Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you go over the different types of housing options available to seniors, and recommend some good resources for locating and choosing one? I need to find a place for my elderly mother, and could use some help.
There's a wide array of housing options available to seniors, but what's appropriate for your mom will depend on her needs and financial situation. Here's a rundown of the different levels of senior housing and some resources to help you search.
Independent living: If your mom is in relatively good health and is self-sufficient, "independent living communities" are a good place to start. Typically available to people over age 55, this type of senior housing is usually apartments or town homes that are fully functional. In addition, many of these communities also offer amenities such as meals served in a common dining area, housekeeping, transportation and a variety of social activities.
To locate this type of housing, contact your Area Agency on Aging (call 800-677-1116 to get your local number), or use online services like newlifestyles.com and caring.com. Most of these communities are private-pay only, and run anywhere from $1,000 to over $4,000 per month.
If that's too expensive, another option is "senior apartments," which are often subsidized by HUD for lower income seniors. You can locate these through your local housing authority or online at hud.gov.
Assisted living: If your mom needs some help with daily living activities, an "assisted living facility" is another option. These facilities provide personal care (like bathing, dressing, eating, going to the bathroom) as needed, as well as meals, housekeeping, transportation, social activities and medication management. Many facilities also offer special care units for residents with dementia. Costs typically run between $2,000 to $5,000 or more per month. Most resident's pay for assisted living from personal funds, and some have long-term care insurance policies. But, some states now have voucher plans that let you use Medicaid money.
Another similar, but less expensive option to look into is "board and care homes." These offer many of the same services as assisted living facilities but in a much smaller home setting.
Your Area Aging Agency is again a good resource for finding these facilities, as are the previously listed senior housing locater websites. And for help choosing a facility, the Assisted Living Federation of America offers an excellent guide at alfa.org/checklist.
Nursing homes: If your mom needs ongoing medical and personal care, a "nursing home," which provides 24-hour skilled nursing care, is the next option. To find a good one, use Medicare's nursing home compare tool. But be aware that nursing home care is very expensive, costing anywhere between $4,500 and $11,000 per month depending on location. Most residents pay from either personal funds, a long-term care insurance policy, or through Medicaid after their savings are depleted.
Continuing-care retirement communities (CCRC's): If your mom has the financial resources, a "CCRC" is another excellent option that provides all levels of housing (independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing home care) in one convenient location. But, these communities typically require a hefty entrance fee that can range from $20,000 to $500,000 or more, plus ongoing monthly service fees that vary from around $1,000 to over $5,000. For more information see carf.org/aging.
Consider hiring an aging life care expert who can evaluate your mom's situation, and find appropriate housing for a fee - usually between $300 and $800. Or, you can use a senior-care advising service like A Place for Mom for free. (They get paid from the senior living facilities in their network.)
Some other helpful resources include the National Clearinghouse for Long-Term Care Information, and your State Health Insurance Assistance Program, which provides free counseling.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.