What is Assisted Living?

What is Assisted Living?

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Assisted living definition

Assisted living is a type of long-term residential care for seniors who need some help with daily tasks like laundry, transportation, and medication management. Most senior communities are assisted living communities as it is the type of care that most seniors need. You might see that some communities refer to themselves as “retirement homes,” “senior residences,” or other terms, but the services they provide are usually assisted living services.

Assisted living facilities offer seniors room and board, 24-hour (non-medical) care, housekeeping, laundry services, social engagement, wellness programs, and much more. This 24-hour non-medical care typically includes helping residents with the activities of daily living (or ADLs): bathing, dressing, toileting, etc. Assisted living communities can be large, hotel-like properties, or more intimate single family homes (often called board and care or residential care homes). The types of services, amenities, and community atmosphere and culture, will vary from property to property.

The aging process is different for everyone. As people experience increased daily care needs, cognitive decline, social isolation, and/or the desire for a maintenance-free lifestyle, assisted living communities can be the best option. Assisted living can be the perfect balance for seniors who want to be independent, but also need some day-to-day assistance and care.

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What does assisted living typically look like?

Assisted living communities vary widely in size and style. Some might be smaller and more casually cozy, while others aim for the vibes of a luxury hotel. Typically, though, assisted living communities are comprised of communal areas (including dining rooms, libraries, game rooms, etc.) and private rooms. You could share your room with a roommate, or have your own suite, complete with kitchenette.

An example of an assisted living dining area. Photo credit: Bethany Retirement Community.


Typically you’ll be able to bring in some of your own furniture, as well as your art, family photos, and other home decor. Assisted living communities want their residents to feel at home. Assisted living communities might offer studios, one bedroom, or even two bedroom units to residents.

An example of a resident’s room. Photo credit: Ascension Living Resurrection Village.


Most assisted living communities will also have outdoor spaces, though they may be as simple as a modest patio or as grand as large gardens.

An outdoor space. Photo credit: Symphony Residences of Lincoln Park.


Assisted living communities might also offer theaters, exercise rooms, indoor and/or outdoor pools, chapels, salons, and private event rooms where you can hold family gatherings and celebrations. These amenities just depend on the size and style of the community.

Read our article on assisted living resident's rights to learn more of what you can expect from this type of community.

How does assisted living differ from other types of senior living?

Assisted living vs skilled nursing facilities (SNFs)

Often, families start their senior living search by looking for “nursing homes.” Although the public still uses the term “nursing home,” within the senior care industry it is all but obsolete. If any senior housing fits the term “nursing home,” however, it is Skilled Nursing Facilities. While assisted living provides help with daily living, SNFs offer much more involved medical care.

Most SNF residents spend the majority of their time sedentary: they might be bed or wheelchair bound with limited mobility. They need daily nursing care, such as help with a feeding tube, that an assisted living community could not provide. The majority of seniors don’t need the level of care SNFs provide, or only need it for a short period of time while recovering from an accident or surgery.

Assisted living vs. independent living

Seniors who choose independent living typically require very little, if any, daily assistance. Unlike in assisted living, independent living residents can get around, cook, bathe, clean, and manage the majority of their life without extra help. 

Independent living often provides day-to-day social activities and communal amenities, similar to gated communities or large condo associations. Living spaces are usually larger, apartment-style quarters with full kitchens, outdoor areas, private rooms, etc. Some senior communities (CCRCs) offer independent living units as well as assisted living and even memory care, allowing residents to age in place, or for spouses who need different levels of care to live on the same property together.