How Does Assisted Living Work? Cost & Admissions Explained


Contributing writer, former long-term care admissions counselor and social worker

With age, certain things become trickier no matter how healthy you are. Especially as elder members of society, senior citizens that need some extra help to get through day-to-day chores but also want to be independent may get frustrated.

The choice to move to an assisted living facility requires a lot of sensitivity and compassion, and is largely a family one. 

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Despite the negative connotations surrounding senior care facilities, assisted living can be a way to ease a potential transition to long-term care if necessary. Assisted living can offer residents independence and choice while still having the security and support of a healthcare facility to oversee the care and provide help as needed.

But how to find the right one? And where to start the search for an assisted living facility? Below we offer a guide to help you find out what makes an assisted living facility work, and potential costs and services provided. 

What is an Assisted Living Facility?

An assisted living facility is a community and caregiving location regulated by the state that offers care for seniors who can no longer manage to live alone and need help with daily activities.

A resident may not need immediate physical help but may be lonely after the passing of a spouse, or unable to get around as easily due to some mobility restrictions. It may be easier for an elder to live in an assisted living community where everything is required to be compliant with the American Disabilities Act, for example.

In particular, these facilities are designed to give residents an independent life they can manage. Some senior living communities can have private rooms or apartments with common areas and dining rooms. Rooms can be designed to the residents' liking, allowing them to keep belongings from their homes, by bringing in their beds, photos, and furniture. 

These types of places also encourage socialization through events and community-building activities. Coordinators help run daily activities which include outings, movies, bingo, happy hours and other options for residents to enjoy. There’s also an entire week celebrating those who live in assisted living and those who support and care for the community.

If you were to describe it in its most plain terms, an assisted living facility is like having your own apartment, but with assistance around 24 hours a day should you need anything. 

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The Difference Between an Assisted Living Facility and a Nursing Home

To continue living in an assisted living facility, a resident should be able to care for themselves independently, without the need for extensive skilled care. As mentioned before, some assistance with daily living is warranted, but if they are not able to manage on their own, they may require additional help outside of an assisted living facility.

Costs and state regulations do not allow assisted living facilities to provide the extensive care needed for some senior citizens. For example, in assisted living, a resident may require assistance to get dressed in the morning or getting their meds at night. 

If someone were unable to feed themselves or need more medical attention aside from support at certain times of day, they may be more suited for a nursing home or a facility focused on palliative care.

Another difference is that nursing homes have higher costs given the level of care they provide for their residents. It is typical for a nursing home to employ a high amount of registered nurses, doctors, therapists, and other medical staff.

Assisted living facilities and nursing homes do have some similarities in that many people tend to stay there for the long term. Both places may offer community-building activities as well.

Want to read more on their differences? Check out our guide on assisted living facilities vs. nursing homes.

What Types of Services are Provided by an Assisted Living Facility?

Making the move from home to assisted living is huge for both you and your loved ones. As a resident, you’ll be in the hands of staffers that will tend to your medical needs. As a family member of a resident, you’ll be letting go of some daily responsibilities that you once held when helping an older loved one on the daily.

An assisted living facility will typically schedule services that can keep residents occupied for days and weeks, and hopefully with an onboarding schedule that allows your loved one to create routines and get in a rhythm.


Facilities offer three meals and some snacks per day, and residents do not have full kitchens in their rooms out of concerns for their safety. It should be noted that residents in assisted living can keep whatever food they would like in their rooms, so they are largely responsible for maintaining their own diet. 

Medication management

Taking over the management of medication may be like music to residents’ and families’ ears. A facility can order, reorder and distribute medications to the residents, which relieves the burden of reminding oneself and organizing one’s daily dosage.

Some folks end up in assisted living in part because they are unable to keep medications straight and need help with this.


Laundry services are provided at some facilities. They might do it for each resident independently or pile it all together and do it by floor or other similar groups.

Ask the facility how they manage the laundry. You may need to write or embroider a tag into your clothes if they combine it with other people’s laundry.


Garbage collection, vacuuming, and other miscellaneous cleaning are handled by facility staff so you or your loved ones won’t have to worry about getting on hands and knees to scrub away a pesky stain.


Activities are a huge part of the assisted living community. Getting residents involved in socializing will help them to make friends, and it also improves their mental and physical health.

Activities may include musical acts, bingo, birthday celebrations, outings, and exercise classes.

Care planning

One huge lift off everyone’s shoulders is care planning and case management for every resident.

At an assisted living facility, a nurse and case manager will check-in every few months or as needed to make sure the resident needs are met and there are no concerns. 

Appointment scheduling

It might be difficult to get on the phone during peak work hours to schedule that podiatry appointment for a loved one, so having a clerk to schedule or reschedule the appointments can be a relief.

Facility staffers can keep track of appointments, stay in contact with doctors, ensure all doctors are on the same page, and that nothing is missed. 


Many facilities work with transportation companies in town or get a special subsidized bus service provided by the city to bring residents around. Likewise, they may also have transportation available via appointments.

Don't think assisted living is right for you or a family member? Read our guide on popular assisted living alternatives.

How Do You Normally Qualify for an Assisted Living Facility?

If you’ve found the right facility that meets your needs, the next step is to speak with an admissions representative to find out if you qualify or will benefit from this particular location.

At minimum, you should ask to get a tour of the place and fill out an application. However, you should keep the following things in mind before you even step in the doorway.


The application may ask flat out the amount of income the potential resident has saved up, as well as any recurring checks they may receive from pensions, Social Security, and other things.

Should you or your loved one not have enough money to fully cover all expenses, you will need to fill out a Medicaid application to cover the rest. It is encouraged to fill that out as soon as possible if you need it.

Some facilities will allow you to move in while the Medicaid application is in-process, some will not. Double-check with the application representative.

Medical evaluation

Any applicant will need to have a full physical and give their medical history. To allow a resident to move into a facility, they need to be fully cleared by their primary care physician. This means the doctor needs to complete, sign, and send over a full history, physical, diagnosis list, and medication list.

In addition, your loved one may need to submit to a PPD or purified protein derivative test to check for tuberculosis. Facilities can vary on their medical requirements, so be sure to follow their particular guidelines closely. 

Advanced directives

Facilities like to see that residents have their end-of-life plans drawn up. Most facilities at least require a Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment or MOLST form to guide any intensive care procedures.

At this time you can also include other advanced directives including a healthcare proxy, power of attorney, and a living will. 

Appropriate level of care

This qualification goes hand-in-hand with the medical evaluation since the doctor and paperwork should point to which level of care is most appropriate for your loved one.

Talk with the admissions coordinators to discuss your unique situation and if there are charges for additional help your loved one may need. 

How Much Does Assisted Living Cost?

According to AARP, the median annual cost for an assisted living is $48,612, or about $4,051 per month. 

However, not all facilities will cost the same. Each location can be suited for different types of living situations, and is important to keep in mind when you go for a tour.

If you are unable to afford room and board, you should know that residents eligible for Medicaid may have a “Medicaid rate” available to them that can subsidize the cost.

A Medicaid recipient may also need to apply for supplemental income including Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and State Supplementary Payment (SSP), and cannot be started until admission. An admissions coordinator can help out with the application process to get the ball rolling.

Is Assisted Living Right for You or Your Loved One?

Whenever things feel like they can be really stressful at an advanced age, remember that you are not alone. Regardless if you are taking care of an older loved one or you are finding yourself unable to remember where your keys are, assisted living could help fill in the gaps created from the simple fact of aging.

We will all get older someday, and like many stages in life, we will need a little help to get by. If you’re looking for a new place to stretch your wings with support from a dedicated facility, maybe assisted living can help you. No matter what your choice is, doing the research and setting up an end-of-life plan can help you figure out what works best.


  1. “Assisted Living”
  2. “Assisted Living Facilities: Weighing the Options”

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