Assisted living facilities offer basically the same services as board and care homes, but in a more “upscale” and homelike environment. Housing is often in small apartments and there is generally more space, privacy and recreational options. A premium is placed on retaining as much independence in living as possible, and care is more individualized. Despite the emphasis on independence, supportive services are available 24 hours a day in order to provide different levels of help with activities of daily living. There also may be more medical supervision than is available in a board and care home, depending on the facility.

While costlier than board and care facilities, assisted living facilities nevertheless are often less expensive than a nursing home. Assisted living facility residents agree to pay a monthly rent, which can range from less than $2,000 to $6,000 a month. According to a 2012 MetLife survey, the average cost of an assisted living facility in the U.S. is $3,550 a month, or $42,600 a year. The highest average monthly cost was in Washington, DC, at $5,933 a month while the lowest was in Arkansas (except for Little Rock) at $2,355 a month.

This rent may cover all services or there may be charges for services above the monthly fee on a per-use basis. Residents generally pay the cost of medical care from their own financial resources. Some costs may be reimbursed by an individual’s health insurance program or long-term care insurance policy. Because assisted living facilities are usually less expensive than nursing homes, many state Medicaid programs now provide some type of funding for elderly residents who qualify for the Medicaid program.

Whether assisted living facilities are regulated or unregulated in your state, asking specific questions can help you gauge the quality of a facility. Click here for a checklist of questions to ask.

In addition, visit the Web site of the Assisted Living Consumer Alliance (ALCA), a national non-profit organization advocating for stronger consumer protections for assisted living residents. The group’s site provides news and information for both consumers and professionals, including consumer advice and summaries of each state’s assisted living rules.