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How Much Does Assisted Living Really Cost?

By: Clare Absher RN, BSN

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Have you ever vacationed at an "all inclusive" resort only to find it really wasn’t all inclusive? You may find this same misleading concept to be applicable when exploring various assisted living communities. The monthly base rent a facility charges seldom encompasses total expenditures required. Subsequently it is easy to be deceived when researching assisted living homes and confusing when comparing actual costs of them.

According to a recent 2014 Genworth Cost of Care survey, the average national monthly rent for one resident in a single bedroom at an Assisted Living home is $3500 per month. Monthly rent is actually considered as room and board with daily meals provided, and most likely includes housekeeping, laundry, and transportation services. The cost of living in a particular geographic area, onsite amenities, and extent of services provided help dictate costs as you would expect. In addition, the base monthly rent also depends on whether the accommodations are semi-private or private rooms, suites sharing bathrooms, studios with or without kitchens and one, two, or three bedroom apartments. Actual square footage, room location (such as distance from the dining room), and desirable views may be cause for even further price variation within each facility.

Assisted Living Facilities typically have some sort of structure in place that assigns various levels of care to a corresponding fee schedule. The format might include a specified 30 minutes of personal care in this base rent, however, any more care above the minimum would cost extra. The levels of care might be described as minimal, moderate, and maximal or as "care assist" and "care enhanced". A facility might use a numeric system from 1 to 5 based on the number of Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) a person needs assistance with such as bathing, grooming, dressing, and medications. Regardless of the facility's practice, it's important to grasp this "a la carte" method of assigning levels of care with fee increments ranging from $200-$400 for each level can add up to huge amounts of $2000 monthly. Furthermore most facilities have additional charges for medications, personal hygiene, incontinence, and medical supplies.

It is also worth mentioning that the general burdens of owning a home versus renting pertain likewise to staying in your own home or moving to an assisted living facility.  In other words, the financial burdens of home ownership including utilities, insurance, property taxes, home maintenance, and repairs are still considerable when weighed against the benefits of less responsibility. Don’t overlook during your analysis the likelihood that you will also incur significant expenses from in-home caregiving as well.

It is clearly challenging to compare apples to apples with regards to facilities within the assisted living industry. It is especially important to equip yourself with detailed questions about what services are and are not included in the monthly rent. Rely on the expertise of facility administrators who are knowledgeable about potential payment methods including long term care insurance, Veterans benefits, tapping into life insurance policies, local grants, and Medicaid options. Be aware that when you run out of money that it’s more than likely you will be expected to move to another facility or nursing home. Therefore carefully scrutinize your assisted living options to determine the best value in order to stretch your retirement dollars.