Dear Savvy Senior,

Can you decipher the different types of housing options available to seniors, and recommend some good resources for locating them? I need to find a place for my elderly mother and could use some help.

Overwhelmed Daughter

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Dear Overwhelmed,

There’s a wide array of housing options available to seniors, but what’s appropriate for your mom will depend on her needs and financial situation. Here’s a rundown of the different levels of senior housing and some resources to help you choose one.

Independent living: If your mom is in relatively good health and self-sufficient, “independent living communities” are a top option that can offer a sense of community. Typically available to people over age 55, this type of senior housing is usually apartments or town homes that are fully functional. In addition, many communities also offer amenities such as meals served in a common dining area, housekeeping, transportation and a variety of social activities.

To locate this type of housing, contact your Area Agency on Aging (call 800-677-1116 to get your local number), or use an online search tool like Caring.com. Most of these communities are private pay only and can vary greatly in cost ranging anywhere from $1,500 to $6,000 per month. 

Assisted living: If your mom needs some help with daily living chores, she’ll probably need an “assisted living facility.” These facilities provide help with the activities of daily living – like bathing, dressing, eating, going to the bathroom – as needed, as well as meals, housekeeping, transportation, social activities and medication management. Many facilities also offer special “memory care units” for residents with dementia.

Costs for assisted living usually run between $3,000 and $6,000 per month depending on location and services needed. Most residents pay for assisted living from personal funds, while some have long-term care insurance policies. And many state Medicaid programs today also cover some assisted living costs for financially eligible residents.

Another similar, but less expensive option to look into is “board and care homes.” These offer many of the same services as assisted living facilities but in a much smaller home setting. 

Your Area Aging Agency is again a good resource for finding assisted living facilities and board care homes, as is Caring.com.

Nursing homes: If your mom needs ongoing medical and personal care or has very limited mobility, a nursing home, which provides 24-hour skilled nursing care is the next option. To find a good one, use Medicare’s nursing home compare tool at Medicare.gov/care-compare. This tool will not only help you locate nursing homes in your area, it also provides a 5-star rating system on recent health inspections, staffing, quality of care, and overall rating.

But be aware that nursing home care is very expensive, costing anywhere between $4,500 and $13,000 per month for a semi-private room depending on where you live. Most residents pay from either personal funds, a long-term care insurance policy or through Medicaid after their savings are depleted.

Continuing-care retirement communities (CCRCs): If your mom has the financial resources, a “CCRC” is another option that provides all levels of housing (independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing home care) in one convenient location. But these communities typically require a hefty entrance fee that can range from $20,000 to $500,000 or more, plus ongoing monthly service fees that vary from around $2,000 to over $4,000. To search for CCRC’s visit Caring.com.

Need Help?

If you’re not sure what your mom needs, consider hiring an aging life care expert (AgingLifeCare.org) who can assess your mom and find her appropriate housing for a fee – usually between $300 and $800. Or you can use a senior care advising service like A Place for Mom (APlaceForMom.com) for free. They get paid from the senior living facilities in their network.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.