Assisted Living – Do You Need It?

As our parents get older they may need assistance with daily living that you or others aren’t able to provide. Assisted living facilities can meet many of their needs.

What is assisted living?

First, I should explain exactly what assisted living is. The dictionary definition of assisted living is housing for elderly or disabled people that provides nursing care, housekeeping, and prepared meals as needed. In today’s market, it means a room or an apartment that you rent. The rent typically includes meals (in a common dining room), housekeeping, laundry, activities, and transportation. In addition, you can subscribe to additional services defined as “help with activities of daily living.”

The medical and insurance industries define activities of daily living as:
Eating, bathing, dressing, toileting, transferring and continence.

For activation of your long-term care policy (should you have one), you must need help with at least two of these activities.

Services offered

The services offered by different organizations can be very different, so you need to get specific information from the facilities under consideration. For example, at the Assisted Living facility we selected, if you can’t get to meals and feed yourself, you can’t stay. Our understanding is that the next step is a nursing home. However, some assisted living facilities also offer skilled nursing and memory care. Memory care is designed for people who wander and need more intensive help because of their diminished memory.


The most important and meaningful feature to most seniors is the meal service. While going to the same dining room all the time can get a little boring, it is too difficult for many seniors to plan meals, go shopping, do meal preparation, and clean up. As you are evaluating facilities, have a meal there, you might want to try lunch and dinner on different days. Your evaluation should consider the service, variety, and quality of the food.

Social contact

Another important benefit of assisted living is social contact. Many seniors are lonely and need social interaction. Even if they don’t participate in the social activities offered by the facility, the common dining room can provide much needed social interaction. For our parents, this is incredibly important.

Another benefit to assisted living facilities is that you can usually dial services up and down based on your parents’ needs. For example, if your loved one falls, transfer help may be required for a limited time while your loved one is laid up. You also need to evaluate the private space that is available to your loved ones. In our case, our parents have a private two-bedroom apartment so there is enough room for their treasures. But keep in mind, private is a relative term – caregivers can enter anytime they are required.

Evaluating assisted living facilities

Care facilities seem to vary quite a bit, so I recommend evaluating them carefully. Here is a list of things you can ask when visiting each facility:

  • How many meals are provided per day
  • Are meals provided all day or only during certain hours?
  • Is transportation to stores and doctor’s appointments available and how frequently?
  • Does the facility offer apartments or just rooms?
  • Do the private spaces have a kitchenette?
  • The social activities offered?
  • Is parking available, should your loved ones still drive and have a car?
  • Is there an outdoor space for walking and it is easy to navigate?
  • Do they provide services for “activities of daily living” and are there different service levels?
  • What is the cost of the facility?
  • Does the facility bill your insurance company if you are using long term care insurance?

We hope these questions help you evaluate assisted living options and determine the features that are most important to you and your loved ones. For additional information about how to find services, see What to Do When Your Parents Need Help.

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1 comment

  1. Thank you so much for helping me understand what assisted living can provide to an elderly person. This made me think about my aunt and how she’s gotten old and weak to the point that she’s been having trouble even preparing her own meals when she was so energetic about it before. Keeping her in good health is one of my top priorities since she’s done so much for our family, so I’ll start looking for any assisted living facilities I can take her to.

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