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Senior Retirement Lifestyles

Whether you need help finding the right retirement community for a loved one or for yourself, we'll show you what to expect from each senior lifestyle option. We know this can be a stressful period in your life so we'll try to make it easy. We'll give you just the facts.

According to The Assisted Living Federation of America: “Senior living (or senior housing and care) is a lifestyle choice for individuals seeking an independent lifestyle with as much assistance as they need or want. The settings are just like our own homes, but with the added advantage of meals and entertainment, housekeeping, transportation, and assistance with daily activities.”

How Do You Know When it's Time to Consider Senior Living?

  • Performing daily activities is difficult without help from others.
  • You are no longer able to drive because of loss of vision.
  • Shopping for yourself is hard because you get fatigued.
  • Cleaning your home is a task you're no longer physically able to do.
  • Your memory loss has reached a point where you need assistance for safe daily living.
  • You could be living alone and desire the company of others.

Some seniors have no trouble taking care of themselves; they just want to live with their peers in an independent community that is senior-focused.Let's look at these lifestyle choices.

Senior Living Lifestyle Choices

There are four main options for senior living:

  1. Independent Living Communities
  2. Assisted Living Communities
  3. Nursing Homes
  4. Memory Care or a Special Care Unit (SCU) – special option for Alzheimer's disease or dementia

Independent Living Communities

Independent Living Communities are places for active, healthy seniors who are able to live on their own. The main highlights of independent living communities:

  • Home, townhouse, apartment, mobile home or motor home
  • Rent or buy
  • Usually for those age 55 or older
  • Offer amenities like clubhouses, gyms, yard maintenance, housekeeping and security.
  • Also, transportation, laundry service, group meals and social activities
  • On-site attendant
  • Cost between $1,500 to $10,000 per month

Retirement Homes & Communities

Retirement Homes and Communities is a broad term covering many senior housing options including active senior housing communities, age-restricted communities, independent living communities and assisted living communities. The main highlights of retirement homes and communities:

  • Housing option for those wishing to remain as independent as possible
  • Single family home, condo, apartment, mobile home or motorhome
  • Rent or buy
  • Usually for those 55 or older
  • Amenities vary but may include walking trails, medical facilities, fitness center, golf course, athletic courts or community centers
  • Communities may target certain populations, such as catering to singles, RV living, resort and golf communities, etc.
  • Designed with the older adult in mind: single-level floor plans, higher toilets, etc.
  • Often close to conveniences such as hospitals, shopping centers and restaurants
  • Costs range widely, depending upon location, amenities, floor plans, etc.

Senior Apartments

Senior Apartments offer a low-maintenance, lower-priced lifestyle. The main highlights of senior apartments:

  • Studios, suites, one bedroom or two bedrooms; private or shared; furnished and unfurnished
  • Apartments, townhomes, condos, duplexes or triplexes
  • Independent living and assisted living
  • Typically rented
  • Maintenance indoors and out provided
  • Usually for those 55 or older
  • Amenities and services may include communal dining, recreational and educational activities, housekeeping, laundry, dining and social activities
  • Calm, quiet outdoor spaces
  • Designed and built with the needs of seniors in mind: no or limited stairs, handicap accessible apartments, handrails in the bathroom, etc.
  • Costs vary greatly, depending upon location, amenities, floor plans, etc.
  • Low-income options available

Senior Co-op Housing

Senior Cooperative Housing is for the active older adult who wants to own their own home and wants a say in how the community they live in is run. Senior cooperative housing provides a great way to transition from home ownership to a more maintenance-free lifestyle. The main highlights of senior cooperative housing:

  • You own the buildings and land collectively with other residents
  • Part of a non-profit corporation (with a board of directors) as a shareholder
  • Single-family, townhomes, multi-family, apartments, mobile homes, etc.
  • Often have community gardens, on-site activities and clubs
  • Age restricted: 80% of homes must have at least one member who is 55 or older
  • Amenities may include community gardens, social activities, workshop, community kitchen, etc.
  • Typical price ranges between $100K to $225K or more

Active Senior Communities

Active Senior Communities are the perfect choice for the healthy and active senior who is able to live independently.  The main highlights of active senior communities:

  • Buy or rent
  • Single-family home, apartment complex, townhome, condo, mobile home or motor
  • Age restricted to 55 or older
  • Services and amenities may include housekeeping, yard maintenance, clubhouses, gyms, social activities and more, with a profusion of activities geared to the desires of the active senior
  • Costs range widely, depending upon location, amenities, floor plans, etc.

Assisted Living Communities

Assisted Living Communities are for seniors who value their independence but who may need some assistance with their daily activities such as meals, dressing, bathing, help with medication and transportation. The main features of an assisted living community:

  • Condos or apartments with 25 to 120 units
  • Single rooms to full apartments
  • Three meals a day in a common dining area
  • Staff available for personal needs
  • Amenities like 24-hour security, housekeeping, medication management, laundry service, exercise programs, social activities and transportation
  • Emergency call systems in-house
  • Care for dementia/Alzheimer's patients
  • Median rate for private one-bedroom apartment is $2,575 a month

Home Care

Home Care allows a person to remain in the comfort of their own home while receiving the care services they require. The primary care provider is generally a family member, often a spouse. Home care may not be feasible if extensive or medically intensive care is needed.  It is often chosen when someone is ill or recovering from surgery or when help is required with ADLs (activities of daily living) due to “normal aging.” The main highlights of home care:

  • Receive care required in the familiar surroundings of home
  • Care providers are family members, home health aides, nurses, physical/occupational therapists and volunteers come to your home
  • Benefits include convenience, better quality of life and lower medical bills
  • Familiar surroundings of home are especially beneficial to someone with dementia
  • Costs range from $0 to $40 per hour

Adult Day Care

Adult Day Care provides care services for adults in a daytime facility, allowing the primary care provider to go to work or receive needed respite. The main highlights of adult day care:

  • Safe environment for adults with dementia or disabilities
  • Services include meals, physical therapy, socialization activities, medication management and healthcare services
  • Provided in adult day care centers and in some senior care communities
  • Support groups for care providers
  • Care costs range from $25 to $100+ per day


Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) allow older adults to “age in place” by providing a continuum of care in one location. The main highlights of CCRCs:

  • Single-family homes, townhomes, condos or apartments
  • Combination of independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing care, nursing home and memory/dementia care all in one location
  • Easily move between care levels as care needs change
  • Services and amenities may include healthcare services, meals, planned social activities, personal care, housekeeping, transportation, emergency help, assistance with ADLs and more. Services and amenities can vary greatly from one community to the next
  • Various types of contracts are available
  • Most expensive senior care option. Entrance fees range from $1,800 to $600,000 with the average being $249,857. Monthly costs thereafter range between $900 to $10,700 per month.

Companion Care

Companion Care helps older adults live more independently by providing assistance, emotional support and companionship.  This senior care option may make it possible to remain at home and avoid moving into assisted living or a skilled nursing community. The main highlights of companion care:

  • Non-medical in nature
  • Services may include assistance with ADLs (activities of daily living), housekeeping, transportation, medication reminders, playing games and more
  • Provided wherever senior calls home
  • Keeps an older adult socially involved
  • Prevents isolation which can lead to depression and loss of a will to live
  • Ranges from a few hours to 24 hours per day
  • Average cost for licensed companion care services is $18 per hour generally with a 4-hour minimum

Nursing Homes

Nursing Homes are for people who can't care for themselves but who don't need a hospital. Resident care can be for chronic conditions or for short term rehabilitative care. The main features of a nursing home:

  • Nursing staff on-duty 24 hours a day
  • Hospital-like setting but some are in individual homes
  • Medicaid pays for care for 7 out of every 10 nursing home residents
  • Medicare generally does not pay for nursing home care
  • The average cost for a private room is $219 a day
  • The average cost for a semi-private room is $198 a day

Convalescent Homes

Convalescent Homes provide short-term care (goal is to return home), therapy and recovery for patients following surgeries, strokes, injuries and long-term illness. The main highlights of convalescent homes:

  • Short-term – generally a few days to six months or more
  • Services include bed, meals, lab tests, x-rays, medical and nursing services, pharmaceuticals, diagnostic or therapeutic services, rehabilitation services and more
  • Approved care is covered by Medicare and Medicaid with certain restrictions

Hospice Care

Under Hospice Care, a team of healthcare professionals provide end-of-life care and support to the person with a terminal diagnosis. The main highlights of hospice:

  • Care provided in-home, in a senior living community or in a hospice specific facility
  • Spiritual support, emotional support, pain management, physical support and medical treatment to manage pain and provide patient comfort
  • Hospice nurse and medical doctor available 24/7 for questions and assistance
  • Include palliative care
  • Medicare hospice care cost averaged $153 a day in 2010
  • Private insurance, Veteran’s benefits, Medicare and Medicaid pay for hospice care when admission criteria and requirements are met

Skilled Nursing

Skilled Nursing provides 24-hour skilled nursing care for residents with complex medical conditions and high care needs. The main highlights of skilled nursing:

  • Long-term care or short-term rehabilitative stays for stroke recovery, Parkinson's disease care, general wound care, acute medical care and more
  • Higher level of assistance and medical care provided
  • Services and amenities include room (often shared), meals, assistance with ADLs, daily scheduled activities, therapeutic services (physical, occupational and speech), pharmaceuticals, medical services, and so much more
  • Usually meets Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement criteria
  • As of 2012, the cost of a semi-private room averaged $220 per day

Palliative Care

The goal of Palliative Care is to make the patient comfortable and improve the quality of their life by relieving the side effects and symptoms of a serious illness. The main highlights of palliative care:

  • Treatment for physical, emotional and psychological symptoms
  • Provide for physical, emotional and spiritual needs
  • Improves coordination of care and communication between the patient and their family and the healthcare providers
  • Beneficial to patients with cancer, stroke, cardiac disease, respiratory disease, kidney failure, HIV/AIDS, ALS, MS and many others illnesses
  • Covered by most private insurance, Medicare and Medicaid


Respite Care provides primary care providers (usually family and friends) a much-needed break from their caregiving duties. The main highlights of respite care:

  • From a few hours a day once a week to a few days every week
  • Flexible
  • Ranges from one-on-one care in the home to adult day care or longer-stay respite care at a facility
  • Can include in-home care, skilled nursing, home health, residential programs and companionship
  • Care provided varies from situation to situation ranging from companionship to skilled medical care
  • A short-term respite situation can cost approximately $300 per day or up to $9,225 per month or more but may be free if provided by volunteers

Memory Care

Memory Care or Special Care Units are facilities dedicated to dementia and Alzheimer's patients. The main features of an SCU:

  • Provides active therapy and behavioral management
  • Fosters a therapeutic environment to keep resident as independent as possible
  • Should have full-time activities director who schedules 60 hours per week of activities
  • A daytime staffing ratio of 1 staff for every 5 residents; a nighttime ratio of 1 to 9.
  • Average cost of Alzheimer's SCU private room is $233 a day.
  • Average cost of Alzheimer's SCU semi-private room is $208 a day.

Dementia Care

Dementia Care provides for the needs of someone who has dementia whose most common symptoms are memory loss, loss of communication skills and a decline in skills of everyday living. The main highlights of dementia care:

  • Private or semi-private room, meals, assistance with ADLs (activities of daily living), medication management, housekeeping and laundry and more.
  • 24-hour supervised care in a structured environment
  • Programs to cultivate memory/cognitive skills, social skills and health/exercise programs
  • Secure facility with monitored exits to prevent elopement
  • Dementia care is provided in specific areas within larger senior communities or dementia care specific facilities

Alzheimer’s Care

Alzheimer’s Care provides for the care of someone with Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the most common form of dementia, focusing on improving the life of someone who has memory loss, impaired thinking, impaired communication, changes in psychology and a decline in everyday living skills. The main highlights of Alzheimer’s care:

  • Private or semi-private room, meals, assistance with ADLs (activities of daily living), medication management, housekeeping and laundry and more.
  • 24-hour supervised care in a structured environment
  • Programs to cultivate memory/cognitive skills, social skills and health/exercise programs
  • Secure facility with monitored exits to prevent elopement and secure perimeters to ensure safety in dealing with the common problem of wandering
  • Alzheimer’s care is provided in specific areas within larger senior communities and in Alzheimer’s care or dementia care specific facilities

Parkinson’s Care

Parkinson’s Care addresses the tremors, muscle stiffness, slow movement and impaired balance issues associated with Parkinson’s disease. The main highlights of Parkinson’s care:

  • Condos or apartments with increased accessibility
  • Single rooms to full apartments
  • Services and amenities can include meals, assistance with ADLs (activities of daily living), housekeeping, medication management, social activities, exercise programs, transportation assistance and more
  • In-house emergency call systems
  • Onsite medical services and rehabilitation professionals
  • Average cost for a private one-bedroom apartment begins at $3,185 per month for assisted living, with Parkinson’s care running even higher

Is There Senior Living Near Me?

As you can see, for every situation there is a solution, for every senior there is a lifestyle option that will fit their individual needs. And these communities are just the beginning. There are communities that are faith-focused, outdoor leisure focused, golf focused, active lifestyle focused, and other activities that may interest seniors.

Once you've determined the kind of community you need, check out our extensive directory of senior options.

Here are introductions to some of other senior living options and topics that may help:

If you would like to see your local options, just enter your neighborhood into the search at the top of the page and then use the tabs across the top to narrow your selection or browse through our senior living directory.

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Since graduating from Harvard with an honors degree in Statistics, Jeff has been creating content in print, online, and on television. Much of his work has been dedicated to informing seniors on how to live better lives. As Editor-in-Chief of the personal… Learn More About Jeff Hoyt

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