Four Levels of Senior Living Explained

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Four Levels of Senior Living Explained

Are you trying to navigate the options available for senior living communities but keep running into marketing gibberish? While the level of care can vary from community to community, there are broad categories for senior living. These categories are generally set by industry custom. This means that even within broad categories, different communities may offer different services for residents. Here are four broad categories of senior living and some of the features of each category:


Active Adult Community


An active adult community, also known as an age-restricted community, is a neighborhood that has restrictions on the age of the occupants of a home. Typically these communities are gated communities and residents are required to be over a certain age, such as 55 years old. Active adult communities are a category of senior living that is defined by law. While housing discrimination is generally prohibited in the United States, the Fair Housing Act allows communities to exclude families with children if the community is intended as “housing for older persons.” By law, as long as the community is more than 80% occupied by people age 55 years or older and has policies in place to maintain its status as housing for older persons, the community can exclude families with children from living in the community. Although the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development advises communities to use the phrases “senior housing,” “a 55 and older community,” or “retirement community” and discourages communities from using the phrase “adult housing” or “adult community,” most of these communities prefer the phrase “active adult community” to describe themselves in their marketing literature.


Active adult communities may have facilities tailored to seniors, such as recreation centers, golf courses, and activity centers. Active adult communities typically provide no personal services or medical services. However, seniors who need additional assistance or skilled nursing would not be restricted from hiring housekeepers, cooks, gardeners, or home care providers.


Independent Living


Independent living is the happy medium for senior living. Independent living communities are for seniors who value living on their own and are capable of addressing their daily needs but want to reduce their need to engage in mundane and strenuous activities like cooking and housecleaning. Like active adult communities, seniors are catered to with activities and recreational opportunities without being smothered. But unlike active adult communities, seniors are not left on their own to mow the lawn and fix the plumbing.


Like active adult communities, independent living communities typically do not provide skilled nursing care or assistance with daily needs. However, independent living communities typically do provide personal services like cleaning, cooking, laundry facilities, and salon services. And, unlike active adult communities, independent living communities typically provide security and transportation services. Accommodations in independent living communities are not shared, with each resident choosing the floor plan of his or her independent housing. With about 90% of Americans over age 65 saying they want to stay at home as long as possible, independent living is often a preferred alternative to assisted living or nursing care.


Assisted Living


The biggest difference between independent living and assisted living is that assisted living is for seniors who are unable to take care of their daily needs. Assisted living facilities typically have nursing aides on staff to assist residents in dressing, bathing, using the toilet, eating, getting into and out of bed, and moving around the facility. Assisted living typically does not provide around-the-clock skilled nursing care. Rather, assisted living typically has a trained nurse to manage medications, supervise nursing aides, and provide emergency care. Assisted living typically includes personal services, such as cleaning, cooking, and transportation, as well as activities and recreational facilities.


Nursing Care


Nursing care is for seniors that not only require assistance with daily needs but also need skilled nursing. As such, nursing care offers the same assistance with daily needs as assisted living, but also has 24-hour skilled nursing care. This is not to imply that nursing care is permanent. In fact, some nursing care residents stay only temporarily while recovering from an injury or surgery. For example, seniors who break a hip may be unable to care for their daily needs and require skilled nursing care but may be able to return to independent living after recovery.

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