The Insider’s Guide to Understanding Assisted Living Costs
Many families worry that they won’t be able to fund assisted living costs, while also not having a realistic idea of how much it may cost. This confusion brings anxiety and may cause seniors and their loved ones to delay their search for assisted living, which can have very real consequences.
There’s a good reason for the confusion and anxiety families face when it comes to finding information on assisted living pricing, because there is no set universal guide.
Senior living communities don't all structure their pricing the same way, which can make it hard for consumers to compare. Additionally, community pricing for assisted living is usually dependent on the amount of care the new resident needs and varies based on location and other factors.
The good news is that you can get general information while also learning more about what factors into the overall monthly costs of assisted living. That’s what we’re doing here: 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 just asked for a “ballpark” figure? Well, Genworth has a few ballpark answers.
Let’s take a look. Genworth’s yearly report tells us that the median yearly cost of assisted living in the United States in 2021 was $54,000.
Genworth also has a handy state-by-state chart where you can get that ballpark idea of what the cost of assisted living may be in your area, or your loved one’s area. But remember that a “ballpark” figure doesn’t tell the whole picture—meaning that there are many factors involved to get to that number.
The biggest roles in assisted living pricing include the following:
- Level of care needed
- Location—even within the same city or town
- Community amenities and reputation
Factors Affecting Assisted Living Costs
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 generally pay less than seniors in New York City.
Take cost of living into consideration when you look at that ballpark number and what it might actually mean for your location. If your well-meaning cousin who lives four states away is telling you that assisted living shouldn’t cost more than $3,300 per month, take the general cost of living in your state and area into consideration 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, activity level, amenities, and literally everything else that adds value to a resident’s life.
Think of things like 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?
It’s important to think of care quality and service level as more than a luxury. Amenities and things like a private patio or having a beloved pet can make a huge impact on your loved one’s health and well-being.
Is it time to get help for you or your loved one? Take our 4-minute assessment to get more detail on the right direction for you.Take the Assessment
Most assisted living communities include (meaning that these things come at no additional cost) lifestyle help with:
- Apartment maintenance
- Light bulbs, 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, like walking and yoga
- Education, like arts and adult educational events
- Social, like group movies or fun outings
- Spiritual, like church or church groups
Cost of Services, Such as Memory Care
If your loved one needs services like memory care, it’s going to add to the monthly cost of assisted living. Memory care can add 20-30 percent to monthly senior living costs.
As many people know, 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’s good to prepare for what the increase in cost will be.
When considering assisted living communities, ask about the cost of memory care and what it includes. Note if a community refers to memory care 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.)
Other services, in addition to memory care, 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
Differing Costs Between Communities
Two communities in the same town or city could offer the same services, look the same, provide the same level of care, but have a different pricing structure. This boils down to how they run their business.
Additionally, the age of the community could be a factor. 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.
Most assisted living communities use one of three different billing models:
The all-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 “all-inclusive" can vary by community. For example, if your loved one needs incontinence services or medication management, make sure it’s within the all-inclusive model you choose, or it may be an extra cost.
The levels-of-care billing model typically includes:
- 3-4 service group tiers
- Lower costs for the lower levels of care
- Higher costs for the higher levels of care
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 not a good match for those who need memory care services. Someone who needs memory care will see 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 that it’s important to ensure a continuum of care for people with chronic or progressive conditions.
Make sure you 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 flex and grow with your loved one’s needs. Talk to the community representatives about future planning to ensure your loved one can age 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 this next stage of their life? If you’re reading this, it means you’ve been thinking about it a lot, and that it’s probably time.
Be prepared, and begin exploring communities. These days, assisted living communities offer both in-person and virtual tours to make it convenient and safe for everyone. See what’s out there, download out Assisted Living Pricing Guide below, and schedule a tour. We’d love to help you take that first step.
This post was originally published in May 2021 and updated in November 2022.