If you’re looking for senior living for yourself or a loved one, it’s important first to understand what kind of senior care is the right fit. While many people think of residential senior care under one umbrella of “nursing home care” there are actually several different types of senior living, all designed to meet a different spectrum of needs. Plus, there are at-home options for seniors who want to continue living at home. 

The information below can help you understand which type of senior care or senior living is right for you or your loved one. We also include links and next steps you can follow to learn more.

Care Type

Shared Spaces + Group Activities

Offers housekeeping

Offers Assistance with ADLs*

Offers skilled nursing services

Assistance available 24/7

In-Home Care

Home Health Care

55+ Communities

Independent Living

Assisted Living


Memory Care


Nursing Homes

Continuing Care Retirement Communities 

*Activities of Daily Living. Learn more about ADLs. 

Aging in Place vs. Senior Living

The first thing to think about when choosing a senior care option is where you want to live. Do you want to continue living in your current home, or move to a community with other older adults? 

If you want to continue living at home, you should be looking at options for “aging in place.” Aging in place simply means that you stay in your current home instead of moving to a senior community. It’s easier to do if you have family or friends nearby who can keep you company and offer any support when you need it, but if you don’t, you can hire an in-home care aide. 

Most people who age in place still end up needing some form of assistance and may need to make home modifications, such as installing grab bars in the bathroom, adding a stairlift or elevator into multi-floor homes and changing the flooring to non-slip materials. Assistive devices like medical alert systems are also beneficial to compensate for the lack of 24-hour help available in a senior living community. 

Alice’s Story
Alice is a 61-year-old widow with two adult children, one who lives an hour away and another who lives on the other side of the country. She recently retired and is feeling bored and lonely at home, and is having a hard time keeping up with house and yard work. Her daughter who lives an hour away comes to spend time with her and help around the house once a week, but can’t come more than that because of the distance.

Alice’s children suggest hiring an in-home care aide to come to help Alice a few times a week and provide companionship. But, Alice thinks she wants more socializing. She decides to move to an independent living community where she’ll be surrounded by other adults and have access to social activities, events and on-site amenities. Plus, she doesn’t have to worry about any housekeeping or maintenance work.

Alice is currently active and healthy, and does not need any daily assistance. She knows that as she ages she will likely move to an assisted living community where she can get more help.
Learn More About Aging In Place

The other option is to move to a residential senior living community. Within this category, there are several options that offer different levels of care. A significant advantage of senior living over aging in place is the social opportunities it provides, so it can be a better choice if you live alone or are otherwise bored or lonely living in your current home. 

You don’t have to pick one option and stick with it forever. Many people will move from one “track” to another over the course of their lives.

Matthew’s Story
Matthew is 71, and he and his have lived in their home for over 30 years. They have three children, two of whom still live locally, and are close with many of their neighbors. Several years ago, Matthew slipped getting out of the shower while no one was home and broke his hip. He was unable to get up until his wife got home several hours later. Fortunately, during Matthew’s recovery, his children and neighbors were able to come over and help out.

After his fall, they installed grab bars in their bathroom and Matthew started wearing a medical alert smartwatch. Now, Matthew is experiencing early symptoms of dementia. He and his wife are moving to an assisted living community with a memory care wing so they know they can continue living there when Matthew’s dementia worsens in the future. 

Aging in Place Options

In addition to assistance from family and friends, many seniors seek outside help from a trained caregiver. You may also want to consider “adult day care” which encompasses any daytime-only program where older adults can go for socializing, stimulation and activity, or short-term respite care. 

In-Home Care

In-home care or home care is a type of nonmedical senior care provided in the comfort of your own home. In-home care aides can provide assistance with ADLs, housekeeping, transportation, companionship and more, and care is tailored to your individual needs and preferences. Many people start with just occasional in-home care and may increase its frequency as they need more assistance, with some even eventually hiring 24-hour in-home caregivers. 

In-home care may be the right choice for you if:

  • You don’t have family or friends nearby who are available to help you
  • You need assistance with your daily activities but don’t want to move to a senior living community 
  • You need assistance with some ADLs, but you don’t need regular assistance 
  • You need help around the house, grocery shopping, getting to appointments, etc. 
  • You no longer can or want to cook your own meals
Learn More About In-Home Care

Home Health Care

Home health care provides a higher degree of care than standard in-home care. Home health care aides are certified medical providers and can deliver services like skilled nursing care, physical and occupational therapy, medication administration and health monitoring. Often they can provide in-home care services like assistance with ADLs and health care services. 

Home health care may be the right choice for you if: 

  • You have a chronic medical condition that requires monitoring
  • You’re on an injectible medication and need assistance administering it
  • You’re recovering from an injury, illness or stroke
  • You’re recovering from surgery
  • You have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease
Learn More About Home Health Care

Adult Day Care

Adult day care is a service that provides seniors with socialization, engagement and supervision during daytime hours. It can be helpful for family caregivers who also work a full-time job and cannot be with their loved one during working hours and a good social outlet for seniors aging in place and living alone. Adult day care usually takes place at community centers or health care facilities. 

Adult day care may be a good fit for you if you’re aging in place and: 

  • You’re lonely or isolated 
  • You need extra assistance during the day
  • You’re finding it difficult to read or initiate other independent activities 
  • You’re caring for someone and cannot be with them during the day 
  • You’re a family caregiver in need of respite
Learn More About Adult Day Care

Respite Care

Respite care is short-term senior care designed to provide relief for family caregivers. If you need a break from caregiving, whether because you’re going on a weeklong vacation or just need an afternoon to yourself, respite care is a great solution. You can hire a respite caregiver to come to your home or use an adult day care service or a respite service offered at an assisted living community. 

You should consider respite care if: 

  • You’re experiencing symptoms of caregiver burnout, including depression and overwhelming stress
  • You’re sick and cannot care for your loved one or are worried about spreading germs 
  • Your loved one cannot be left alone and/or needs assistance with ADLs or other tasks while you’re unable to be there 
Learn More About Respite Care

Senior Living Options

There is a wide spectrum of types of senior living communities spanning from completely independent apartments to skilled nursing communities that offer around-the-clock medical supervision. Learn more about all of the types of what they offer below.

55+ Communities

55+ communities, also known as senior apartments, senior lifestyle communities, retirement communities, or active adult communities, are age-restricted communities for adults over 55 or 62 in some cases. They do not offer any type of personal care assistance, lifestyle services or medical care, but are intended for active, independent adults who want to live surrounded by their peers. 

A 55+ community might be right for you if: 

  • You’re still active and independent 
  • You’re ready to downsize
  • You want to live in a neighborhood of your peers
  • You no longer want to be responsible for landscaping and other exterior home maintenance 
Learn More About 55+ Communities

Independent Living

Independent living communities are designed for older adults who are ready to be done with tasks like housekeeping and home maintenance but do not yet need any personal care assistance. These communities offer lifestyle services like cleaning, planned social activities and group dining but do not offer any medical care or assistance with ADLs. Residents of independent living communities are typically active and social.

Independent living may be a good fit for you if:

  • You want to live in a community of your peers and participate in planned social activities
  • You’re still independent but no longer wish to do household tasks like cleaning or cooking
  • You’re ready to downsize
  • You recently retired and want more social opportunities
  • You want to live in a safe and secure building 
Learn More About Independent Living

Assisted Living

Assisted living is a type of residential care for seniors needing help with their ADLs but not regular medical care. Assisted living offers personal care assistance, meals, housekeeping, medication management and more. Staff is on-site 24/7 to assist residents as needed, but residents can retain their independence as much as they can. 

Assisted living may be a good it for you if: 

  • You struggle to perform some ADLs such as dressing, bathing and grooming
  • You no longer can or want to prepare your own meals
  • You want access to emergency assistance 24/7
  • You have limited mobility and don’t live in an accessible home 
  • You live alone and want more social interaction 
Learn More About Assisted Living

Memory Care

Memory care is a type of senior living specifically designed to meet the needs of those living with memory impairment like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Staff is specially trained in working with those with memory loss and how to manage residents’ unpredictable behavior. Communities have extra security measures in place to ensure resident safety and many have features like interior courtyards. 

Those in the early stages of memory loss will not need memory care. Signs it’s time to move to a memory care community include:

  • Incidents of getting lost or disoriented while in familiar areas
  • Failure to take one’s medication on schedule or refill prescriptions when needed 
  • Personality changes like increased aggression 
  • Dangerous incidents at home like leaving the stove on or neglecting to lock doors 
  • A noticeable decline in grooming and personal upkeep 
  • An inability to maintain one’s home 
Learn More About Memory Care

Nursing Homes

Nursing homes, also referred to as skilled nursing facilities, offer the highest level of care of all senior living options. Services provided in nursing homes include skilled nursing care, physical and occupational therapy, medication administration and assistance with ADLs. Because residents have higher medical needs, there is less emphasis on socialization and resident activities than in assisted living. 

You may be a good candidate for a nursing home if:

  • You need 24-hour medical supervision 
  • You cannot independently complete ADLs 
  • You need regular therapy services 
  • You need assistance administering your medications  
  • You’re recovering from an illness or injury
Learn More About Nursing Homes

Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC)

Continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) offer multiple levels of care so adults can continue to live in the same community as their needs change over time. Many residents start out in independent living and transition to assisted living, memory care and/or nursing care when the need arises. Most of these communities have a buy-in fee in addition to monthly rent. 

You should consider a CCRC if: 

  • You don’t want to move again
  • You think your needs will increase over time 
  • You want to live in the same community as your partner but you have different care needs
Learn More About Continuing Care Retirement Communities

Find Senior Care

Determining which type of senior care you need for yourself or a loved one is only the first step. You’ll still want to start looking into different providers, interviewing or touring your options and more. If you’re looking for some assistance with this process, we can help. Our trained Family Advisors offer personal guidance in finding a senior living community or care provider, all at no cost to you. Call (800) 558-0653 or enter your target area in the tool below to get started. 

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Expert Contributors

Aidan Moloney, Family Advisor

With over 5 years of experience with Caring.com, Aidan’s role is to educate families on their options and provide resources and personal assistance in finding senior living communities. He is people-oriented and compassionate, values that have been crucial in building strong connections with Caring.com’s customers and partners.