Top 5 Myths About Assisted Living


By Kim Acosta, managing editor

As news linking coronavirus and nursing-home deaths spreads, confusion abounds. Is “retirement community” or “assisted living” the same as “nursing home?” Learn the truth about assisted living and debunk some common senior living myths.

Myth #1: “Assisted living” is just another way to say “nursing home”

Truth: This is one of the most common misunderstandings about senior living, but in reality, the two differ significantly.

Assisted living communities provide housing and care to seniors who may need some help with daily tasks but do not require the skilled care provided at a nursing home. They typically feature:

  • Individual apartments residents can decorate and lock, just as they would a private apartment
  • 24/7 staff to help with activities of daily living, including medication management and personal hygiene
  • Three meals a day
  • Transportation, housekeeping, and laundry services

Some assisted living communities offer additional medical and memory care services. This varies by state and community, and in some cases can allow couples to live in the same community despite needing different amounts of care.

Nursing homes are designed for people who need the highest level of care and require help with nearly all their daily living tasks. They typically feature:

  • Private or shared rooms
  • Rehabilitative care, including surgical and medical recovery
  • Assistance with many activities of daily living, such as feeding and getting in and out of bed

Myth #2: My mom or dad won’t like living in assisted living

Truth: Seventy-three percent of families report that a senior loved one’s quality of life improved after moving to assisted living, according to a survey by A Place for Mom and Sage Projections, a Seattle-based research company. Additionally, 60% of caregivers found that their personal quality of life improved.

Many seniors fear losing their independence and privacy. It’s helpful to know most communities provide residents with a choice of spacious apartments with different floor plans and separate entrances. People are free to furnish their apartments with their own furniture and personal items. As in private life, apartment doors lock and are controlled by residents.

For an inside look at one family’s life transition to assisted living, read Moving to An Assisted Living Home: Betty and Ken’s Story.

Myth #3: Family can, and should, care for their elders

Truth: While caregiving sometimes brings joy and strengthens relationships, it can also affects the caregiver’s ability to work, engage in social interactions and relationships, and maintain good physical and mental health. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests caregivers often neglect their own health needs and suffer from the emotional and physical demands of caregiving. This, in turn, affects their ability to provide care. More than a third of caregivers report insufficient sleep, according to the CDC.

Just as you expect a high quality of life for your parent or elderly loved one, you should expect the same for yourself. Choosing assisted living could result in a happier, healthier life for both of you.

Myth #4: The cost of assisted living is too high

Truth: Assisted living is often the same or less than receiving the same care and services at home. The median monthly cost for assisted living in the United States is $4,051, according to Genworth’s 2019 Cost of Care Survey. While that may seem high, it includes everything many seniors need, including meals, transportation, activities, help with day-to-day tasks, medication management, and more.

Myth #5: The food is bland and the activities are boring

Truth: Senior living communities are responding to people’s preferences for fine dining and high-tech fun. “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, vice president of strategic customers at A Place for Mom. “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.”

As for meals, dining options look more like restaurants and less like buffet lines, adds Johansen. In some higher-end communities, you’ll find bars, sushi, and other fine dining options seniors are used to at home in their private lives.