Before looking into senior living options, many families write off assisted living because of unrealistic assumptions about how much it costs. This misconception about price is widespread because no universal guide or pricing standard exists for determining assisted living costs. In reality, assisted living costs vary substantially according to several factors.
If you’re trying to decide if assisted living is right for your senior loved one, you might need help understanding how pricing works. Not all senior living communities structure pricing the same way, which makes it challenging to compare pricing models. Additionally, assisted living community pricing usually depends on the amount of care the new resident needs, and it varies based on location as well as a handful of other considerations.
The good news is that you can get general information while also learning more about what factors into overall monthly assisted living costs. That’s what we’re doing in this article: pulling back the assisted living pricing curtain with solid information about what to expect.
How Much Does Assisted Living Cost?
How many times have you asked for a “ballpark” figure? Although it may not be completely accurate, it gives you a general idea of what adults typically spend on assisted living.
The National Council on Aging reports that the average yearly cost of assisted living in the United States is $54,000, which breaks down to $4,500 per month. Genworth offers a helpful state-by-state chart where you can get a ballpark idea of how much assisted living costs in your area or your senior loved one’s area.
However, keep in mind that a “ballpark” figure doesn’t reveal the whole picture because many factors come into play when calculating the monthly price. The biggest influences on assisted living costs include the following:
- Level of care needed
- Location, even within the same city or town
- Community amenities and reputation
Factors Affecting Assisted Living Cost
Let’s get a little more specific and take a closer look at what impacts assisted living costs.
Cost of Living
This is a big one. The cost of living in Kansas City, for example, is far less than the cost of living in New York City. This makes it likely that Kansas City seniors will pay less for assisted living than seniors in New York City.
Take the overall cost of living in your specific area into consideration when looking at that ballpark number, and consider what it means for your choice of location. If your well-meaning cousin who lives four states away says that assisted living shouldn’t cost more than $3,300 per month, account for the cost of living in both locations before you take what they say as the last word.
Quality of Care and Services
When it comes to quality of care and services, think beyond the clinical. Overall quality includes care level, surroundings, activities, amenities, and virtually everything else that adds value to a resident’s life.
When it comes to understanding care needs, consider the following:
- Does your loved one get a private apartment?
- Does the apartment have a private patio?
- Can they bring their cat or dog?
- Is the food chef quality?
Think of care quality and service level as a necessity as opposed to a luxury. Sought-after features like a private patio or pet-friendly housing can make a huge impact on your loved one’s health and well-being.
Amenities and Activities Offered
Most assisted living costs include (meaning that these perks come at no additional cost):
- Apartment maintenance
- Light bulb changing, photo hanging, and other helpful household chores
Additionally, most assisted living communities include opportunities to participate in a range of enriching and fun activities, including:
- Fitness opportunities such as walking and yoga
- Educational events such as art classes and museum outings
- Social gatherings such as group movies
- Spiritual activities such as church or synagogue services
The availability and extent of these activities will affect how much assisted living community members ultimately pay.
Cost of Additional Services (Such as Memory Care)
If your senior loved one needs specialty services like memory care, it will add to the monthly cost of assisted living. Estimates show that memory care typically adds 20-30 percent to monthly senior living costs.
Memory care is for seniors with all types of dementia who need more comprehensive care. Even if your loved one doesn’t need memory care now, it’s wise to plan for the future. People with early-stage dementia may need to transition to memory care, and it helps to prepare for the increase in cost.
Is it the right time for memory care? Learn about your options and get personalized results in about 4 minutes.Take the Quiz
When considering assisted living communities, ask about the cost of memory care and what it includes. Take note if a community refers to its memory care services as “Alzheimer’s care,” and ask if that includes care for all types of dementia. Some types of dementia manifest with speech issues or behavioral problems first, and memory impairments only come later.
In addition to memory care, other specialized services that may cost more include:
- Help with bathing, grooming, and dressing
- Incontinence services
- Medication management
- Some social and recreational activities (although these are usually included, some pricing models have them at an extra cost)
- Transportation services to public events or personal appointments
Billing Models and Cost Differentiators Between Communities
Two communities in the same town or city could offer the same services, look the same, and provide the same level of care, but have entirely different pricing structures. This boils down to how they run their business.
One cost factor could be the age of the community. For example, a new structure may cost more than one that’s a few decades old. Staff size, taxes, and insurance also can have an impact on price.
In addition, most assisted living communities use one of the three following billing models:
The inclusive billing model typically includes:
- Monthly rent
- Recreational activities
- Anything everything else residents need or is required by state law
Tip: Remember that the definition of “inclusive" can vary by community. For example, if your loved one needs incontinence services or medication management, ensure those services are included in the inclusive model you choose, or it may add an extra cost.
The levels-of-care billing model typically includes:
- 3-4 service group tiers
- Lower costs for lower levels of care
- Higher costs for higher levels of care
Tip: Although your senior loved one may not need higher levels of care right now, be sure to understand the prices of higher care levels in case of a sudden change or gradual decline in health.
The fee-for-service billing model typically includes an additional cost for each care service (also referred to as “à la carte pricing”).
Tip: This model is often not a good match for those who need memory care services. Someone who needs memory care will receive more benefits with a more comprehensive and flexible model, where staff attention and services can be adjusted as needed.
Think About Future Assisted Living Costs
While you’re thinking about what it’s going to cost today, also think of future senior living costs. We can’t stress enough how essential a continuum of care is for people with chronic or progressive conditions.
Work to create a plan where your loved one can age in place, no matter what the coming years bring. This is especially important with memory care. Wherever you choose, make sure they have memory care services that will accommodate your loved one’s changing needs. Talk to community representatives about future planning to discuss your loved one’s options for aging in place.
Start the Conversation About Senior Living Costs
Is it time to talk to your loved one about their needs and desires when it comes to the next stage of life? Luckily, you now have the information you need to participate in a productive and compassionate conversation regarding their assisted living options.
You can further prepare by exploring communities to narrow down which ones may be the best fit. These days, assisted living communities offer both in-person and virtual tours, making the experience convenient and safe for everyone.
After you see what’s out there, download our Insider’s Guide to Understanding Assisted Living Pricing below, and don’t hesitate to schedule a tour with us so we can help you take that first step.
This post was originally published in May 2021 and updated in February 2024.