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Assisted Living vs. Home Care: What’s the Difference?

Merritt Whitley
By Merritt WhitleyMay 28, 2020
Elderly man in a wheelchair and his family gather in a park to enjoy the day

When it’s clear an elderly family member needs daily care, deciding what to do next is often stressful and overwhelming. Assisted living or home care are two common options. 

Both choices have benefits. Three out of four adults age 50 and older would rather age at home, according to a national community preferences survey by AARP. Meanwhile, many family members report that while their parent or relative resisted the idea of assisted living, they quickly grew to love their new community. 

Learn more about the staff, costs, and services included in assisted living and home care for the elderly.

What is assisted living?

Assisted living facilities provide housing and care services to active seniors who aren’t able to live independently. This type of care combines housing, support services, and health care if needed.

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These communities help seniors with activities like bathing, dressing, and eating, but they don’t provide ongoing skilled nursing care.

Many assisted living services for seniors include:

Benefits of assisted living

Many elderly people want to stay home because they fear change, says Michelle Aweshah, regional sales director at a Place for Mom.

However, over time, assisted living communities can feel like home, too.

Flexibility

Assisted living can provide either short-term or long-term care, depending on your needs — it doesn’t have to be a permanent decision.
“Some people feel assisted living might be their ‘final place’ and are afraid that they won’t like it once they move,” says Aweshah. “The great news is, in most cases, assisted living communities only require a 30-day notification of a move even if you signed to stay a year.”

Around-the-clock care

In addition to flexibility, assisted living offers care day and night as needed. The varied skills of staff members in assisted living play a pivotal role in ensuring the well-being and safety of residents.

“There are aides on staff around the clock to assist with personal care needs,” says Aweshah. “Most communities also have nurses on site, as well as mobile services for physician appointments, therapy services, and more.”

Social activities and services

“For many, being home may feel independent, but if they’re unable to drive, don’t visit friends as often anymore, or don’t eat as well, this can be very isolating and can lead to depression,” says Aweshah. “Being ‘independent’ can quickly become a detriment to quality and longevity of life.”

Assisted living communities provide transportation, nutritious foods, games, and social activities for residents, which are very popular with residents. 

Additional services and benefits for seniors include:

  • Beauty salons or barber shops
  • Concierge
  • Gyms
  • Game rooms
  • Movie theaters

What is the cost of assisted living?

Assisted living often includes care, housing, and meals in one monthly fee. Because of this, it can seem like a much more expensive option than home care. However, assisted living may cost less than aging at home when home care, groceries, transportation, and other costs are combined. 

The average cost of assisted living in the United States

The median monthly cost for a private single bedroom in assisted living is $4,051, according to Genworth’s 2019 Median Cost Data Table. Here’s a look at high-cost and low-cost options around the country.

Most expensive monthly median cost for a single bedroom in an assisted living community:

  1. Washington, D.C. – $11,288
  2. New Hampshire – $7,021
  3. New Jersey – $6,400
  4. Delaware – $6,035
  5. Alaska – $6,000

Least expensive monthly median cost for a single bedroom in an assisted living community:

  1. Missouri – $2,881
  2. Arkansas – $3,175
  3. Alabama – $3,250
  4. Georgia – $3,335
  5. Nevada – $3,400

Additional assisted living cost factors to consider

While location is an important factor in assisted living costs, there are several other considerations that affect pricing:

  • Apartment size
    If you select a smaller studio apartment over a larger two-bedroom apartment in the same community, your price will be significantly lower. If you decide to have a roommate, the price will likely decrease as well.
  • Level of care required
    Not all assisted living residents require the same level of care. Those who need help with fewer aspects of daily life will often pay less than those who need extensive services, such as memory care in assisted living.
  • Additional fees
    Assisted living communities typically charge a non-refundable administrative fee (community fee) when moving in. The amount varies, but it’s generally equal to the first month’s rent. There are often incentives to reduce or waive these fees, so be sure to ask. 

To learn how to cut assisted living costs further, read 10 Ways to Save Money on Assisted Living Expenses.

What is home care?

Home care offers companionship, transportation, and daily assistance for seniors living at home. The level of care will vary based on the individual’s need, but it’s important to note that nursing care isn’t included in home care.

Home care aides provide household help and personal care to seniors. Many home care services include helping with:

  • Meal preparation
  • Housekeeping
  • Bathing
  • Toileting
  • Dressing
  • Grooming

Benefits of home care

Home care allows seniors to remain in their homes while having regular company and professional care. 

Companionship

A major benefit of home care is that it offers one-on-one companionship. Some home care aides will plan in-home activities to keep seniors engaged, such as reading aloud, playing games, or simply sitting and talking.

Help with daily tasks 

In-home caregivers can assist with meal preparation, light housekeeping, and help clean and organize as needed. 

Customized elder home care

You can decide what in-home caregivers’ focus on based on your loved one’s needs and lifestyle. If your loved one is more social and needs transportation to events, caregivers can organize that regularly. If someone prefers to stay at home and would rather have more help with cooking or cleaning, in-home caregivers can arrange that as well. It’s easy to customize care.

What are home care costs?

Just like any market, price depends on supply and demand. Costs for home care can vary greatly based on your location, the home care agency, staff salaries, and more.

The median cost of elder home care was around $23 an hour in 2019. The median cost of home health, or skilled nursing services provided at home, $87.50 an hour. Home health is ordered by a physician and often covered by Medicare or private insurance. 

Additional aging-at-home costs to consider

  • Mortgage or rent, property taxes, and insurance expenses
  • Utilities such as water, trash, electricity, phone, and cable TV
  • Home maintenance costs, such as repairs and yard work
  • Groceries and meal delivery or restaurant bills

Is assisted living or home care best for my family member?

For seniors who need some daily assistance but still feel they have a good quality of life, home care may be a good choice. However, when someone requires more than four or five hours of home care a day, assisted living may be the better choice financially. 

Get personalized help to find the best care options for your family

“It’s a personal decision, and it can be difficult to reach out or ask for any type of assistance,” says Aweshah. “It’s always best to prepare yourself with the most information possible so you can make a choice that’s right for you and your loved one.”

A Place for Mom’s Senior Living Advisors are here to assist with your senior living journey every step of the way. From sending resources about in-home care for the elderly, to scheduling tours at assisted living communities, they can help answer all of your questions regarding senior living.

Merritt Whitley
Author
Merritt Whitley

Merritt Whitely is an editor at A Place for Mom. She developed health content for seniors at Hearing Charities of America and the National Hearing Aid Project. She’s also managed multiple print publications, blogs, and social media channels for seniors as the marketing manager at Sertoma, Inc.

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