The cost of senior care is the elephant in the room for many family discussions about how to support aging relatives. You may fear that quality care just isn’t in the budget, or that your loved one needs to remain at home for as long as possible to maximize options — even if doing so means stressing caregivers to the breaking point or that your loved one spends time alone when they really shouldn’t.
But the cost of senior care may be less than you think. And what often goes undiscussed is the value it adds: better health, a potentially longer life, reduced caregiver burden, less family bickering, and the retirement your loved one truly deserves. Keeping your loved one at home is an immense sacrifice — not only for family caregivers, but also potentially for your loved one, who may get lower-quality care and less support. Here’s what you need to know as you weigh the costs of senior care.
How to Prepare for the Real Cost of Senior Care at Home
About 53 million adults provided unpaid care to a loved one in 2020--up from 43.5 million in 2015.
Many families opt for in-home senior care because they think it’ll be more affordable than a senior living community, but the real cost of senior care for family caregivers can be staggering.
Most family caregivers find providing senior care to be an incredibly rewarding, enriching experience. But it can also be hard to balance the role of caregiver with the roles of parent, spouse, friend, and professional.
This can result in caregiver role strain: undue stress over a long period of time, which has been found to leave caregivers emotionally and physically depleted and make them more susceptible to chronic illnesses and disability. Caregivers are more vulnerable to depression and anxiety. They report worse health than non-caregivers, and may have weaker immune systems. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 53% of caregivers reported health declines that undermined their ability to provide care.
The costs of senior care for an entire family are not trivial. But the following steps can help family caregivers prepare for and prevent that from happening:
Respite care: Finding a respite senior care provider in your area will help balance other aspects of your life with providing senior care, and state or federal assistance might be available to help cover the costs.
Adult day care: Adult day services are tailored to provide care and companionship to seniors to provide relief to family caregivers to balance career, relationships, and other responsibilities with senior caregiving.
Family caregiving teams: Many family caregivers are afraid to ask for or accept help, but assembling a family caregiving team to cover different aspects of senior care is a great way to prevent caregiver role strain and burnout.
Next steps: Researching senior living communities and exploring financing options before your loved one needs them will help you prepare for the transition and avoid rushed decisions if senior care is suddenly needed.
If your loved one needs 24/7 care or cannot be left alone, you may find that senior living is actually a more affordable option that offers a greater range of services — including gourmet dining, transportation, and many meaningful activities — than you could ever get at home. Senior living is downright affordable when compared to the costs of a highly qualified team of in-home aides.
How to Prepare for the Real Cost of Senior Care in a Senior Living Community
The national median monthly rate for assisted living now exceeds $3,600, but it’s important to remember that the cost of senior care varies greatly based on location and the specific needs of residents. Most family caregivers and seniors agree after making the transition to a senior living community that they wish they’d have made the move sooner — but the cost of senior care is often what held them back.
However, considering the costs of serving as a family caregiver, that the median monthly costs of home health aides now exceeds $3,800, and that assisted living costs are mostly all-inclusive, you might find that the cost of senior care in a senior living community is actually less than the cost of home care.
And taking steps early on to prepare for the cost of senior care can help make monthly out-of-pocket expenses even more manageable for seniors and their loved ones:
Government assistance: Medicare doesn’t cover the cost of senior living, but assistance might be available through Medicaid, housing vouchers, or veterans’ benefits; an Aging Disability Resource Center (ADRC) is a great place to find what assistance might be available to your loved one. Geriatric care coordinators can also help you weigh your options and find the right placement.
Home equity: Home equity can finance senior care costs. Talking to a real estate agent about steps that can be taken to increase the value and marketability of a loved one’s home a year or two before it’s listed can help fetch higher offers.
Make visits: Choosing the right senior living community for your loved one the first time around can cut down on the expenses associated with transitioning to a new community down the road; visit communities in your area with your loved one, gauge availability, and give your loved one time to make the right decision about which community is best for them. If your loved one has a progressive illness, be sure to select a community that offers a continuum of care.
Be flexible: The more flexible your loved one is about where the senior living community is located, what amenities it offers, and what its lodging accommodations are like, the easier it will be to find senior living options with lower monthly rates.
Planning for senior living costs can be a daunting and emotional task for family caregivers. You don’t have to go it alone. Assembling a family caregiving team to help make decisions and explore options will help, and turning to professionals for help ensures that your loved one is taking advantage of all the resources that are available to them.
The Bottom Line: How to Prepare for the Real Cost of Senior Care
Caregiver guides often fail to discuss the nitty-gritty realities of caring for an aging loved one: exhaustion, lost time with your children, lost career opportunities, family conflict, and often, a senior care recipient who feels annoyed, not grateful. The right senior living community can help restore your loved one’s independence and sense of purpose, give you more time with your family, and maybe even help your loved one live a longer, happier life. That’s a value for which it’s hard to assign a dollar amount. Even so, senior living might be more affordable than you think. To compare the costs of living at home or transitioning to senior living, check out our Senior Living Cost Calculator.