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Nearly 13 million residents of California are age 50 or older, which means there are more seniors in the state of California than residents of any age in states like Illinois, Pennsylvania or Ohio. This seems like a huge number, but where does California stand when it comes to the percentage of older adults in the population or the quality of their lives?
California, it turns out, is among the youngest states. The median age is 36.7, the eighth-youngest median age in the country, and 32 percent of the total population is over the age of 50. That compares to about 35 percent of the country as a whole.
What else can we learn about the state of California seniors? The state is young overall, but it has the second-highest life expectancy, and senior-led households tend to have relatively high standards of living.
*Includes Black, Native American, Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander or individuals of one or more other races, and Hispanic/Latinx people of any race.
California’s Senior Living Costs
With a steep housing index of 152.30, it’s obvious that California is not one of the more affordable states to retire in. Areas of Northern California such as the Bay Area, Santa Clara County, Contra Costa County and Alameda County all contribute to this high housing index. Generally speaking, it is actually one of the most expensive states to live in the country. Still, many seniors find it to be a worthwhile investment and choice to spend their final years here. To put costs into perspective, one bedroom apartments in California average out to $1,142 a month to rent. The national average sits at only $825 a month. Need more space? Two bedroom apartments here are even more costly, at $1,459 a month on average. The national average for a two bedroom apartment is only $1,027 a month. Some of the top-rated cities to retire in the state include Thousand Oaks, Saratoga, and Torrance.
Curious about what the monthly living costs for seniors in California are like? Let’s take a look at some numbers.
Seniors who are mostly healthy and independently active have the luxury of living in their own residences. Depending on whether they have a caregiver living with them, they may or may not need home health care services. These services include basic things like housekeeping, help with running errands, and meal prep, for example. In the event that home health care services are necessary, you can expect to pay an average monthly cost of $4,767 a month in California.
California also has plenty of day care centers for the elderly. It’s only natural for caregivers to need some time out of the day to take care of their other obligations and recharge. So, adult day care would provide seniors a supervised place to stay during the day. At adult day care, seniors can expect to participate in social activities, therapy, and receive some basic health services as needed. Bear in mind that since adult day care does not include extensive nursing care, it is ideal for those who are healthy and independent. On average, it costs $1,668 a month to stay at an adult day care facility in The Golden State.
Assisted living facilities are available statewide for older people who need help with Activities of Daily Living. Assisted living is not to be mixed up with nursing home care, as it is not as extensive. Think of assisted living as an intermediate form of long-term care. For an average cost of $4,275 a month, Californian seniors can get access to health services and receive personal care at an assisted living facility.
Nursing home care is the most expensive form of care. Seniors in California who cannot live independently at home and do not have caregivers helping them out typically live in nursing homes to receive the proper care and supervision needed to get through each day. Nursing homes also provide residents with any required medications, therapy, rehabilitation, and skilled nursing care all day and night. Depending on whether you opt for a semi-private room or a fully private room, you can expect to pay anywhere from $8,114 to $9,703 a month on average.
Living Options for Senior Californians
There is certainly no shortage of living options for California’s seniors. Plenty of independent living, assisted living, memory care, and nursing home care facilities are available throughout the state to provide for the elderly and help them to live their best final years. Which one you end up choosing will ultimately depend on individual needs and circumstances. If you’re still trying to decide which one is best for your lifestyle, take a look at what each option offers below.
There are more than 1,400 independent living facilities in California. Independent living facilities are essentially retirement communities designed specifically for seniors aged 55 and up. Independent living is best for older people who are healthy and active, and don’t require 24/7 nursing care. The average costs of independent living facilities range from $542 to $4,950 a month.
The most common type of independent senior living is apartment living. Apartments typically include services like transportation, meals, and recreational programs, along with attractive amenities for residents to enjoy such as walking trails, small gyms, pools and jacuzzis, and more.
Independent living facilities may also take the form of housing units and subsidized housing. Housing units are like single-family homes, condos, duplexes, mobile homes, and the like. It’s different from apartment living in that it give seniors the option to buy if they prefer that, over renting. Subsidized housing is available for low-income seniors. There are certain requirements you must meet to qualify for subsidized housing, and oftentimes there are lengthy wait lists.
If you are looking to live in California without stretching your retirement funds too much, then it may be worthwhile to check out housing options in the Yuba City area where living prices are generally lower. The highest living costs in the state are in the Santa Maria and Santa Barbara metropolitan areas.
California is home to more than 4,500 assisted living facilities statewide. It costs anywhere from $987 to $9,000 a month, largely dependent on where you choose to live. Similar to independent living, it generally costs more to live in city areas, and less in the suburban areas. Unlike independent living where seniors are able to live by themselves, assisted living takes place at facilities that provide a group living environment. Seniors who are not able to live independently or choose not to live by themselves may look into staying at an assisted living facility in The Golden State. Assisted living facilities also are great for those with disabilities. Trained caregivers and health professionals work to provide the elderly with access to healthcare and social opportunities, along with help with everyday tasks like transportation, meal prep, laundry, housekeeping, and more. Assisted living facilities are monitored 24/7 to ensure safety.
Memory care is a specialized type of long-term care for the specific needs of seniors with memory loss. Caring for a senior with memory loss is not the same as care for other seniors, as memory loss can create an extreme case of helplessness and stress brought on from not remembering basic things like how to put on clothing, or in more extreme cases, not recognizing themselves in the mirror. Memory care goes above and beyond by providing monitoring of the senior all day and night, to reduce the chances of a senior wandering off and getting lost or having a health issue that needs immediate attention. Staff will also help residents with day to day tasks, in an environment that is built to be less stressful and easy to navigate.
California has not slouched off in regards to memory care, with over 2,000 memory care facilities operating within the state. The average cost of memory care in California is $65,250 a year, with costs ranging from a low of $1,431 up to $13,050 a month. Location plays a big factor in memory costs as well, with Santa Barbara being amongst the most expensive areas for memory care. Santa Barbara has an average memory care cost of $101,475 a year, much higher than nearly the entire nation. The lowest cost area for memory care in California is around Yuba City, where the average annual cost was nearly half, at just $59,400.
California’s senior population is expected to grow by four million by the year 2030, with a higher percentage of those seniors being unmarried or without any children to help take care of them. This puts greater emphasis on senior living providers to fill in the gap of care that’d otherwise be provided by a senior’s family. California policy makers are working on ways to provide in-home care for as long as possible, to lighten the load on nursing homes. However, for seniors needing higher levels of care, then nursing homes will be absolutely necessary. We’ll go over a few of the nursing home types available below.
Adult Day Care Facilities
Adult day care centers are a great compromise for seniors needing a greater level of care, but don’t need it professionally provided 24/7 due to having family help in the evenings and through the night. During the day, the primary caregiver, such as a daughter, son, or spouse, can tend to their job, or raising their own children, while their elderly loved one is receiving professional care at a day care center.
At the adult day care center, the senior will receive all their needed meals, and have staff on hand at all times to assist with anything that is needed, including bathing and other personal hygiene tasks, and taking medications. Another benefit of adult day care is the social aspect of it. Seniors can meet others their age and at the same life stage, so that they have others to relate to and bond with. Adult day care often have group activities to encourage socialization and ward off boredom and loneliness. Some activities include live music by local musicians for seniors to move and dance if possible, pet therapy visits, and of course an all time favorite – Bingo nights. There are also trivia nights and flower arranging for more cognitively stimulating activities.
Costs of adult day care in California can vary greatly based on location and how expansive the facility may be (some have large gardens or new technologies). To give a basic idea of costs though, the average cost of the over 200 day care facilities in state comes out to be $19,830 a year. The area surrounding and within Chico has the highest average costs, coming out to a very high $37,700 a year. Madera, on the other hand, has the lowest average costs, at a very low $7,475 per year.
Hospice care is generally a team-oriented approach to providing terminally ill seniors the best quality of life possible during their final stage of life. Seniors can expect to receive professional medical care from trained nurses and on-site physician, emotional support from counselors, and even spiritual support through chaplain services. Grief counseling is also often provided for family members. One factor to keep in mind, is that seniors can’t be admitted into hospice care without a doctor’s note that expressly says the senior is expected to pass on within 6 months. Providing hospice care as early as possible is both helpful and therapeutic for the senior and their family, as professional care helps everyone get through this trying time in a more constructive way.
California has over 500 hospices available throughout the state. Costs are almost always covered by Medicare through the Medicare Hospice Benefit. Medi-Cal can also cover the costs of hospice care when income and assets are low. Some private insurances also have benefits that would cover the costs of hospice care, but seniors will want to check and make sure. Hospice staff would be able to help with any questions or concerns in regards to filing the right paperwork and taking advantage of any available benefits to be sure hospice care is fully covered and paid for.
Respite Care Facilities
Many family members who take on the role of being a caregiver for their elderly loved one, underestimate how emotionally draining it can be, and can even lead to depression and health problems for the caregiver. Respite care is meant to relieve the caregiver of the demands of senior care, so that they don’t develop caregiver burnout. Respite care can be arranged to have the professional caregiver come to the senior’s home for temporary bouts of time, or have the senior live at a respite care facility for a bit.
The duration of respite care can be open ended, but most often it is for short bouts of time due to how costly it can be, and respite care is generally not covered by insurances. Location can also affect the cost of respite care. Of the 1,700+ respite care facilities in California, the average cost is $86,815 per year according to a study be Genworth Financial. The range in costs can be from $5,916 a month, up to an exorbitant $34,800 a month. Seniors and their families will definitely want to research their respite care options to see what is within budget while providing the necessary amount of care.
Local Assistance and Support for Seniors and Individuals with Disabilities in California
State Sponsored Assistance
Where at all possible, California provides the means to avoid nursing home placement through their Medi-Cal assistance program (California’s version of Medicaid). For low-income qualifying seniors and individuals living with disabilities, Medi-Cal offers five different categories of support:
- In-Home Supportive Services Program (IHSS)
IHSS is designed for low-income seniors and individuals living with a disability who are medically independent but need assistance with daily routine tasks such as housecleaning, grocery shopping, errands, and similar activities. California’s Medi-Cal program offers IHSS as a mechanism seniors can use to remain independent and out of convalescent care facilities. A convenient feature of this program is the senior’s ability to choose their provider, which can be a family member or friend.
This program is available to any person who meets the eligibility requirements, not just low-income seniors. Plus, there is no cap or enrollment restrictions, so if you qualify, you’re entitled to IHSS services. Visit California’s Department of Social Services IHSS site for more information.
- Assisted Living Waiver Program (ALWP)
The ALWP is designed for limited-income seniors and individuals with disabilities who need extra assistance but who do not want to enter a nursing home (convalescent care). The ALWP covers the cost of assisted living services such as personal care, medication administration, and meal delivery or preparation. Other assisted living costs, such as room and board in assisted living facilities, are not covered by ALWP.
The ALWP is a waiver program, which in California means there is an enrollment cap. Once the cap has been reached, qualifying participants will fall onto a waitlist until a slot opens. Currently ALWP is available in the following locations: Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Kern, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Francisco, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Sonoma. For additional details on this program, visit California’s Department of Health Care Services ALWP site.
- Multipurpose Senior Services Program (MSSP)
Another waiver program offered through Medi-Cal is the MSSP, which covers the cost of support services, in-home modifications, and daily personal care for seniors and individuals with disabilities who qualify for nursing homes but who wish to receive care at home.
MSSP does not cover any medical care costs, and it is limited in availability across the state (available in every county except twelve: Alpine County, Colusa County, Del Norte County, Inyo County, Mono County, Nevada County, Plumas County, San Benito County, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Sierra, and Sutter County). Maximum total enrollment is capped at just over 11,000 participants. More information is available at California’s Department of Health Care Services MSSP page.
- Home and Community-Based Alternatives (HCBA) Waiver
To encourage returning to home for qualifying nursing facility residents who wish to do so, Medi-Cal’s HCBA waiver program provides all care necessary for a senior to receive extensive medical and personal care, plus support services at home.
To qualify, you don’t have to currently live in a nursing home; but nursing home residents will receive priority. The HCBA program is open to individuals of all ages who require full assisted living and medical care due to a physical disability or medical care requirement. Strict requirement guidelines apply, which can be found on the California DHCS HCBA page.
- Community Based Adult Services (CBAS) Program
To assist with daytime-related care activities, such as medical assistance, meals, social activities, therapy, and other support services, seniors may qualify for Medi-Cal’s California CBAS program available through one of the over 200 local community day care facilities located throughout the state.
A California state social worker will assess the needs of any low-income senior or disabled individual applicant and work with a team of care providers to create a comprehensive care plan. To learn more about this waiver program, visit the California DHCS CBAS webpage.
Other Publicly Available Assistance for Seniors and Individuals with Disabilities
- Area Agencies on Aging
Through funding by the Older American Act, nationally dispersed Area Agencies on Aging can provide limited support services but no hands-on care. These support services include meal delivery or group meals, assistance with paperwork and care planning, counseling on respite care and caregiver training, and transportation coordination. For more information or to find a center in your area, visit the National Association Area Agencies on Aging website.
- California’s Paid Family Leave (PFL) Act
The PFL Act is a state-wide relief effort for individuals who need to leave work to care for seriously ill family members or registered domestic partners. The act provides up to 70% of an individual’s normal wage to care for their family member. To learn more, visit California’s Employment Development Department page.
- Benefits.gov and BenefitsCheckUp.org
Benefits.gov and BenefitsCheckUp.org are one-stop shops for seniors to find services both nationally and locally, that help with the cost and difficulty of assisted living in all forms. While Benefits.gov is designed for everyone, BenefitsCheckUp.org specifically focuses on benefits for seniors. Visit either site to find resources available in your area, information about qualifications, and how to apply.
- Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Reverse Mortgage Counseling
Obtaining a reverse mortgage is one way to stay in your own home while increasingly relying on outside assistance as you grow older, since home ownership can be an asset. Reviewing the pros and cons of a reverse mortgage is essential before signing on the dotted line. HUD offers sponsored reverse mortgage counseling for a one-time upfront fee, to help you make the most informed decisions about your financial options for your future.
- California Prescription Drug Discount Program For Medicare Recipients
To help with the high cost of prescription drugs, California offers a prescription drug discount program for Medicare recipients, allowing them to pay for drugs at Medi-Cal prices. You must use a participating pharmacy to benefit from this program, and show the pharmacist your Medicare card for proof of eligibility.
- Medi-Cal Share of Cost Program
You may be eligible for Medi-Cal benefits even if you do not initially qualify due to income. By spending down your income, you can meet the limits Medi-Cal requires. You’ll do this by submitting current paid or unpaid medical bills higher or equal to your monthly assigned spend-down amount. Once your medical bills hit this limit, Medi-Cal coverage will kick in. Details of this program are provided by the California HealthCare Foundation, which can be accessed here.
Financial & Medical Assistance for Senior Veterans
- VA Health Care System
If you’re a low-income, service-disabled, or combat veteran, you may be among the highest-priority recipients for benefits administered by the VA Healthcare system. All honorably discharged veterans may apply but will receive service per priority ranking.
The VA Healthcare system can provide medical benefits including home health services, nursing home coverage, and medical treatment. They can also provide primary healthcare, eyeglasses, assistive hearing devices, dental coverage, mental health services, rehab services, and more. Visit the Department of Veterans Affairs for further information on possible coverage.
- TriCare Senior Pharmacy Program
If you receive Medicare, the TriCare Senior Pharmacy Program will pick up additional costs of prescription drugs after Medicare has paid its share. Check out the TriCare Pharmacy page for details on this program.
- CalVet Housing Resources
California has created CalVet to combat homelessness and home insecurity for senior veterans. Resources offered by CalVet include veterans group homes, affordable housing options for veterans, HUD vouchers, domiciliary care, and more. Visit the CalVet resource page for a full listing of services and eligibility requirements.
Mental Health Resources for California Seniors
- Alzheimer’s Association Community Resource Finder
This service helps in housing searches for seniors living with Alzheimer’s Disease and their families. Searchable housing options include skilled nursing facilities, assisted living options, independent living, and continuing care retirement communities. You can access the Alzheimer’s Association Community Resource Finder here.
- Caregiver Resource Centers
California hosts a number of Caregiver Resource Centers throughout the state to assist family and friends caring for older Californians living with mental health and physical health conditions. These centers provide mental health support and training to caregivers so they can continue to support their aging loved ones.
Support Resources for LGBTQ+ California Seniors
- SAGE Advocacy for LGBTQ+ Elders
SAGE is a community resource for older LGBTQ+ individuals in need of support in their community, whether that be through caregiver education, community connection, or other social advocacy. You can find out more about their services at the SAGE website.
- Services for Transgender Older Adults and Adults with Disabilities
The San Francisco Department of Disability and Aging Services (DAS) has introduced new funding for support services for seniors who are transgender or seniors with disabilities to promote inclusion and increased participation in general DAS service.
- California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR)
CANHR promotes fair and just treatment in nursing homes and other assisted living environments for older LGBTQ+ community members. You can reach out to CANHR for support via their website: http://www.canhr.org/lgbt/.
Support Resources for Senior Individuals of Color
- Black Emotional and Mental Health Initiative (BEAM)
California based BEAM provides mental health services and support for Black and marginalized communities. Access the BEAM site to find a nationwide directory of providers, support networks, and social functions.
Language Translation Services
Anyone receiving medical care in the state of California has the right, by law to obtain translation services if needed, either for a verbal language or sign language. You can learn more about your rights and how to obtain services for your medical appointments at the California Department of Managed Healthcare Language Assistance page.
Support Service Hotline Numbers
- SAGE’s National LGBT Elder Hotline: 1(877) 360-LGBT (Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in English or Spanish)
- Community and Social Services: 211
- Alzheimer’s Association Hotline: 1(800) 272-3900 (24 hour helpline)
- California Aging and Adult Information Line: 1(800) 510-2020
- Friendship Line (Crisis Intervention Hotline): 1(888) 670-1360
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): 1(800) 985-5990 or 1(800) 662-HELP
- DMHC Help Center: 1(888) 466-2219
- Department of Social Services Senior/Elder Services: (800) 677-1116
Annual rental cost, Zillow Rent Index, States
Job openings, pulled from Indeed.com and SimplyHired.com in April 2020
Employment and wages, Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2019 publication
Household income and population figures, U.S. Census Bureau, most recent publications on all topics