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Debunking Assisted Living Stigmas and Myths

Written by Leah Hallstrom
 about the author
13 minute readLast updated October 27, 2022
Reviewed by Adria ThompsonAdria Thompson has been a speech language pathologist since 2014 in long-term care and assisted living facilities.

Assisted living communities have long battled misconceptions about their services, amenities, and levels of care. In reality, assisted living communities offer seniors the chance to embrace their independence, feel a sense of connection, and receive personalized support. Help your loved one understand all the benefits of assisted living as we debunk common stigmas and myths.

Key Takeaways

  1. Assisted living stigmas and myths often stand in the way of seniors finding a safe place to age gracefully. Many seniors believe that assisted living communities are overcrowded and outdated, but senior living spaces are evolving to offer individualized care and excellent amenities.
  2. Assisted living communities and nursing homes are very different. In the past, nursing homes were the only option for elderly seniors, whereas today’s assisted living communities offer homelike environments, good food, and fun.
  3. Seniors truly enjoy assisted living services and amenities. Nearly 73% of families report that a senior loved one’s quality of life improved after the move to assisted living.
  4. Assisted living costs are comparable to in-home care. The median monthly cost for assisted living in the United States was $4,500 in 2021.

Assisted living communities have long battled misconceptions about their services, amenities, and levels of care. They’re often confused with nursing homes and are associated with feelings of loneliness and boredom. In reality, assisted living communities offer seniors the chance to embrace their independence, feel a sense of connection, thrive amongst friends, and receive personalized support.

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Assisted living stigmas and myths: Care, cost, food, and fun

Assisted living stigmas grew out of myths from the past, telling us that long-term care facilities are dated, understaffed, and uninspired. But over the last few decades, assisted living communities have evolved, making them hubs for senior living with updated spaces and vibrant environments.
Today, assisted living communities exist on a wide spectrum — from high-rise condos with luxury spas on-site to cozy, family-run facilities that take an individual approach to care. There are a variety of assisted living communities to explore that aim to fit your loved one’s needs and desires.

Learn the truth about today’s senior living communities as we debunk common assisted living myths and unpack their related stigmas.

Myth: Assisted living is just another term for a nursing home

Truth: Nursing homes and assisted living communities are very different.

Assisted living communities provide housing and care to seniors who need some help with daily tasks but don’t require skilled nursing from medical professionals. The focus of these communities is safe independence for residents. You’ll typically find private apartments, a round-the-clock staff to help with activities of daily living (ADLs), housekeeping services, and more. Some assisted living communities also offer specialized medical and memory care services.

In contrast, nursing homes have specific requirements for admission and are designed for people with serious medical needs. They offer skilled nursing services and rehabilitation services to help address extreme medical conditions. Receiving the highest level of care among long-term care options, residents in nursing homes often have chronic illnesses, cognitive impairment, or terminal diseases.

You may have heard rumors and negative connotations associated with senior living facilities, fueling the stigma that these communities are clinical, sterile environments. If your parent or a senior in your life is under this impression, first understand that their concerns are valid, and then explain how assisted living communities actually offer incredibly beneficial services and amenities:

  • Help with personal care
  • Three nutritious meals a day
  • Complimentary transportation services
  • Spacious apartments
  • Intellectual stimulation
  • Social programs and outings

Myth: Assisted living is too expensive

Truth: The cost of assisted living is often the same or less than receiving similar services at home. The median monthly cost for assisted living in the United States is $4,500, according to Genworth’s 2021 Cost of Care Survey.[01] While that amount may seem high, it includes everything many seniors need, including housing, meals, activities, help with day-to-day tasks, medication management, and more.

The following steps will help you begin to understand how much assisted living services may cost:

  • Explore assisted living costs by state and find out what services and amenities are included. Some communities have different cost models to calculate their expenses, with extra offerings available at an additional rate.
  • Understand what Medicare and Medicaid will cover. Explore the differences between Medicare and Medicaid, find out if you’re eligible, and learn how these services can help with assisted living costs.
  • Learn about VA benefits. Veterans and their spouses may be eligible for the VA’s Aid and Attendance program to help with the costs of assisted living.

Myth: The food isn’t good, and the activities are boring

Truth: Assisted living communities respond to residents’ individual preferences for fine dining and create social calendars based on everyone’s unique interests and passions.

“Now that the baby boomer generation is entering senior living, we’re starting to see assisted living communities change to reflect a more demanding consumer,” says Sue Johansen, senior vice president of community network at A Place for Mom.[02] “We think about bingo and the senior communities. But more and more, there are virtual reality theaters, spas, and lots of different activities to stay social.”

Today’s assisted living dining options look more like restaurants and less like buffet lines, adds Johansen. In some higher-end communities, you’ll find cocktail bars, sushi restaurants, breakfast bistros, and other refined options.

Assisted living communities are working hard to break the stigmas around bland food and lackluster living through diverse cuisines and engaging activities. To explore dining options and learn about social events, try these activities:

  • Enjoy a meal at each community. When touring different facilities, join the residents for a meal to see if your loved one’s taste buds approve. Find out if there are different restaurant options, if snacks and drinks are accessible throughout the day, and if meals are tailored to different diets and preferences. Assisted living chefs aim to create nutritious meals that combat well-known concerns like senior malnutrition and loss of appetite. Some meal plans also include complimentary or paid “guest meals,” allowing residents to invite loved ones to join them during lunch or dinner.
  • Look up the community’s daily activities calendar. Most assisted living communities organize regular activities to keep seniors active and engaged. Organized events create a sense of purpose for residents and offer them opportunities to bond with others who share their interests. Some communities employ full-time event and activity coordinators who craft unique social calendars. Assisted living activities range from woodworking classes and ballroom dancing to karaoke nights and educational lectures. Many assisted living communities host events like monthly picnics, BBQs, and birthday celebrations and encourage residents’ family members to attend.

Myth: My mom or dad won’t enjoy an assisted living community

Truth: According to a 2016 survey by A Place for Mom and Sage Projections, 73% of families report that a senior loved one’s quality of life improved after the move to assisted living.[03] Additionally, 60% of caregivers found that their personal quality of life improved.

Some seniors are hesitant to move into a senior community because assisted living stigmas may have led them to believe that residents will be much older or less active than they are. Common myths can cause seniors to think these spaces are isolating and lonesome. However, many assisted living residents feel a meaningful sense of community, connect easily with people who have shared experiences, and enjoy a newfound independence without the hassle of daily household chores.

On the other hand, some seniors are nervous about moving into a community with too much hustle and bustle — a place where they’re forced to participate in activities they’re not interested in and talk to others when they’d rather be alone. While daily events and group gatherings are essential for some, others prefer a more introverted lifestyle. Know that most group events and classes are purely optional, and that residents who like to keep to themselves are able to maintain their privacy, joining in only if and when they wish.

Assisted living can be so much more to your loved one than just a place to live: These spaces can truly feel like home. Assisted living communities can offer seniors a variety of benefits:

  • Sense of community. Assisted living communities aim to create communities for like-minded seniors. For example, if your loved one self-identifies as LGBTQ+ or as a member of a specific religious organization, ask communities what kinds of clubs or activities they offer that cater to these groups.
  • Healthy lifestyle. Once seniors make the move to assisted living, they often find that healthy lifestyles are easy to achieve with specialized dining and tailored exercise programs. Senior-friendly exercise classes take into account the mobility levels of residents.
  • Safe environment. Assisted living apartments are created with seniors in mind, so they’re built for safety and functionality. Personal residences in these communities are often equipped with individual emergency call systems. Your loved one will be able to enjoy the privacy of their own personal apartment, all while knowing that a medical professional is available at the push of a button.

Many seniors worry that they’ll feel abandoned or lonely after moving into a new space. However, assisted living communities offer ample visiting hours, and some residences have two-bedroom options or sleeper sofas that allow family and friends to stay overnight.

If your aging loved one needs assisted living but denies the benefits, it can be difficult to have productive discussions on the topic. Explore methods for talking to elderly loved ones about moving to a safer, easier living environment that fits their needs.

Myth: Family members should care for their aging relatives at home

Truth: Acting as a caregiver for an aging parent can be both rewarding and challenging. In some cases, caregiving can strengthen and bring joy to relationships. However, serving as a caregiver can also make it difficult to maintain your regular work schedule, engage in social interactions with friends and family, and stay in good mental and physical health.

Family caregivers are understandably not always as qualified as professional care staff, so seniors with serious health conditions can often receive better care from medical experts. Allowing professionals to handle your loved one’s care can relieve family and friends of the heavy caregiver burden. Choosing assisted living could lead to a happier, healthier life for both you and your aging relative.

Before committing to a family caregiver role, you should consider how the role will impact you.

  • Learn about caregiver stress and negative health effects. Many family caregivers report high levels of anxiety and depression, affecting their ability to provide proper care. Dementia caregivers in particular are affected by heightened health concerns and burnout.
  • Understand caregiving duties. As time goes on, your loved one’s health needs will likely shift and change. Some common caregiver responsibilities include monitoring medications, preparing meals, providing transportation, and assisting with ADLs like eating, bathing, and toileting.
  • Set some limits and boundaries. Are there any caregiving tasks you’re not comfortable with or physically capable of? Who can serve as a temporary caregiver when you need a break? Being a caregiver can take a toll on your regular daily routine and change your relationships with your spouse and children. It’s essential to know what you’re capable of and when to ask for help.

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Explore assisted living communities near you

Assisted living communities offer a certain standard of care that family caregivers may not be able to provide. The priority is keeping your aging loved one healthy and happy, and while you may feel an instinctive pull to keep them at home, a senior living community may be the best bet for their safety and well-being.

Assisted living stigmas and myths often stand in the way of seniors finding a safe place for them to age gracefully. Talk through senior living options with your parent, listen to their concerns, and help them understand that assisted living communities are taking impressive strides forward.

Connect with one of A Place for Mom’s trusted Senior Living Advisors, who can help assess your loved one’s situation, share details about living options, and connect you with local communities — all at no cost to your family.

Meet the Author
Leah Hallstrom

Leah Hallstrom is a copywriter at A Place for Mom. Previously, she worked as a communications professional in academia, writing for a university library system and a political institution. Leah holds bachelor’s degrees in communication studies and psychology from the University of Kansas.

Edited by

Danny Szlauderbach

Reviewed by

Adria Thompson

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