state’s public housing authority (PHA) for assistance. Again, families may find it helpful to consider a blend of these options to create the best living and care plan for their loved one.

Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Section 811

In many states, a senior living with a disability will find that government housing options, such as a Section 811 building or home, are a good fit for their housing and care needs. These housing options are not senior-specific but many are set up to support the diverse needs of people living with disabilities. Similar to assisted living facilities, they may offer on-site care along with services such as transportation, housekeeping, and meal preparation.

Section 811 living options are operated by private, nonprofit organizations. Qualified individuals will usually pay rent that is adjusted to 30% of their income.[10]

Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Section 202

A Section 202-designated building offers support that helps low-income seniors live independently with some assistance. While not specific to seniors living with disabilities, many offer care services on-site, which may include support with activities of daily living comparable to what is provided at an assisted living facility.

Similar to Section 811 housing, Section 202 facilities are operated by private nonprofits and residents typically pay 30% of their income for rent.[11]

For families interested in learning more about Section 811 and 202 programs, the nearest HUD regional office or a local Area Agency on Aging can provide more information on the various HUD programs in your area.

Keep in mind, most major cities have a public housing authority (PHA) that can help your family navigate the various options for public housing and find low-income assisted living for disabled seniors. Some PHAs may be able to help you determine your loved one’s income status in addition to providing assistance with applying for HUD programs that your loved one may qualify for.

Assisted living alternatives for disabled seniors

Maybe you would feel most comfortable knowing that your loved one will not have to move as their condition progresses, or perhaps you’re concerned your loved one will get lost in the mix of a large facility. If you’re curious about exploring alternative options to assisted living facilities that don’t sacrifice the care and services, there are a couple of options.

Continuing care retirement communities

Continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) provide a continuum of care, which means that a resident never has to leave the community, even as their needs change. For example, a senior with rheumatoid arthritis can move into an assisted living apartment where they can live relatively independently while receiving some help with activities of daily living. As their condition intensifies, they can receive a higher level of support while remaining in the same community.

With their continuum of available care, CCRCs may be a good fit for seniors living with a chronic or progressive disease, such as Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis. A CCRC can also provide peace of mind for families, reminding them that their loved one will always have access to care as they age, while also benefitting from the emotional stability of remaining part of a familiar community.

While there are usually several contract options, the cost of CCRCs can be higher than many other types of senior living. Most require a one-time entrance fee that can stretch to well over $100,000. Meanwhile, the monthly fees are dependent on the level of care required and can rise as the needs of the individual change.

Residential care homes

The smaller setting of care homes could be a good alternative to larger senior living facilities — often these communities have more of a homelike feel, can be found in residential neighborhoods, and usually cost much less than assisted living communities. While they do not typically have on-site medical professionals, care services may include regular meals as well as assistance with activities of daily living.

A residential care home may be a good fit for a senior living with a cognitive or intellectual disability who does not require a high level of care. Care homes typically have less than 10 residents, and staff can provide more one-on-one attention.

While most offer support with personal care and are required to be ADA-compliant, the smaller setting could pose challenges for seniors living with physical disabilities. For example, because many care homes were converted from single-family homes, hallways and entranceways may be narrow and tough to navigate for someone in a wheelchair. As with any community you are considering, it is important to tour the facility to make sure you’re satisfied that your loved one will receive the right amount of care.

How to find the best assisted living facility for a loved one with a disability

Because individual states — not the federal government — oversee the licensure of assisted living facilities, it’s important to understand the regulations in your state. Individual state regulations can mean the difference between what funding they accept, the services they offer, and the amount of care they’re able to provide to individuals of various ability levels. Before you begin your search, check out this guide to state regulations for assisted living.

Senior Living Advisors at A Place for Mom can help you determine the needs of your loved one with a disability. They can make referrals and help you find suitable assisted living options for you and your family.

What families are saying about assisted living facilities

Assisted living reviews from residents and families

The Phoenix at James Creek

4.0
We like the activities specifically designed for memory care residents. We like the care and attention some of the caregivers provide. We like that the Pearl director follows up on concerns and that the Nurse Prac. Is very skilled and knows exactly how to best care for my mother.

Laketown Village

5.0
Both Management Staff and resident care providers work together placing their attention on and knowing every resident by name. Compassionate and affectionate.

Sunrise of Montgomery Village

5.0
She refused to participate but activities director tried and spent time getting to know her. Director was instrumental in getting her Long Term Care policy to pay benefits. [name removed] died [date removed]

SHARE THE ARTICLE

  1. United States Department of Justice and Civil Rights Division. (1990, July 26). Americans with disabilities act.

  2. Rutgers University Department of Kinesiology and Health. (2022). Physical disabilities.

  3. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2021, November 9). About intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs).

  4. Genworth. (2021, November). Cost of care survey.

  5. A Place for Mom. (2022). A Place for Mom Proprietary Senior Living Price Index.

  6. United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). (2022, August 30). Disability housing grants for Veterans.

  7. Social Security Administration. (2022). Disability benefits: How you qualify.

  8. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Medicare basics.

  9. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. State waivers list.

  10. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Section 811 supportive housing for persons with disabilities.

  11. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Section 202 supportive housing for the elderly program.

Meet the Author
Kevin Ryan, senior living writer

Kevin Ryan is a content specialist at A Place for Mom, focused on home care topics that include defining the differences between home care and other senior care types, home care costs, and how to pay. Kevin’s desire to support seniors and their families stems from his previous career as a teacher, plus his experience as a writer and community journalist.

Edited by

Eric Staciwo

The information contained on this page is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical, legal or financial advice or create a professional relationship between A Place for Mom and the reader. Always seek the advice of your health care provider, attorney or financial advisor with respect to any particular matter, and do not act or refrain from acting on the basis of anything you have read on this site. Links to third-party websites are only for the convenience of the reader; A Place for Mom does not endorse the contents of the third-party sites.

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