Assisted Living Options: What You Need to Know

By Dave Carpenter, AP Personal Finance Writer

CHICAGO (AP) — Assisted living may be in your future.

That may not be an ideal scenario for most retirees, given its association with a loss of independence. But it's becoming reality for many as living in retirement for decades becomes more common.

There are close to a million residents in some 38,000 assisted living facilities across the country, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. That population is expected to soar as the number of retired baby boomers continues to grow.

But even before their own retirement, many boomers are having to deal with placing elderly parents in an assisted living or other type of care facility. That means it's time to do some homework on this residential option — an intermediate step between independent living and nursing home care — and in many cases to cast aside preconceived ideas.

"The name has a connotation of 'I can't live by myself any more,'" says Ellen Eichelbaum, a Northport, N.Y.-based gerontologist whose company, The SpeakEasy Group, consults on aging issues. "But an assisted living facility provides a lot of the social and security issues that seniors are worried about."

It takes away the burden of having to care for your home and allows you to be part of a community, she says. And if you don't feel well, help is just a button away.

"You can still be near your kids," Eichelbaum says. "You can still go food shopping, you can go to the movies. You just won't have the burden of your house."

Here are some things you should know about assisted living facilities.

What they are

Assisted living facilities are residential communities that offer different levels of health or personal care services for seniors who want or need help with some daily activities — anything from cooking to transportation to dressing and bathing.

What they're not is nursing homes that address major medical needs. They are designed to provide a home-like setting for residents who want to live independently with minimal assistance.