What is Assisted Living and Does My Loved One Need It?

A senior man sits on a blue bench in a sunny park

You may have noticed that your senior loved one is having day-to-day difficulties, and you’re wondering if a senior living community might be a good fit. With all the senior living options available, how do you know what’s the best fit for your loved one? What levels of care are appropriate? And most of all, what is assisted living and does your loved one need it?


With these questions swimming around in your mind, it can be difficult to know what to look for to move forward. To help you and your senior loved one confidently navigate this process, we’re digging into your top questions about assisted living.

What is assisted living?

Senior assisted living is designed for people who need different levels of care and services each day, both medical and personal. Assisted living residences are usually apartments or, in some cases, companion suites.

Assisted living is as unique as each senior who needs it, and it offers a wide variety of amenities and services. While their medical and personal needs are being taken care of, residents are free to enjoy doing whatever they want to do, from visiting with family and friends in their apartment to taking an excursion to see a local show. Depending on the location, seniors in assisted living may also have access to on-site chef-styled meals, religious services, and physical activities such as yoga. 

What is memory care?

Memory care and assisted living are similar. However, memory care provides special assistance for seniors who have memory issues related to Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia. 

If your loved one has dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other memory issues, make sure any assisted living community you choose offers memory care services and take into account how it will impact your loved one’s overall monthly senior living costs.

What is assisted living like?

Assisted living communities should help residents feel comfortable and relaxed, meeting each individual’s wants and needs while helping them maintain an appropriate level of independence. Assisted living should offer daily assistance with activities, ranging from household cleaning to managing medications.

Assisted living communities typically offer:

  • Meals with different dietary options
  • Medication management 
  • Housekeeping and laundry
  • 24-hour care, including emergency care
  • Enriching social and recreational activities

What levels of care are included with assisted living?

Senior living communities have come a long way. Instead of the one-size-fits-all approach of the past, today’s senior living communities provide a variety of options and care levels to meet almost anyone’s individual needs. 

Assisted living residents have a variety of needs, and they should never be treated as such. To ensure each resident’s needs are met, assisted living communities offer various levels of care, including the following.

Supportive Care

Supportive care focuses on delivering in-person reminders for residents to complete daily tasks such as brushing their teeth. This minimal level of care is designed to ensure that regular, healthy habits are maintained, not overlooked.

Assistive Care

Assistive care is more attentive and supervisory, including in-person reminders such as those included in supportive care, plus one-on-one assistance in completing personal care tasks when needed.

Comprehensive Care

Comprehensive care is the maximum level of care, putting the responsibility of all daily personal care tasks in the hands of a trained, encouraging staff member.

Medication Management

Care that includes medication management is crucial to ensuring a high quality of life for most seniors.


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Which seniors benefit the most from assisted living?

If you’re wondering what type of senior benefits from assisted living, the answer is pretty simple: Many different people benefit from assisted living. 

Forget about outdated, bleak responses to the question, “What is assisted living?” Today, assisted living is all about focusing on a resident’s holistic needs, from medical care to daily activities and choices that make them happy. Assisted living communities welcome residents’ families, offer spaces for special events, and plan social activities and outings for residents. Many worried adult children end up realizing when their parents moved to an assisted living community, they were empowered to be more active and social and relieved of the burdens of homeownership. 

Seniors who thrive in assisted living environments include those who: 

  • Are tired of the daily maintenance of a house and are ready to let someone else do the cleaning and yard work while they do what makes them happy
  • Need assistance but also still want to be independent
  • Enjoy making new friends and creating tight bonds with others

What are the signs my loved one needs assisted living?

The hardest question people must answer is, “How do I know when my loved one needs assisted living?” Answering this question is a process involving you, your loved one, appropriate family members, and your loved one’s healthcare professionals. Choosing to search for a senior assisted living community for your loved one should come after plenty of thought and consideration. 

If you’re looking for confirmation of signs you already suspect, here are a few questions to ask yourself. If the answer is yes, it might be time to start talking about assisted living:

  • Are my loved one’s medical conditions getting worse?
  • Is my loved one having trouble managing their medication?
  • Is my loved one struggling to handle money properly?
  • Is my loved one becoming more isolated and depressed?
  • Is my loved one falling behind on personal hygiene and grooming?
  • Is my loved one more sedentary and depressed?

Check Your Loved One’s ADLs and IADLs 

Determining the level of care your loved one may need can seem overwhelming, especially because you know the stakes of making the right decision. If it hasn’t happened already, see if your loved one’s healthcare professional will perform an “activities of daily living” (ADL) and/or “instrumental activities of daily living” (IADL) check. 

Activities of daily living (ADLs) include:

  • Feeding
  • Dressing
  • Bathing
  • Walking

Instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) are those activities that help an individual to live independently in a community, and they include:

  • Managing a budget, including handling the ATM, checks, bills, and so forth
  • Remembering doctor’s appointments and medications
  • Handling housework, meal preparation, and shopping
  • Using the phone and computer to communicate

Healthcare professionals often use an ADL/IADL worksheet to chart these benchmarks and determine the level of care that a senior needs. The checklist is helpful in ballparking the level of care your loved one needs, but have a healthcare professional assess your loved one for an accurate idea of what type of assisted living is appropriate.

How do I learn more about different senior lifestyle options?

Now you’re empowered with more information to answer the question “What is assisted living?” Next, it’s time to dig deeper into learning more about personal care, memory care, or even independent senior living. 

Find out this information—as well as what amenities and services you can expect when searching for a senior living community for your loved one—with our guide to Understanding Senior Living Lifestyle Options.

Have questions about senior living lifestyle options?

*Originally published February 2021. Updated May 2023.

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