Baby boomers have had a massive influence on the American economy since they were born, so it’s no surprise that they’re reshaping the senior care industry as they reach retirement. It’s estimated that 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 each day through 2030, and more than 70% of retirees are expected to require long term care in their lifetime. 

Assisted living is a relatively new concept that was introduced about 25 years ago, and it’s projected to play a major role in meeting the needs of baby boomers in retirement. 

Assisted living is a win-win for seniors, offering greater independence and freedom for residents while providing assistance with daily activities. It’s also significantly less expensive than nursing homes, potentially saving families tens of thousands of dollars a year in long-term care expenses.

What Is Assisted Living?

Assisted living residence is a long-term senior care alternative, filling the gap between home health care and skilled nursing homes. It’s intended for seniors who can live independently but need some help and support.

The primary purpose of an assisted living residence is to help seniors with their Activities of Daily Living. Essential ADLs include feeding, dressing, toileting, bathing, grooming, personal hygiene, and functional mobility, such as getting in and out of bed or transferring to and from a wheelchair.

In addition to helping with ADLs, assisted living facilities provide important support services that help seniors remain functionally independent. Examples of typical services include:

  • 24-hour supervision and assistance
  • Health, wellness, and exercise programs
  • Maintenance and housekeeping
  • Meal preparation and nutrition planning
  • Medication management
  • Transportation to shopping and recreational activities
  • Taking phone calls and messages
  • Personal financial management

For many seniors, assisted living offers a great balance between the level of care and support they need to be healthy, and the personal independence they need to feel self-reliant and flourish. It’s an ideal solution for seniors who need more care and support than home health services can provide but do not require a skilled nursing home.

Health Care Services 

While not required, many assisted living facilities provide on-site health care services for their residents. Examples of commonly offered health care services include:

  • Pharmacy
  • Dietary and nutritional services
  • Physical, occupational, and speech therapy
  • Hospice care
  • Skilled nursing
  • Counseling and mental health care
  • Social work services

You’ll find these health care services at more than half of assisted living facilities across the country. They’re certainly more convenient, but keep in mind they often come with a higher cost. 

If your family member’s assisted living facility does not offer on-site health care services, ensure the facility provides transportation for their residents to attend healthcare appointments. 

Specialized Assisted Living Care

Some assisted living communities offer specialized care for residents with specific medical needs. 

The most common type of specialized care is memory care units intended for residents with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. A little over 14% of assisted living facilities have a memory care unit, wing, or designated floor, and about 9% of facilities exclusively serve seniors with dementia. 

In addition to memory care units, some assisted living facilities offer specialized care for seniors with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Other facilities specialize in particular conditions like Parkinson’s disease.

If you’re questioning whether a family member requires specialized assisted living care, it’s best to consult with the senior’s doctor. If their condition is currently severe enough or expected to rapidly deteriorate, they may require a skilled nursing home instead of an assisted living community.

Assisted Living By The Numbers

Nationwide, there 28,900 assisted living facilities with nearly one million licensed beds. Most assisted living communities (46%) are fairly small, with 4-10 licensed beds. Approximately 32% of assisted living communities have 26-100 licensed beds, and only 8% of communities have more than 100 licensed beds.  

In Arizona, 85% of assisted living communities have fewer than 26 licensed beds. That’s great for residents, as smaller communities are often able to provide a greater level of care than large facilities.

Specialized assisted living care is popular in Arizona. According to the CDC, 62% of assisted living communities have memory care units, 65% offer a diabetes program, 59% offer cardiovascular care, and 51% offer depression programs.

The Cost Of Assisted Living

In the United States, the average monthly cost of assisted living is $4,000. Spread out over 12 months, that makes the average annual cost $48,000.

To put that in perspective, the national average for home health care is $48,000 – $50,000 per year, putting the cost of assisted living almost exactly on par with home health care. As for skilled nursing homes, the national average is $100,375 per year for a private room and $89,297 for a shared room.

In Arizona, the average monthly cost of assisted living is $3,800, making the annual cost of $45,600 about $2,400 less than the national average. Of course, that’s the average across the state, so there are plenty of assisted living communities that are less expensive if you’re operating on a tighter budget. 

In comparison, the average annual cost of home health care in Arizona is $52,000 – $53,000. That’s significantly higher than the national average, meaning seniors in Arizona are more likely to choose assisted living over home health care.

The cost of skilled nursing homes in Arizona is less than the national average, with private rooms averaging about $94,900 per year and shared rooms averaging $77,928 per year. Considering more than half of assisted living residents transfer to a skilled nursing home after two years, that’s good news that skilled nursing homes are generally less expensive in the state.

Medicare And Medicaid

State Medicaid programs do not pay for room and board costs, but they may cover personal care and supportive services provided in assisted living communities. Assisted living communities are well aware of this, so they often break down their costs to allow residents to cover certain charges with Medicaid and the remaining charges with retirement funds.

Medicare does not cover long term care services and supports, so it generally does not cover assisted living care. However, there may be some overlap if the assisted living facility offers qualified health care services, like a pharmacy or on-site therapy. 

In such cases, the assisted living facility would bill Medicare for the qualified services, leaving the resident only responsible for any required co-pays.