How to choose between independent living, assisted living, memory care, and more

When the time comes to give up the grass cutting, weeding, and roof repairs and you want to find an alternative, how do you even start?


Or when Mom and Dad just aren’t up to living on their own, how do you go about picking a good senior community? How much money will it cost?

Independent living, assisted living, memory care, and even age-restricted apartment communities have multiplied over the last decade. Nursing homes have not grown
in numbers but have morphed into several varieties. More and more, families are struggling to make these decisions.

In Birmingham, there are dozens of choices. They range from low-cost to county-club expensive. The styles range from independent living bungalows to studio apartments with healthcare services. The neighborhoods range from silk stocking to barefoot.

And to top it off, the reasons for even considering this lifestyle are as varied as the personalities making the choices. We spent some time analyzing the local market. Here is what we found.


The simple definition of “independent living” is that it is a term describing an apartment, with management providing some extras. The “extras” usually – but not always – may include meals, wellness checks, transportation assistance, and similar non-medical support.

Some may have on-site nurses or even doctors who may serve the health needs of residents, but they are unrelated to the apartment owner/ manager. Their services are not covered by the rent, but some or all of their charges may be billable to Medicare or other insurance.

Independent living is not licensed or regulated by any state or other governmental agency. The rental agreements are purely contractual just like an apartment lease. Because the services are limited and not regulated, Independent living options are usually less expensive than assisted living options.


“Assisted living” is a term that means pretty much what it says. It is housing with staff to service the needs of the residents. It is licensed by the State of Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH).

ADPH is required to inspect the facilities before they are open and to regularly inspect the facilities once they are open. There are significant penalties if the facility does not live up to the requirements of its license.

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