10 Types of Housing Options for an Aging Parent

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When kids move out of the home, parents may decide that the time has come to downsize. As parents age, they may find it difficult to maintain a house. After grieving the loss of a spouse, a surviving parent might decide that it will be easier to move on with life in a different location. Children are often asked to help their parents decide upon the best housing option when the family home is empty.

The ultimate decision will be based on several factors, including the parent’s needs and what the family can afford. The starting place in making that decision is understanding the range of housing options that are available to aging parents.

Aging in Place

Moving is not the right choice for every parent. Most older adults want to remain in their homes for as long as they can. Staying in the home allows parents to enjoy the company of neighbors with whom they have bonded and to continue participating in community activities that they enjoy.

Children can help modify the home to make it more accessible to their aging parents. Turning a downstairs room into a bedroom might help parents with deteriorating knees or hips avoid the strain of climbing stairs. Modifications that improve safety and accessibility can help parents maintain their independence by aging in place.

Parents who need some assistance may choose to age in place with help provided by part-time caretakers or family members. In some communities, parents may be able to participate in a village network that provides companionship and assistance with transportation and other non-medical support services.

Living with Children

Parents who need assistance might want to live with a child. While parents often feel that they will be a burden to their children — particularly if a grandchild will need to share a bedroom with another grandchild to open a room for their grandparent — adding an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) might be an option. An ADU is either a small apartment that is added to a home (above the garage, for example) or a separate home on the family’s property.

While adding an ADU to a home is an added cost, parents may be in a position to contribute to that cost after selling the family home. Many cities have changed their zoning laws to permit ADUs as a means to contain urban sprawl and increase the supply of affordable housing.

Shared and Age-Diverse Housing

Sharing a house or large apartment with friends can meet a parent’s need for companionship while lowering the expense of housing. Older occupants of a home might want to share their housing with a younger or healthier person who provides some caretaking assistance in exchange for reduced rent.

Age-diverse housing combines the concept of shared housing with apartment living. Tenants save money by renting private rooms or small suites while sharing a communal living area. 

Age-diverse buildings are a developing trend in urban areas. Developers take advantage of tax incentives by setting aside a certain number of dwelling spaces for older tenants. The housing arrangement reduces the isolation of seniors by encouraging them to interact with other tenants in an intergenerational living environment.

Senior Apartments

Senior apartments are typically available to tenants who have reached the age of 55. Apartments are usually wheelchair accessible and offer grab bars, levers instead of doorknobs, and other age-friendly features. Some senior apartments offer a meal program.

Some companies that manage senior apartments employ senior support coordinators to help tenants connect with senior services. Rent subsidies for senior apartments may be available for low-income tenants.

Retirement Communities

Age-restricted retirement communities typically offer condominium units in single family, duplex, or triplex buildings. Some communities offer apartments. Residents in retirement communities live independently. 

Retirement communities typically offer security, group activities, and amenities such as swimming pools and game rooms. They set minimum age limits for residents (55 or older is a common restriction) and limit the duration of visits by nonresidents. Residents benefit from the opportunity to live in a safe and peaceful environment without having the responsibility to maintain the property.

Assisted-Living Facilities

An assisted-living facility offers apartment or condominium-style housing options to residents who need help with the activities of daily living. Services provided to residents typically include meals, medication management, and the assistance of an aide if residents need help getting out of bed, eating, bathing, or using the toilet. While assisted-living facilities often have a registered nurse on staff, the medical care they provide is generally limited to managing emergencies.

Assisted-living facilities may offer organized activities, including games, therapeutic dance, and group trips to malls or theaters. The expense of an assisted living is determined in part by available amenities that go beyond basic care.

Residential Care Homes

Residential care homes, also known as group homes or board and care homes, are similar to assisted-living facilities. Residents live in a private room within a building that resembles a large house. Homes may offer varying amenities and levels of care.

Residential care homes are usually limited to 20 or fewer residents. Residents receive assisted-living care, but not medical or nursing care.

Continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs)

A continuing care retirement community is typically a campus of buildings that provide varying living environments and services to community residents. A CCRC may combine a traditional retirement community with an assisted-living facility and a nursing home. As older adults develop a greater need for assistance or health care, they can transition from one part of the campus to another.

Memory Care Facilities

A memory care facility is dedicated to serving patients with Alzheimer’s and other diseases that cause dementia. Memory care facilities can be free-standing, but they are often specialized units attached to an assisted-living facility, residential care home, CCRC, or hospital. The facility is usually locked to prevent patients from wandering away. Staff members typically offer activities that stimulate brain activity and memory, such as sing-alongs and working with arts and crafts.

Nursing Homes

Unlike assisted living facilities, nursing homes provide around-the-clock nursing care for patients with serious health problems who do not require hospitalization. Nursing homes provide assistance with the activities of daily living, but they also provide medical care. An on-call physician typically supervises health care, but nurses have primary responsibility for dispensing medications and providing other medical care.

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