Evaluating an older adult’s living needs and abilities — especially living arrangements — is an ongoing process. And there’s a range of options available to meet those shifting priorities and concerns — from the freedom of living on one’s own (perhaps in a smaller place) to the supportive environment of assisted living to the round-the-clock care available at skilled nursing facilities. Each offers something different, so sorting out the options is the first step.

Below, we provide a brief overview of the different types of senior living. Read on to learn more about the different eldercare options that are available for your loved one, and who is best suited for each type of care. 

Aging in Place

Aging in place refers to when seniors choose to remain in their own homes as they age rather than move to a senior living community. This is the route that the great majority of older Americans say they hope to take- an AARP survey found that 3 out of 4 adults over the age of 50 hope to age in place. Your family member is likely to need some support if they choose to continue living on their own, although how much help they’ll need will vary tremendously depending on their health and how connected they are to the community. 

You may also need to consider making home modifications for safety. This can be as dramatic as installing a walk-in tub or stairlift, or as simple as purchasing your loved one a safety device such as a medical alert system.

Is this the right option for my family member? “A good candidate has family who are able to check on [them] every day,” says Pat O’Dea-Evans, COO of Paxem, a Chicago-based company that helps seniors who are contemplating a move. Health is a central factor to consider — one you’ll need to re-evaluate periodically as your loved one ages. Older adults who are healthy enough to perform basic functions such as cooking and bathing and who can get around safely may do well living independently.

Also look at the kind of support an older adult has in the community — do they live near important services like a grocery store, pharmacy, doctors, and a hospital? Are they connected to others in her neighborhood, or have they become socially isolated? All of these factors contribute to whether or not aging in place is the right option for your family member.

In-Home care

home care aide with older woman sitting at kitchen table

If your family member wants to stay in their home but is beginning to need more help, they have a number of options for in-home care services. This ranges from a personal care attendant, who can assist with tasks such as cooking and cleaning, to a certified nursing assistant, who can monitor her medical condition and help with activities like bathing and dressing.

Is this the right option for my family member? If your loved one places a high value on privacy or the familiarity of their home and neighborhood, this may be the best choice. Finding the right match may take some time and effort, however. If your loved one is cognitively impaired, you’ll want to be especially cautious before going this route to ensure your loved one’s home care aide can work with people with cognitive challenges and is trustworthy and reliable.

Moving a Family Member in with You

If you have the space and can handle the day-to-day care of your family member, you may want to think about inviting them to come live with you.

Is this the right option for my family member? Whether to move your loved one into your home is an intensely personal decision. You need to think about the nature of your relationship, as well as their relationship with your partner and children.

The layout of your home is an important consideration: Do you have an in-law unit or even just an extra bathroom that they can use exclusively? Privacy can be very important to older adults, as well as to you and your immediate family.

You’ll also need to consider your schedule and their care needs and level of mobility. If you work full-time and they can’t get around on her own, they may feel more isolated living with you than they would in a senior living community where they could socialize with other residents and participate in on-site activities. But if you and your loved one communicate well and enjoy each other’s company, and you and your family have the time and ability to care for them, sharing your home with your family member can be a wonderful way to stay close as they age.

Independent Living Communities

Usually apartment or condominium complexes, independent living communities generally offer on-site amenities such as beauty salons, banks, fitness programs, and communal meals. They may even have a doctor or nurse regularly visit who makes regular rounds.

Is this the right option for my family member?If your loved one values their independence and isn’t in need of daily care — but perhaps is ready to stop driving, is starting to worry about their safety, or just wants more support and companionship — an independent living community can be a great choice.

Assisted Living Communities

assisted living aide sitting on bench with elderly woman talking

Assisted living facilities cover the middle ground in the spectrum of senior living: They serve elders who need more support than they can get living independently but who don’t need complex medical care on a daily basis. Most offer meals, housekeeping, and planned activities. Many will remind your family member to take medications but won’t do things like give injections.

Is this the right option for my family member? If they are finding daily life increasingly challenging but don’t have a serious medical condition that requires round-the-clock monitoring, assisted living may be the right choice. As with all eldercare housing communities, assisted living facilities vary greatly, so make sure you know exactly what a particular location does and doesn’t offer before making a commitment.

Continuing-Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs)

There’s a wide variation in what continuing care retirement communities provide, but most offer a range of eldercare options, from independent living units to assisted living to skilled nursing, all in one place. These facilities can be costly to start — most charge an entrance fee and may require your family member to purchase their apartment or condominium, rather than just rent it — but because many promise to care for residents for the rest of their life, even if their needs change, they also offer security.

Is this the right option for my family member? A continuing care retirement community is a good choice for an older adult who wants assistance making some healthcare decisions, says O’Dea-Evans. It’s also a good choice if you don’t feel able to manage their care on a daily basis — perhaps because you live far away — as everything they’ll require as they age is generally on-site, and trained staff will help them move from one phase to another as the need arises.

Care Homes

Care homes, also called “family homes,” are usually private homes that have been converted to provide eldercare for a small number of older adults. An alternative to an assisted living community, they generally offer all meals and round-the-clock staffing, sometimes at a lower cost.

Is this the right option for my family member? If your loved one lives in a small town or rural area and wants to stay in the area, or they’re shy or simply prefer smaller group settings, this may be the best option. Family care homes are also a good choice for people who need lots of personal attention from caregivers who know them well, says O’Dea-Evans. Such people might not thrive in a larger facility with different staff members coming in and out.

Skilled Nursing Facilities

nurses aide holding hands with elderly woman in wheelchair

Skilled nursing facilities provide round-the-clock medical care, usually administered by registered nurses and aides under the supervision of doctors. Your family member may also receive physical, speech, and occupational therapy, as well as assistance with activities of daily living.

Is this the right option for my family member? If they need help from trained medical personnel on a daily basis — such as insulin monitoring and injections for diabetes, or intravenous medication — or if they’re unable to feed, bathe, and dress his or herself, they may need to be in a skilled nursing facility long-term. A limited stay in a skilled nursing facility may be necessary after a medical crisis requiring hospitalization.

Memory Care Facilities (Alzheimer’s Care Facilities)

Memory care or Alzheimer’s care facilities are specifically designed for people with Alzheimer’s and those with other forms of dementia. They are generally secure, so that a patient who is confused can’t wander off the grounds. The staff is specially trained to provide eldercare to seniors with cognitive issues.

Is this the right option for my family member?If your loved one suffers from Alzheimer’s, dementia, or a condition such as Parkinson’s or a stroke that has caused permanent cognitive impairment, they may well need this kind of specialized eldercare. But be sure a neurological exam confirms that any impairment is permanent before you make this decision. If the person were to regain cognitive function, as may be possible after a stroke, this kind of setting wouldn’t be right long-term.