5 Main Types of Assisted Living Options for Young Adults

Updated

Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

Young adults with mental and or physical disabilities are a hidden group in our society. The heartbreak of raising a child that started with challenges or incurred them later in life is profound. Family caregiving is at the heart of these individual’s lives. Caregiver duties for young adults can be challenging and stressful, and at some point, families look to other options for care.

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Depending on your family member’s disability’s type and complexity, you might have to find alternative housing and support. Some reasons for this are due to caregiver burnout, concerns about your ability to provide safe care, and your loved one’s desire to be more independent. 

Options for young adults are limited, and the assortment of choices may not make things any easier. It will take some time and patience to sift through the options to find the best and safest choice for your young adult. The hope is that they will thrive and improve in an assisted care community. 

What is Assisted Living for Young Adults?

The licensure of assisted living is determined and managed by the states. Though the type of support may be similar, young adults and their families can often struggle to find supportive housing due to restrictions in typical age-restricted assisted living.

However, there are options out there such as board and care homes, residential homes focused on specific types of care, traditional nursing homes, and assisted living or memory care facilities. These kinds of houses and facilities may be specifically dedicated to caring for young adults.

Older adults have complex needs that center around physical disabilities and cognitive impairment. Age-related diseases and conditions lead to the need for assisted living to help manage their care. Since the population is aging rapidly, assisted living communities’ development has increased across the country to meet the demand.

The options and solutions are much more complicated for younger adults since there is not a substantial financial incentive to provide housing for these individuals.

Older adults often have more financial stability due to pensions, social security, and homeownership. Younger adults may not have these financial safety nets.

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Assisted Living Options for Young Adults With Physical or Mental Disabilities

Younger adults can have a wide range of physical or mental disabilities that require some sort of supportive care. Some families have exhausted their options for home care, and may want to help their loved one live safely and independently. Some individuals may have been born with disabilities and, as they reach adulthood want more independent options but still need support.

Other young adults have a range of disabilities including, but not limited to:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder and other developmental disorders
  • Mental health problems like schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and personality disorders
  • Alcoholism and drug abuse
  • Traumatic brain injuries that can occur early or later in life
  • Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, which can affect people in their 40s and 50s
  • Accident-related injuries that cause permanent disability
  • Stroke and heart attack
  • Blindness and hearing impairment
  • Spinal cord injuries

1. Typical assisted living and memory care for older adults

Most assisted living communities for older adults have age limits for admission, usually 55+. However, some will allow younger adults to move in depending on their age, diagnosis, disability, and compatibility with the general older population. 

Assisted living communities that accept younger adults offer these benefits:

  • 24-hour or “around the clock” aide care for activities of daily living (ADLs) like bathing, dressing, and hygiene
  • Medication management
  • Meals and snacks
  • Some nursing care
  • In-house health services like primary care, podiatry, dental, and eye care
  • Activities and recreational opportunities
  • Transportation to medical appointments

The downside of assisted living that accepts younger adults is the age disparity. A young adult might prefer to be with people their age. This is not as much of a concern for other individuals, but something to evaluate before deciding.

In addition, assisted living is paid for privately unless your loved one can qualify for a Medicaid waiver program that may pay for assisted living. Memory care communities often make exceptions for younger adults who have early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The disease’s presentation is not that different from an older adult, so memory care might be a good fit.

2. Residential or board and care homes

Each state uses different terms to describe this type of residential living. States tend to regulate these licenses to operate, and as such, these facilities can be different from other kinds of residential living. Some states may even use assisted living licensure rules to govern these communities. 

Some will not be licensed at all. If a residential care home for vulnerable populations is not licensed, there is very little oversight, and you should use extreme caution when vetting these communities. Board and Care or Residential homes are distinguished by the following characteristics with some differences depending on the state and community.

Board and Care homes are smaller and more intimate with fewer residents. This is especially helpful for young adults who need close management and monitoring. Board and care homes are in residential neighborhoods and often in someone’s house.

Shared bathrooms and kitchen are common. Meals are prepared, and depending on the model, residents sometimes assist with household duties. For young adults who have a mental illness, a model of shared responsibilities is part of the treatment plan.

Custodial care like help with laundry and housekeeping is standard. Medical care, including nursing, is not usually offered. However, medication can be managed and dispensed by a licensed staff person. These kinds of board and care homes can also help with transportation to appointments, help with finding employment, and with coordinating additional therapy services such as psychotherapy and psychiatric evaluations.

There are also specific residential homes for people with traumatic brain injuries. These communities help serve individuals who have completed rehabilitation but are unable to live independently without support. If specific brain injury residential treatment is not available in your area, and you can’t provide caregiving at home, consider assisted living or nursing home care.

In particular, there are residential homes for adults with alcohol and drug problems that focus on individual and group therapy. These homes are highly structured to keep people engaged in treatment and to prevent relapse. Following residential treatment, sober living is an option.

Sober living houses are transitional residences for people exiting rehabilitation. They are sometimes staffed with counselors, social workers, and psychiatric nurses to help maintain sobriety. Random drug tests and work or school requirements are part of the sober living model.

On the whole, state and federal assistance may be provided for these programs through Medicaid and social security disability. 

3. Group homes

Residents of group homes usually have a disability like autism or an intellectual disability such as a learning disability or mental retardation.

Unlike board and care homes, group homes are centered around individuals who share a common disability.

  • Group homes create an environment that mirrors “normal” life to teach individuals about responsibility, common goals, and cooperation.
  • A focus on routine helps young adults manage behavioral problems.
  • Close staff supervision ensures the safety and promotes independent and appropriate behavior.
  • Medical issues are addressed by connecting people to appropriate health care providers. 
  • Social opportunities are part of any group home. Interacting with others gives residents the chance to learn and improve their social skills.
  • Group homes rarely have medical support on-site. 

4. VA medical foster homes

Most people think of VA medical foster homes as places for older veterans, but younger veterans also reside in these homes. The program can be a viable helpful alternative to institutional care for severely injured and disabled veterans. 

The program allows veterans to live and be cared for in people’s homes. The caregivers who own the home and take part in caring for veterans are screened by the VA and have to meet strict criteria. Most homes have one to four veterans.

Veterans must meet nursing home criteria and have no other option for care. The VA provides case management, nursing, and other medical services and equipment on site. So in essence, the VA medical foster home program is like a substitute for nursing home care for veterans who qualify. The homelike atmosphere and wrap-around services are intended to keep veterans out of institutional care for as long as possible.

5. Nursing homes

Unfortunately, young adults with profound disabilities often get worse. If a board and care or residential facility can’t meet a young adult’s medical or psychiatric needs, nursing home care might be the only option. The majority of nursing home residents are over the age of 65, but younger adults are a sizable percentage of nursing home residents.

Medicaid finances most nursing home care. For a young adult on disability and Medicaid, there may not be enough covered support services to keep someone safe in another residential setting. This is particularly true in a group and residential homes where medical care often isn’t available. 

When a young adult requires 24-hour nursing, wound care, injections, IV medications, or other around the clock assistance, they may need a nursing home. Nursing home care may not be optimal, but choosing wisely can help you make a good decision. Try to locate a facility that has a younger population and ask about their expertise in treating your young adult’s disability. 

Assisted Living for Young Adults

Finding assisted living for a young adult is challenging, especially if you live outside an urban area. Leave no stone unturned in your efforts to find safe and reliable care for your young adult. 

If you're looking for more on assisted living, read our guide on the best alternatives to assisted living.


Sources

  1. “Younger/Early-Onset Alzheimer’s.” Alzheimer’s Association, www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-alzheimers/younger-early-onset
  2. “The Veterans Health Administration’s Medical Foster Home Program: Where Heroes Meet (Older) Angels.” US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6816278/  
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