Looking Ahead: How Much Does Assisted Living Cost?
As you begin planning ahead for the years to come for you or a senior loved one, it’s vital to understand and realistically plan for the costs of aging. And if you or your loved one has served in the U.S. armed forces, you’ll be happy to learn that you are most likely eligible for some form of financial assistance from the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). Once you have decided what the best plan for the future would be – whether it’s “aging in place” at home or moving to a senior community of some sort – crunching the numbers and looking at your budget are important influencing factors.
Aging In Place
This term is used to describe when a senior chooses to stay in his or her home, receiving care from either a family caregiver or professional caregiver. Some seniors may need full-time assistance, while others just need it during certain hours or for certain activities of daily living (ADLs) like preparing meals, housekeeping, or keeping up with medication. The national cost average for a non-skilled/assistance home aide is $18/hr, or $15 - $25/hr if hired through an agency (agencies may charge extra for weekends or holidays). A certified nursing assistant or certified nursing aide typically averages $19/hr or $15-$30/hr through an agency.
It’s important to understand that the number of hours of support needed will most likely increase over time, and costs will most likely outpace the cost of a senior community relatively quickly. That said, for many people, the benefits of living in one’s own home outweigh the costs, if they can plan ahead and afford it. It’s helpful to have these discussions with your loved ones before the time to make the actually decision arises, so all can be aligned and aware of the senior’s preferences.
Independent Living Communities
Similar to an apartment complex designed specifically for seniors, these types of communities are increasingly popular for seniors wanting to downsize and make new friends with similar interests. There are often numerous social activities and clubs onsite, as well as options for communal dining in addition to a fully functioning kitchen within each apartment. This type of housing is ideal for seniors who are still very independent and healthy, though some communities offer other housing options on the same property to allow for different types of care (rehab, assisted living, and even memory care). The cost of independent living communities typically ranges from $1,500-$3,500 per month.
When a senior can no longer live independently or needs some assistance with activities of daily living, an assisted living facility is often a good choice for housing. Staff is typically available around the clock to help with as many tasks as needed, with the exception of more medically demanding care that you would find in a traditional nursing home. Residents can eat three meals in the community dinging room, but limited kitchens are also typically available in the private apartment settings. Transportation to nearby venues and events is often provided, along with many social gatherings and events. The cost for assisted living ranges from $2,500-$4,000 per month depending on the size of apartment and level of assistance required, with additional memory/dementia care available for extra monthly fee in a shared suite.
Also known as skilled nursing facilities, this type of housing provides 24-hour medical care for seniors who can no longer care for themselves and needed an increased degree of medical assistance. Nursing homes also often offer shorter-term stays for seniors recovering from surgery or a serious illness. Residents typically share a room and are served meals in a central dining area, and social gatherings and activities are often planned on a regular basis as well. Most nursing homes offer a special unit with added monitoring and security for seniors suffering with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. The typical cost for staying at a nursing home is $4,000-$8,000 per month.
How Your VA Benefits Can Help
Veterans who are at least 65 years-old and who served at least one day during war time (though not necessarily in combat) may be eligible for financial assistance that can help pay for care. Spouses and surviving spouses are also often eligible and the savings can be substantial. For example, as of 2017 a veteran may be eligible for up to $1,794 per month from the A&A pension benefit and a veteran with a spouse may be eligible for up to $2,127 per month. The funds are “means tested” as veterans must have a less than a certain amount of household income to qualify, although cases are often decided case-by-case, so it’s a good idea to apply regardless. There are three levels of VA financial support available:
- Basic Pension: Financial assistance for low-income veterans and their dependents, even if all are healthy.
- Housebound Benefit: Assistance for seniors requiring assistance on a “regular basis.”
- Aid and Attendance: Assistance for seniors requiring assistance on a “daily basis.”
To apply for VA health care or determine eligibility, call the VA's Health Benefits Service Center at (877) 222-VETS, or contact a Veterans Benefits Office or VA health care facility (find the nearest location).
Written by Megan Hammons