The housing options for seniors are many – so much so that it can be confusing. But you can keep confusion at bay and stay in control of your living situation by educating yourself. In this article, we’ll help you understand the differences between the main senior living categories, along with some ways to determine the best fit for you and your situation.

Aging-in-place: This option is on the rise, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic all but demanded it for many families. But it’s also gaining popularity, with a recent AARP survey finding that nearly 90% of adults over 65 want to remain in their current homes as they grow older.*

The advantages of aging-in-place include fostering a sense of independence for seniors as well as financial savings, but there are also distinct disadvantages: home maintenance becomes more challenging as we age, not to mention taking time away from the freedom of retirement living. It also requires a good deal of proactive planning to keep loneliness at bay, whereas other senior housing options have a built-in sense of community.

Active adult communities: Often restricted to those 55 or older, these can be senior apartments, single-family master-planned communities, or some combination of the two. Often thought of as the classic retirement community, active adult options offer a great combination of the benefits of aging-in-place (living in your own home) while providing on-site home and yard maintenance and great opportunities for social engagement.

When considering an active adult community, it’s important to think about health care needs. If on-site health care is a requirement, you can find many of the benefits of active adult communities along with varying degrees of care in independent living facilities.

Assisted living: This refers to housing options where care needs (mostly around activities of daily living) are met at a more robust level. Still, these facilities offer more homelike settings (as opposed to medical) with an emphasis on personal dignity, independence and privacy.

While assisted living communities usually do not staff nurses 24/7, certified nursing assistants are there to help with taking medication, as well as monitoring vital signs along with helping with tasks such as bathing and dressing.

Often, assisted living facilities are part of a continuum of care program that can help provide the appropriate level of care as senior residents’ health needs increase.


Resident's sharing a meal.


Nursing homes: In day-to-day conversation, “nursing home” has become a catch-all term for senior housing. However, there are distinct characteristics that separate nursing home care from other kinds of facilities, including a greater focus on medical care here. Certified health professionals are available around the clock, with federal law requiring a registered nurse to be on duty for at least 8 hours straight, 7 days a week, and a licensed nurse on duty 24 hours a day. These communities provide the highest level of medical care outside of a hospital.

Nursing homes provide long-term care for seniors who require ongoing, custodial care for health conditions; there is another similar category: Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNF) that generally provide short-term care for those who need rehabilitation in an in-patient setting.

Memory care: Finally, memory care refers to services that can be offered in a general assisted living or nursing home environment, or in specialized centers that focus on Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementia-related conditions. The term “memory care” is currently less regulated than other long-term care options, meaning you can expect a wide range of care levels and expertise from facilities offering memory care.

These descriptions merely scratch the surface of the senior living and long-term care landscape, with many other issues coming into play, including costs and insurance coverage (both private and Medicaid/Medicare). Whether you are starting to consider these options for yourself, or are a loved one helping make these decisions, you can never do too much research or ask too many questions. Arming yourself with knowledge is the best way to feel good about the decision.

Interested in the active adult category? Aspens Senior Living offers 55+ communities that are committed to helping residents live life to the fullest, offering luxurious amenities, a dynamic roster of activities and the convenience of maintenance-free living.

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*”Where We Live, Where We Age: Trends in Home and Community Preferences: 2021 Home and Community Preferences Survey: A National Survey of Adults Age 18-Plus.” AARP Research, November 2021.