Happy woman enjoying senior living in front of her senior housing

Senior Living: The Complete Senior Housing Guide 2021

If living alone has become unsafe or burdensome, there are several types of senior housing available. Housing varies on the needs and lifestyle of the individual. The type of senior housing ranges from independent living to a facility with 24-hour care. Senior living is enjoying your living arrangement designed to meet the needs of the aging population. Below we review the types of senior housing available so you can better identify what may be right for you.


What is Senior Living?

The focus for senior living is generally on safety, accessibility, socialization, and low maintenance. In addition, there are varying levels of amenities and staffing available to help with personal and medical care.


What is Senior Housing?

Seniors need housing that is safe and accommodates those with disabilities. Things important to seniors usually include safe communities, low maintenance, and having easy access to things like transportation, shopping, medical appointments, and community activities.




wooden toy houses representing senior housing with red background



Why is Senior Housing Important?

Having enough affordable senior housing is essential because our senior community is growing.

  • A National Institute of Health (NIH) report indicates America’s 65-and-over population is projected to almost double over the next three decades, going from 48 million to approximately 88 million by 2050
  • By 2050, the global life expectancy is projected to increase by almost eight years, from 68.6 years old in 2015 to 76.2 years old in 2050.
  • The “Baby Boomer” age cohort is starting to enter their elder years of life. In addition, many will live a long life, likely into their 80s, 90s, and beyond.
  • Understandably, seniors desire to stay as independent as possible and in their own homes as they age.










senior woman standing holding hands with son caregiver in home


Private Residence (independently or living with family)

Many seniors prefer living in their homes or may move in with a family member. This is an excellent option for those who are independent or have access to the help required to enable the senior to age in place.

Some seniors need more help than others. Those who cannot care for themselves may need home care or a caregiver to safely age at home.


What is Home Health Care?

When a senior wants to stay home but requires assistance, home care provides a solution. Home care enables people with needs to recover from illness or injury. It also enables seniors to continue living at home even though they need some help.

Home care includes everything from personal care (such as help bathing or getting dressed) to skilled nursing care (such as wound care).


If you need to bring help into the home, it usually falls into one of these categories:

  • Licensed medical professional care, for example, doctors, nurses, or physical therapy
  • Non-medical paraprofessional care, for example, aides that can help with cooking, shopping, bathing, or companionship.
  • Dementia care, meaning services for those with progressive memory issues.

To learn more about home health, read our post Understanding Home Health Care. 


What is a Caregiver?

Many seniors want to live at home or with their families. Unpaid family caregivers commonly enable aging loved ones to age at home.  According to a 2020 report conducted by AARP and NAC, more than 1 in 5 Americans are caregivers and an estimated 53.0 million adults in the United States.

Caregivers may help in many ways. The caregiver role is dependent on their loved one’s needs. Whether a paid caregiver comes to help or an unpaid family helps the senior, common caregiver duties are outlined below. Caregiving can be a lot of work, so it is good to understand what may need to be done.

Caregiver Responsibilities

Caregiver responsibilities may include:

  • Manage medical needs, including medical appointments and medications.
  • Help with Activities of Daily Living (also known as ADLs), like toileting, bathing, and grooming.
  • Provide companionship. Companionship may be an essential part of caregiving, and it is often overlooked. Studies show links between loneliness and a variety of physical, mental, and emotional health problems.
  • Help with housekeeping, laundry, yard work, and house repairs.
  • Meal preparation, including food shopping.
  • Assist with transfers, mobility, and ensuring the home is safe.
  • Provide transportation or accompany your loved one on public transportation.


To learn more about what a caregiver does, read our post Caregiver Duties and Responsibilities. We also recommend caregivers understand and utilize available community resources. To find what resources may be available to you, read our post Senior Resources – Guide for Caregivers. 






living room of senior apartment in city

Senior Apartments

Senior apartment communities are developed for active older adults. These senior apartments are usually age-restricted so that seniors are surrounded by other aging adults with similar interests.

The apartments offer seniors a more manageable, low-maintenance lifestyle. For example, usually, there is no more household repairs or yard work.

Some senior apartment complexes may offer limited amenities or some organized social activities. Each senior complex is different and may offer different things. There may also be community fees to cover these services. For example, landscaping, home maintenance services, exercise rooms, pool, or security.





Seniors socializing having fun with Independent Living at their Independent Retirement Communities


Independent Living or Independent Retirement Communities

Independent living, sometimes called an independent retirement community, is a housing arrangement designed exclusively for older adults. The housing varies widely, from apartment-style living to single-family detached homes.


What is Independent Living?

The housing has senior challenges in mind. The accommodation is friendly to aging adults. Typically they are more compact, easier to navigate, and have no maintenance or yard work to worry about.

While residents live independently, most communities offer some amenities, activities, and services, but what is available will differ.


What is an Independent Living Facility?

Usually, the following is available in an independent living facility:

  • Often, clubhouses or recreational centers are available onsite to permit you to meet with other seniors and participate in community activities. For example, arts and crafts, holiday gatherings, continuing education classes, or movie nights.
  • Independent living facilities are aimed toward older adults who need little or no assistance with daily living activities. Therefore, most don’t offer medical aid or nursing staff. You can, however, hire in-home help separately if needed.
  • Some communities may offer prepared meals served in a communal area. Some may also have onsite coffee shops or bistros.
  • Transportation services may be available for errands, appointments, and outings.
  • Independent living facilities may also offer facilities like a swimming pool, fitness center, tennis courts, golf course, or other clubs and interest groups.
  • Other services may include onsite spas, beauty and barber salons, housekeeping services, a communal garden, laundry services, landscaping, walking paths, and planned group outings.
  • Independent retirement communities usually offer more services and amenities than in a senior apartment complex.







senior man sitting in bed assisted living facility nurse helping

Assisted Living Facility

An assisted living facility sometimes called an assisted living home, is long-term housing for seniors who are active but may need help with some activities.


What is Assisted Living?

When living alone is not safe or too burdensome, seniors may need some help. For example, they may have trouble getting to doctor appointments or may not be able to consistently cook their meals or maintain their place.


What is an Assisted Living Facility?

In an assisted living facility or assisted living home, usually:

  • Residents have their own rooms in the facility. Usually, residents personalize their living quarters with their own furniture and décor.
  • There usually are dining rooms where nutritious meals are provided.
  • Most assisted living facilities have home-like environments. In addition, most include communal areas for community activities and games.
  • Staffing includes medical teams, and help may be provided. For example, with medication management, helping with personal care, or skilled nursing assistance. Staff are usually at the facility 24 hours a day.
  • Transportation is usually available for medical appointments.
  • Facilities may offer amenities. For example, they may have a pool, art studio, chapel, beauty salon, movie theater, fitness center, library, or private event space.


Is Assisted Living Facility Right for Me?

An assisted living facility is usually for those who need some help with non-medical activities of daily living. For example, help may be needed with bathing, dressing, eating, or using the restroom. Residents may not be able to cook regularly for themselves or may need help with medication management.

Most seniors in an assisted living can move around independently by walking or using a cane, walker, or wheelchair. They usually do not require ongoing medical attention and usually can manage their chronic conditions independently.






Senior living men on phones in senior housing Adult Family Home or Residential Care Home with other seniors

Adult Family Home or Residential Care Home

An adult family home also referred to as a residential care home, offers a home-like atmosphere in traditional homes for seniors. They are adult family homes that provide personalized services to a small group of seniors.


What is an Adult Family Home or Residential Care Home?

Usually, there are less than ten seniors in one house, which helps keep the home-style environment.  Non-medical staff help seniors with things like bathing or dressing but not skilled medical care.

These residential homes provide lodging, meal services, and assistance with daily living activities.

  • Seniors may have a private or semi-private room.
  • Non-medical staff are available 24-hours each day. There may be limited medical care. However, medical care is not usually the primary focus of residential care homes.
  • When required, home health nurses can be called and scheduled. For example, to administer certain medicines or to help in treating any complex wounds.
  • Services provided may include routine housekeeping, laundry, assistance with toileting, bathing and dressing, home-cooked meals, transportation to doctor appointments, medication management, and social activities.


Adult family homes may be a good option for those who need more care than an assisted living provides since the staff to resident ratio is usually lower for a residential care home. Residential care homes have a small home atmosphere and are generally in a regular neighborhood.







Memory Care Facility signified by senior man putting puzzle of head together

Memory Care Facility


Memory care facilities provide 24-hour care for those with Dementia. Sometimes they are referred to as Alzheimer’s care or Dementia care facilities.


What is a Memory Care Facility?

These facilities focus on caring for seniors with memory issues and focus on improving their quality of life. They provide a safe environment and cater to needs associated with memory loss.


Memory care is meant to supply a secure, structured environment. In addition, they usually have set routines to lower stress for people with Alzheimer’s or Dementia.

Employees provide meals and help residents with care tasks. Staff are specifically trained to interact and work with the unique issues presented because of Dementia or Alzheimer’s. Staff ensures residents get to meals and participate in activities.


What Does a Memory Care Facility Have?

A memory care facility usually have the following:

  • Memory care facilities have special safety measures in place. This is because people with Dementia are susceptible to wander.  For example, they may have alarmed doors or elevators that need a code.
  • Resident safety is a priority. For example, some facilities may offer tracking bracelets that allow residents to explore but still allow staff to watch their location.
  • Activities are designed to enhance cognitive function. In addition, the activities encourage interaction with residents at different stages of the disease.
  • Memory care services may include medication management, toileting, incontinence care, mobility assistance, transportation, personal care, laundry, housekeeping, nutritious meals, and memory-enhancing activities.


Memory care is a good option for those with Dementia. It provides a safe environment that specialized in helping those with memory loss.







Senior living socializing outside in senior housing nursing home with staff


Nursing Home or Skilled Nursing Facility

A nursing home, or sometimes called a skilled nursing facility, provides a high level of care for patients. A nursing home is geared toward those with significant medical conditions who require medical care but do not require hospitalization.


What is a Nursing Home? What is a Skilled Nursing Facility?

A skilled nursing facility, or nursing home, provides both short-term care and long-term care.

Short-term care is usually appropriate when physical rehabilitation is needed after a hospitalization. This gives the elderly time to get the required therapy to regain mobility. It also provides the care necessary for those who need to recover from serious surgery or illness.

Who is Eligible for a Nursing Home?

Long-term residence in a nursing home is usually for those with serious health conditions. It is appropriate for those who require continuous nursing and personal care.

  • Most long-term residents need help with such things as medication management, toileting, bathing, and dressing.
  • Facilities are staffed 24 hours a day. Nurses are available to provide skilled care such as wound care, IV therapy, and other health services.
  • Seniors in a nursing home require more medical care than provided in assisted living facilities.
  • Services provided include 24-hour supervision, nursing care, care coordination, nutritious meals, personal care, and rehabilitative services.
  • Nursing home facilities usually have communal areas for social activities and games.
  • Housekeeping, laundry, and transportation services are provided.






adult day care center outside view


Adult Day Care Center

An adult daycare center is a place where you can bring your senior during specific hours during the day. This can provide caregivers a break while allowing seniors to socialize.


What is an Adult Day Care Center?

  • Adult daycare is usually for those who need supervision and assistance. In comparison, traditional community senior centers are usually designed for healthy seniors to socialize, take classes, or exercise.
  • Services vary at each center. Many usually have nutritious meals, therapeutic exercise, help with personal care, including toileting, health monitoring (e.g., vital signs), and social activities.
  • Adult daycare centers enable seniors to socialize and participate in planned activities in a group setting while still receiving needed health services.


How is Adult Day Care Helpful?

It is a good idea to consider adult daycare when your loved one feels isolated or lonely. An adult daycare enables your loved one to interact with other seniors. In addition, a center may be a good idea if the senior needs social or emotional support, or feel anxious about being alone.

Family caregivers may consider having a loved one go to an adult daycare if the caregiver needs help caring for their loved one. Many family caregivers use adult day care services if they need to be away for the day and don’t want their loved one home alone. In addition, if the caregiver needs some time for themselves.

To find an adult day care program near you, insert your zip code into the National Adult Day Services Association’s searchable directory. In addition, you can contact your local Area Agency on Aging, which you can locate using the federal government’s Eldercare Locator or by dialing 800-677-1116. Your local area agency on aging is trained to help seniors and they can help locate an adult daycare in your area.





respite care female caregiver helping female senior in bed

Respite Care 

Respite care provides the caregiver temporary relief. It can provide caregivers a much-needed break from the stress of caregiving for a sick or disabled loved one.

Managing stress is important to reduce your risk of caregiver burnout. For more information, read our posts:

What is Stress?

Caregiver Burnout & Fatigue,  and

Self-Care Tips for Caregivers.


What is Respite Care?

Respite care can be provided in your house, daycare centers, or residential or nursing facilities that offer overnight stays.

Whether it’s for just a couple of hours, one day every week, or an extended vacation, seeking respite care can help ease the family caregiving burden. Respite care can help relieve stress, restore your energy, and promote balance in your life.

It also can prevent you from becoming exhausted, isolated, or potentially burned out. Respite care can benefit the person you’re caring for, too. Respite care can provide your loved one with variety, stimulation, and a change of routine.


More Information on Respite Care

The ARCH National Respite Locator Service can help you find respite care services in your area. In addition, the Well Spouse Association offers support to the husband, wife, and partners of disabled or chronically ill people and has a nationwide listing of local support groups.

National Respite Locator Service

Well Spouse Association
800-838-0879 (toll-free)
[email protected]

Eldercare Locator
800-677-1116 (toll-free)


Housing Resources for Seniors

Check out what housing resources are available for seniors or people with disabilities:

  • Housing Choice Voucher Program – This federal program helps very low-income families, people with disabilities, and seniors afford safe housing in the private market.
  • Use the HUD Resource Locator, identify your location, then click on Affordable Elderly and Special Needs Housing.
  • Eldercare Locator – This site provides information about local resources, including housing options for older adults.





Senior living is finding the right senior housing match for your lifestyle and needs. Senior living usually focuses on safe, easy, low-maintenance living conditions. Housing can range from aging at home to living in a facility that offers 24-hour staffing. Amenities and costs vary per facility, so it is best to see what resources are available in your area.





NIH, National Institute on Aging, Residential Facilities, Assisted Living, and Nursing Homes

AARP, Adult Day Care: What Family Caregivers Need to Know

NIH, National Institute of Aging, What is Respite Care?



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