Costs of Elder Care: Assisted Living, Independent Living, and Memory Care

Claire Samuels
By Claire SamuelsMay 11, 2020
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Senior care costs vary depending on health care needs and personal preferences. Some people want to age at home, while others prefer the ease and readily available help of senior living.

Elder care costs are rising at different rates. Between 2018 and 2019, assisted living and nursing home costs remained relatively stable, with a price increase of less than 2%. But home care costs surged 7.14% in 2019, according to Genworth’s Cost of Care survey.

Compare these nine popular senior care options to see which best fits your aging loved one’s financial, emotional, and health care needs.

Senior living care costs explained

Elder care costs are a major consideration for most families exploring senior living opportunities. What you pay for nursing homes, assisted living, in-home care, and other services varies by location, with elder care costs in urban areas exceeding those in non-urban communities by more than 15%.

Before making a choice, understand these surprising price statistics, and weigh the benefits of each type of senior care.

The costs below are national median rates from Genworth, unless otherwise noted. Median means half of the providers surveyed had lower costs and half had higher costs.

Elder care costs by care type

Assisted living costs: $4,015 a month

Assisted living is the most common senior living option throughout the United States. Developed in the late 1980s, assisted living is designed for seniors who can’t live independently but don’t need 24-hour nursing care. Most assisted living communities offer planned activities, restaurant-style dining, housekeeping, and help with activities of daily living (ADLs), such as dressing and bathing. They don’t usually offer skilled nursing. Generally, assisted living costs are paid through all-inclusive monthly rent, which covers everything from meals and transportation to utilities.

Board and care home costs: $1,500-$10,000 a month

Board and care homes — or residential care homes — are houses that are equipped, adapted, and staffed to care for a small number of senior residents, generally between two and 10. Though they are often considered a subset of assisted living, residential care homes are generally privately owned and can provide services accordingly. The cost varies tremendously throughout the country, depending on real estate value, house type, and care services. For instance, a pristine mansion with professional chefs in California and a cozy cottage in the Midwest could both serve as care homes, but each would have different pricing based on amenities and location.

Home care costs: $23 an hour, or $4,385 a month full-time

Home care agencies generally charge by the hour. Home care aides provide a combination of household help and personal care such as companionship, help with ADLs, meal preparation, housekeeping, and transportation. They don’t provide nursing care.

Home health costs: $87.50 each visit

Home health isn’t the same as home care. While home care offers daily assistance, home health provides clinical medical supervision. Home health care workers are registered nurses and therapists who are licensed to administer medication, give shots, and help with wound care or rehabilitation.

Home health requires a physician’s prescription and is typically covered by Medicare or private insurance. 

Nursing home costs: $7,513 a month for a shared room, or $8,517 a month for a private room

Also called skilled nursing facilities, nursing homes provide high-level, around-the-clock medical care. Typically, people in nursing homes have severe, debilitating physical or mental conditions that leave them unable to live independently. They may be bedridden or in need of daily skilled nursing care.

Nursing homes require a physician’s prescription and physical examination before accepting new residents. Since they provide 24-hour medical care in addition to meals, activities, and assistance with ADLs, nursing homes are generally more expensive than other senior living options.

Medicare covers short-term nursing home stays but not longer-term care.

Elder Care Cost Comparison Chart

Adult day care costs: $75 a day

Adult day cares offer supervision, socialization, and structured activities for seniors. Some facilities provide meals, transportation, and personal care. Generally, adult day cares have limited hours and are ideal for seniors living with family members who provide full-time care.

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Memory care costs: assisted living cost, plus $1,000-$1,250 a month for memory care services

Memory care is specialized care for seniors who have Alzheimer’s disease, other forms of dementia, or significant cognitive decline. It offers many of the same benefits as assisted living, including help with ADLs, meal services, and health care as needed. To help prevent wandering, most memory care communities provide restrictive, 24-hour supervision with a higher staff-to-resident ratio, along with calming environments and carefully designed layouts to reduce confusion and promote familiarity. Memory care is often provided in a separate wing or area of an assisted living community, and prices fluctuate based on the assisted living community’s cost and level of care.

Continuing care retirement community costs: contract-based pay system

Continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) are communities with accommodations for independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing, offering residents a continuum of care. A senior can move between levels of care as needed, progressing as their health declines without having to leave a general area.

CCRCs have contract-based pricing, which can vary enormously by age and circumstance. The average initial payment is $329,000, according to a study from commercial real estate services firm CBRE. Upon move-in, residents will pay a median set rate of $3,000 a month, no matter their level of care. Some CCRCs offer a rental model with no up-front fee. Rent for an independent living unit is often $3,000 to $6,000 a month, and costs increase to reflect levels of care.

Independent living costs: $2,552 a month*

Independent living communities are a great option for seniors who require very little assistance. Most have occasional social and recreational activities, as well as amenities comparable to a luxury planned community, like pools and fitness centers. Some also offer restaurants with prepared meals and light housekeeping services. Senior apartments, a type of independent living, are usually restricted to age 55+ to ensure a quiet retirement, but they don’t feature dining options or in-home services. Pricing generally includes amenities, utilities, and HOA fees.

*Genworth doesn’t track independent living costs; this figure is from A Place for Mom’s 2018 annual cost index.

Ways to pay for senior care

Some of these price tags seem daunting, but there are ways to reduce the cost of elder care. Check out this Ask an Advisor Series: How to Finance video for advice our Senior Living Advisors have acquired working with thousands of families across the country.  

Here are a few ways to save money on senior living costs:

  • Veterans Benefits: Wartime veterans or spouses of wartime vets may qualify for a pension program through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to offset the cost of senior care. Our Guide to VA Benefits and Long-Term Care includes detailed information about how to apply, what’s included, and eligibility.
  • Home equity: Selling or renting a home can help generate income to pay for care. But if a spouse or family member prefers to remain in the home, a reverse mortgage might be an option. A reverse mortgage is a type of loan that is only available to people 62 years of age or older. It converts home equity into tax-free income. If a reverse mortgage is right for you, your family can receive money either in a lump sum or as needed to supplement income.
  • Long-term care insurance: The earlier a senior signs up for long-term care insurance, the more helpful it will be in covering senior living costs. Use this guide on the pros and cons of long-term care insurance to see if it’s right for your family.
  • Medicare:Medicare is a national, government-funded health insurance that all Americans receive when they turn 65. Medicare pays for short-term care when prescribed by a doctor. It can generally be used for short-term stays at nursing homes and for home health care.
  • Medicaid:Like Medicare, Medicaid acts as health insurance, but seniors have to qualify based on low income. Many states allow residents to use Medicaid to cover assisted living communities, nursing home stays, and other alternatives such as in-home care.
  • Caregiver tax credit: If your parent is a dependent, you may qualify for tax credits that can help you save money to pay for adult day care or home care.

Each family’s finances are different. Reach out to one of A Place for Mom’s free, local Senior Living Advisors today to find a great senior living fit for your loved one.

Claire Samuels
Claire Samuels