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11 types of senior living options

How to choose the best senior living option

Profile picture of Jami Barnett, Ph.D.
by Jami Barnett, Ph.D. ConsumerAffairs Research Team
older woman walking with the help of a nurse

As baby boomers have reached retirement age, they’ve recognized the need for more retirement living options than their parents had. These days, retirees have a wide variety of choices for where they live and how they spend their retirement years.

If you or your loved one are ready to discuss senior living options, keep reading. This article will give you the basics on 11 different options for senior living and tell you what kinds of people choose them.

older couple sitting on a couch looking at a laptop

Independent living

From at-home care to senior apartments, people have many options for independent senior living.

1. Aging in place

What is aging in place?
Aging in place means that a senior will keep living in their current home (stay in place). They can modify their current home to address any mobility issues, and they can work with home health care professionals to get assistance where needed.

Who should consider aging in place?
People who can handle most tasks on their own and have a supportive community to help if problems come up can likely stay in their home. With the help of a caregiver, many people can age in place, even after their health declines to the point of needing regular assistance.

What are some benefits of aging in place?

  • People retain independence.
  • It’s often cheaper than an assisted living facility.
  • Programs and services are available to help people stay in their home as long as possible.

2. Age-restricted communities

What are age-restricted communities?
Age-restricted communities are housing options where residence is limited to people over a certain age. Depending on the community, residents might live in a single-family home, a condo, a townhouse or an apartment. Whether they rent or own their residence will depend on each individual community.

Some age-restricted communities are called niche retirement communities. They cater to those with specific interests. There are neighborhoods built near college campuses for retired professors and those who want to be surrounded by an intellectual community. Other communities exist to create open and accepting places for LGBT seniors.

Who should live in age-restricted communities?
These are ideal for those who need little to no additional assistance and want to live near people around their age.

What are some benefits of age-restricted communities?

  • People can easily develop friendships with their neighbors.
  • Buildings are usually designed for people with limited mobility.
  • Home maintenance and lawn care are taken care of in senior apartments.
  • People living in communities where they own their home keep the financial and tax benefits associated with home ownership.
  • People in niche retirement communities might be more active because they share interests with those around them and live in an engaging community.
older lady in a wheelchair being comforted by a nurse

Options with assistance

People suffering from certain illnesses and ailments need extra help with daily tasks. It can be hard to accept that your loved one will need so much help but knowing all the options available to them can help both of you feel more comfortable about where they live.

3. Assisted living

What are assisted living facilities?
Assisted living facilities are housing options that provide help with instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs), like cooking and bathing, but not necessarily a lot of medical assistance. Residents usually have a private or semi-private bedroom and bathroom, but they share all other areas.

Offerings in assisted living facilities vary greatly. Typically, assisted living facilities provide meals, housekeeping, laundry, recreational and exercise activities and transportation to doctor’s appointments. Some might have a limited nursing staff for medical assistance. They could also have onsite beauty shops and entertainment venues.

Who should live in assisted living facilities?
Assisted living facilities are designed for people who need help with basic activities, like cooking and doing laundry, on a regular basis.

What are some benefits of assisted living facilities?

  • Residents get the professional help they need with daily activities.
  • There are lots of choices available, so you’ll likely find a residence you and your loved one like.
  • State and local agencies regulate the facilities to ensure appropriate care.

4. Nursing homes

What are nursing homes?
Nursing homes are facilities that offer a high level of medical care. Like assisted living facilities, nursing homes provide all meals, transportation, housekeeping, laundry services and other help with basic activities. They also provide medication management and 24 hour supervision.

Who should live in a nursing home?
Those who need a lot of medical help should consider a nursing home.

What are some benefits of living in a nursing home?

  • Nursing homes provide quality medical care to people with complex medical problems.
  • These facilities are licensed and regulated by state agencies, so there’s oversight to ensure they offer proper care.

5. Respite care

What is respite care?
Respite care facilities can take many forms. In general, they are assisted living facilities or nursing homes that cater to individuals who need care for a short amount of time.

Who should stay in a respite care facility?
Respite care is a helpful option for those recovering from surgery or a serious illness. It is also good for giving caregivers a much-needed break from the demands of caring for someone else.

What are some benefits of staying in respite care?

  • Residents can get help 24 hours a day.
  • Patients can get extra help while recovering from a surgery or illness.
  • Short-term stays offer a break to caregivers.

6. Memory care facilities

What is a memory care facility?
Memory care facilities are usually part of a nursing home and are specifically for people suffering from dementia. These facilities typically have a higher number of staff who offer more supervision, and they include security features to prevent residents from wandering outside unsupervised.

Who should live in memory care facilities?
Anyone whose loved one is suffering from dementia should consider a memory care facility.

What are some benefits of living in a memory care facility?

  • Memory care units have security features to keep residents safe.
  • These facilities have design features to make dementia sufferers feel more at ease.
  • Staff in memory care units may be specially trained to care for people with dementia.

7. Hospice

What is hospice?
Hospice isn’t a place; it’s a type of care for those with a terminal illness. People may receive hospice care in their home or in a nursing home. Hospice focuses on providing services like pain management to make the person’s life as comfortable as possible.

Who should have hospice?
Anyone diagnosed with a life-limiting illness may benefit from hospice care. Hospice is right for anyone who decides to transition to care that treats their symptoms instead of fighting their disease.

What are the benefits of hospice?

  • Patients can focus on enjoying the time they have left.
  • Patients receive emotional and spiritual treatment in addition to medical care.
older couple sitting on a bench outside of a apartment complex

Other senior living choices

As people age, they can get a wide continuum of care. People who can’t live alone, are unable to move in with a friend or relative or don’t want to go to an assisted living facility or nursing home have many options. If you and your loved one are looking for less traditional options, this section is for you.

8. Continuing-Care Retirement Communities

What are continuing-care retirement communities (CCRC)?
Continuing-care retirement communities (CCRCs) include several types of housing options for seniors. CCRCs vary, but one might have senior apartments, assisted living facilities and nursing homes all on the same property. Residents can move from one area to another as their needs change.

Who should live in a CCRC?
CCRCs are good options for those who no longer want to deal with the demands of owning their own home and who don’t intend to move in with friends or relatives at any point in the future.

CCRCs let residents transition from one type of care to another, so they’re a good choice for anyone who’s still independent and ready to move into a senior community but who may need more assistance in the future.

What are some benefits of a CCRC?

  • Residents can move to a place that offers a higher level of care without losing access to their social community.
  • Residents can get to know staff who will help them long before they move into an assisted living facility or nursing home.
  • CCRCs often offer a lot of social activities to keep people active and engaged.
  • Couples who need different levels of care can live near one another.

9. Co-housing

What is co-housing?
There are two types of co-housing: senior-only co-housing and general co-housing. In both types, residents own their home, but they share many common areas, like yards and community buildings. Co-housing often works much like a homeowners association, but everyone in the community has a desire to build a strong connection with their neighbors. Visit the Cohousing Association of the United States website to see lists of communities.

Who should consider co-housing?
Anyone who wants to be a part of a tight-knit community and can still handle most of their daily tasks on their own should think about co-housing. People who live far away from their relatives can find a supportive community in co-housing.

What are some benefits of co-housing?

  • Residents can make friends easily in these communities.
  • General co-housing offers older residents the chance to be around children and gives children the benefit of forging important relationships with their elders.
  • Residents retain independence.

10. Home sharing

What is home sharing?
Home sharing is when a homeowner gets a roommate in exchange for either rent or help with tasks around the house. For example, a retired woman might rent out her spare bedroom to another senior to reduce her expenses or to a college student in exchange for help with laundry and other housekeeping tasks. To learn more about home sharing and find a potential roommate, visit the National Shared Housing Resource Center website.

Who should use home sharing?
People who want to live with someone else and those looking for general companionship should consider home sharing. This option is especially popular with single women who don’t want to live alone but who don’t want (or need) to move into an assisted living facility.

What are some benefits of home sharing?

  • All parties benefit financially from reduced housing expenses.
  • Homeowners keep getting the tax benefits from owning a house.
  • Residents can become friends and enjoy the company of their roommates.

11. Moving abroad

What are moving abroad options?
Seniors have a variety of senior living options outside of the United States. Most of the options available to seniors in the United States are also available to them in other countries.

Medicare Part A coverage is provided to people who permanently move abroad for free, but the rules are a little tricky; people should make sure they have private health insurance that will work in their destination county. Depending on their citizenship status and the country they move to, many elders continue to receive social security benefits.

Who should move abroad?
People who want to live in a different culture and have new experiences will find moving abroad especially appealing, as will those looking for a lower cost of living.

What are some benefits of moving abroad?

  • Cost of living is cheaper in some locations.
  • Healthcare cost is less expensive in certain countries.
  • People can experience another culture.
older couple sitting at a counter looking at a laptop

5 steps for deciding on a senior living option

As you or your loved one ages, you’ll have to think about housing options. There’s a lot to consider, so make sure everyone involved has thought about their choices and priorities. Make sure to do these five things while considering the senior living options.

  1. Do your research. Just by reading this article, you’ve already started this process. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the stress of a change. Knowing your choices can help make the process easier.
  2. Talk about expectations for daily life. Someone who wants to be surrounded by a community of people their own age should make a different choice than someone who wants to be active in a broader community.
  3. Talk to a doctor. Before making a home purchase, modifying an existing home or investing in a retirement community, see if the doctor has any concerns about the resident’s mobility or health.
  4. Sit down with a financial advisor. Healthcare can be very expensive. Before making a final decision, talk to a financial advisor who has experience dealing with Medicare or Medicaid, pensions or retirement accounts.
  5. Visit potential communities. If you/your loved one is considering moving into a nursing home, age-restricted retirement community or any other senior living option, visit several. During your visit, talk to residents, have a meal and check out the activities schedule.

Bottom line

Having a conversation about your living situation as you age might be stressful, but all the options can make this an exciting time instead of a scary one. Regardless of your or your loved one’s situation, you’ll be able to find a good housing option. By considering all your options and talking about what everyone involved wants, you can find the best place for you or your loved on to live.

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Profile picture of Jami Barnett, Ph.D.
by Jami Barnett, Ph.D. ConsumerAffairs Research Team

Jami Barnett, Ph.D., is an experienced researcher, and she believes consumers have a right to clear and honest information about products. In her role at ConsumerAffairs, she thoroughly researches products and companies by interviewing experts, reviewing research studies, reading governmental regulations and investigating customer service responses. Her work gives consumers the information they need to make smart purchasing decisions.