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Assessing Housing Options

Tips to help you make the right home choice

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As your loved ones age, alternatives to living alone or in the family home may need to be considered. The idea of giving up their independence may meet resistance, and ultimately the decision to move is theirs to make. The good news is that they have plenty of choices. Help them to understand each.

  • Living With Family: Moving in with relatives, either in their home or in an accessory apartment that’s either attached to the home or in a separate structure on the same lot, works for some older adults. Some families choose to do the reverse – have the care-providing relative (and their families, in some cases) move into their loved one’s home to provide care. For more on moving your parent or loved one in with you, click here.
  • Home Sharing: Another option for older adults is to share a house or apartment. Typically, they will have separate bedrooms (and possibly separate bathrooms) but share a kitchen and other living spaces; they’ll also share household chores. Sometimes an older homeowner who prefers not to live alone or who needs the income will rent rooms to other older persons. Or the homeowner may share the home in exchange for assistance with cooking, cleaning and other chores. Some faith-based and community groups sponsor large homes shared by several individuals.
  • Foster Care: Some families will take in an older person who needs help with daily living. The foster family cooks meals and handles laundry. Ideally, the older adult becomes a surrogate family member and receives emotional support and companionship, as well. Supplemental Security Income may cover the cost of foster care.
  • Board-and-Care Homes: This is an attractive option for folks who need some assistance. The residence provides a room, meals and help with daily activities. In general, these homes are smaller in scale than assisted living residences. They are not always licensed, however, and aren't always monitored by local authorities. In some states, board-and-care homes can provide nursing services, but they are not medical facilities.
  • Congregate Housing/Retirement Communities: Residents who are mobile and can take care of themselves live in their own apartment units but share some meals in a central dining room and take advantage of housekeeping services. Often, these residences provide a variety of social and recreational activities. Rental fees vary widely, and meals and other services cost extra. There usually is not an entrance fee. Some residences receive public subsidies that help keep rent down, but these places often have long waiting lists and stringent income requirements.
  • Assisted Living Residences: These residences provide housing for those who can’t live independently but don't need skilled nursing care. The level of assistance varies among residences and may include help with bathing, dressing, meals and housekeeping. Costs vary depending on the services required. Click here for more on assisted living.
  • Nursing Homes: The most widely recognized option, these residences offer skilled nursing care and substantial long-term assistance. These homes provide meals as well as medical and personal care. Bedrooms and baths may be private or shared. Medicare may provide short-term coverage following hospitalization. Medicaid may offer coverage to residents who meet medical and financial eligibility requirements. 
  • Continuing Care Retirement Communities: These facilities, which are designed to meet the changing needs of older people, provide a variety of housing options and services on the same campus. A resident might start out living independently in a separate apartment and then move to an assisted-living unit when he needs help with daily activities. Residents can stay in the nursing unit when they need ongoing skilled nursing care. This is one of the more expensive housing options; expect a sizable entrance fee and monthly charges. There’s more information on this option here.

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