The Difference between Apartment-Style Assisted Living and Residential Assisted Living: The Pros and Cons

For the past 20 years, I have not only operated assisted living facilities, I’ve helped families find the right facility for their loved one. I’ve toured over 1,000 care facilities throughout the state of Arizona, and gotten the inside scoop from both sides – the families receiving care and the people providing it. What I’ve learned is that the most important factors are location, budget, and care level.

When it comes to care level, the two main options are apartment-style and residential. So, what is the difference between these two?

Apartment-Style vs. Residential: An Analogy

Comparing the two types of care facilities can be difficult. Not in terms of describing them, but in ensuring neither sounds worse than the other. The best analogy I’ve come up with is purchasing a gym membership.

When you decide to join a gym, you probably have dreams of getting into shape, taking off the years, or sticking it to old age. Or all three! You head over to your neighborhood fitness center. They have around 300 members and offer everything you could ever imagine needing in a gym. Free weights and weight machines. Tread mills and stair climbers. Lap pools and studio aerobics. The group atmosphere is motivating. The studio biking class plays your favorite tunes and the instructor is enthusiastic, cheering and leading 40 people in group exercises. She may not know you very well, but she knows that you need a great workout and she gives it to you!

Now, imagine that same gym, but you’re looking for a more intimate training session that takes into account specific health issues. So, you hire one of their personal trainers and explain exactly what you want to focus on. You tell them about the shoulder you hurt in that car accident two years ago, and the pain from your arthritic knee. The personal trainer’s recipe for success is low-intensity cable exercises for that shoulder, pool aerobics for that arthritic knee, and a nice massage after your workout to ease away any lingering soreness.

Both gym experiences offer great benefits. One is perfect if you’re looking to improve your overall health but don’t have any specific complaints. The other offers a personalized experience designed to address your specific needs. Neither option is inherently better or worse, because the best choice is whichever one fulfills your needs.

Apartment-Style Assisted Living

Assisted living apartments exteriorApartment-style assisted living communities are much like that gym, focusing on the group dynamic. Bingo games with over 60 people attending. Community, restaurant-style dining. Visits to the casino. If your loved one is a social butterfly, loves talking to other people, and has the ability to participate in these activities, then this environment may be ideal for them, particularly if their care needs are minor.

If your loved one is currently in an apartment-style facility, your main concern right now should be monitoring any changes in their needs. Are they Nursing home bedroommissing meals, or becoming reclusive in their apartment and no longer participating in activities? Maybe it’s because they can no longer manage those the long walks to the dining room or activity area. Maybe they’ve begun making bad decisions in their apartment, such as not drinking enough water, or not calling for assistance leading to more frequent falls.

When your loved one’s care level requirements change, apartment-style facilities might no longer meet their needs. The typical staffing ratio in these facilities is one caregiver for every 20 to 25 residents. This only becomes a problem when your parent needs assistance now, not in 10 minutes.

Residential Assisted Living

Sitting area at East Shea Assisted Living in Scottsdale AZIn contrast, residential assisted living homes, or group homes, are usually only licensed for five to ten residents. They offer family style meals and smaller environment, along with a staffing ratio of either one caregiver to five residents, or two caregivers to seven to ten residents. Caregivers often live in the facility as well, helping them to really get to know the residents. They know that Mom’s sore shoulder needs special attention when transferring from the bed to the wheelchair.

Private bedroom East Valley Shea Assisted Living in Scottsdale AZResidential group homes offer a very high level of care and, as your loved one’s needs change, caregivers adjust quickly to those changing needs. This is due to simpler, clearer lines of communication. Instead of a large staff working in rotation, your group home typically has an owner/manager and one or two caregivers. This makes communication much simpler.

There are some cons to residential assisted living, mainly around socialization. After all, when you only have five to ten residents, there are simply fewer opportunities for social interaction. To compensate, many group homes provide a variety of extra benefits. For example, East Shea offers its residents live entertainment, such as Audrey’s Angels, and onsite services such as mobile doctor and beautician visits.Residential Assisted Living front yard view at East Valley Shea Assisted Living in Scottsdale AZ

Which Type of Community Works Best for You?

If you aren’t sure which type of community is the best option for your loved one, answer the following questions.

  • Are they safe in an apartment alone?
  • Will they make good decisions?
  • Will they wait for assistance after they call staff?
  • Do they have a history of falls? Do they fall frequently due to making poor choices?
  • Would the social activities of a large facility interest them, or do they prefer more solitary pursuits?
  • What are their current health concerns? Do you expect them to need a higher level of care soon?
  • Are you okay with making multiple moves into assisted living facilities?
  • How will costs increase when their care needs increase?

The team at East Shea Assisted Living does its very best to provide quality care. Please feel free to stop by and see how we exceed expectations every day.

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