Aging in place vs. assisted living … It’s complicated

  • Aging at home presents financial challenges. Senior-friendly upgrades to your residence can cost from $10,000 to $100,000 and visiting caregiver services run about $4,000 a month.
  • The average monthly cost of assisted living is $3,750, while a private room in a nursing home runs around $8,121. On an annual basis a nursing home can cost $85,776 to $97,452.
  • Before you make a choice based on immediate preference or assumption, consider the financial, social and health implications of each scenario.

Where do you want to live when you're retired — in your own home or in an assisted-living facility?

Although the answer might seem obvious, that question is one that everybody should ask themselves, their spouse and their parents.

Senior people playing foosball at nursing home
Porta Images | Getty Images

Predictably, 90 percent of people plan to age in their homes, according to data from AARP. However, planning where to live as a retiree entails considering not just the actual location of where you'll hang your hat but also factoring in the financial, social and physical ramifications of your decision.

Wanting to age at home is a natural preference. Home feels comfortable, safe and easy, and many people probably assume it is the more affordable option. But is that still the case when you take into account some of the common by-products of aging?

With age comes the general weakening of bones and muscles and a natural decline in mobility and energy, which could make everyday chores dangerous or impossible. While there are resources for getting help around the house, including mobile apps and digital marketplaces for finding service professionals, hiring help introduces a new set of costs, whether at a monthly or hourly rate. For retirees who need more significant help, engaging a professional homemaker may be necessary, but keep in mind that the average monthly cost of a homemaker is $3,994 (assuming 44 hours of care per week), according to AARP research.

The toll that aging takes on the body may also necessitate changes to your home's design or layout. Basic home modifications — including installing grab bars, sturdy handrails along stairs, replacement rugs, better lighting and lever-handled doorknobs — can cost up to $10,000. Meanwhile, more extensive renovations — such as removing or reducing the height of steps, widening hallways, adding a ramp, lowering cabinets, installing no-step showers and installing a generator to protect against power loss — can cost up to $100,000.

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While home may be where the heart is, living alone can also come with other age-related challenges. For example, if you need to adhere to a special diet, are you equipped to purchase and prepare the proper food? If you fall, do you have a way to get in touch with a family member or emergency services? If you no longer drive, will you suffer from cabin fever and loneliness? There are solutions to these problems (enrolling in a food-delivery program, installing a voice-activated device or using on-demand car services), but again, everything has a price tag.

While many people might shudder at the thought of leaving home for an assisted-living facility, it's worth weighing the pros and cons.

For retirees who suffer from declining health or mobility limitations and for whom lifestyle changes or the expense of home renovations are not feasible, assisted-living communities can offer a certain peace of mind. The buildings and restrooms are designed to meet the accessibility needs of their aging residents, and all maintenance and repairs are handled by a professional. Meal planning and nutrition are also taken care of, as tenants are served three meals a day that are tailored to any medically restricted diets.

An assisted-living community might also make sense for people who worry about feeling isolated in older age. Most facilities have common areas to encourage socialization and regularly plan activities and outings for the residents. Plus, there is something to be said for the camaraderie that develops among a group of people who are all in a similar situation.

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Of course, a big reason many people might be hesitant to move into an assisted-living facility is the cost. The average monthly cost of assisted living is $3,750, while the average monthly cost of a private room in a nursing home runs around $8,121. On an annual basis a nursing home can cost $85,776 to $97,452.

Moving into an assisted-living facility might have its perks, but it, too, does not come cheap.

So where do you want to live when you're retired?

It turns out that is not a simple decision, and it's not a onetime, cut-and-dry conversation. Whether you choose to age in your own home or move into a senior community, there are benefits and challenges to both options.

Before you make a choice based on immediate preference or assumption, consider the financial, social and health implications of each scenario. Only then can you really answer what might be one of the most significant questions of your life.

— By Mike Lynch, vice president of Strategic Markets for Hartford Funds

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