The cost of assisted living: What do you get for your money?

Assisted living is just one option when it comes to senior housing. It can be a smart option for older adults who are mostly independent, but might need some help with basic activities of daily living or just want the convenience and freedom to not concern themselves with those activities. Along with understanding what assisted living actually is, many people want to know about the cost of assisted living.

Assisted living facilities — which can go by many names including retirement homes, retirement care facilities, independent living facilities, active adult communities, adult lifestyle communities, and supportive housing — are different than nursing homes.

Nursing homes offer residents a full-spectrum level of care that includes medical care, rehabilitative care, medication management, and more. Assisted living doesn’t offer this type of care. Instead, assisted living — or retirement homes — focuses more on helping residents with basic tasks if needed while they enjoy all the amenities of a normal life. It’s also easy for a resident’s loved ones to freely come and go for visits.

Assisted living is available for older adults who are mostly independent but might need day-to-day help. The question is … what does it cost?

There’s no way around it: Assisted living isn’t cheap. The cost of care in an assisted living facility can vary widely depending on factors including location, the facility itself, amenity options, and what level of care the resident will need. It’s important for your parents to do their research before deciding on a retirement home so that they know exactly what it costs and what they’ll get for the money.

Let’s take a closer look at what assisted living consists of, what the care costs look like, and how your parent can make the smartest decision about their care.

What is assisted living?

Cost of assisted living: Happy couple dancing

As mentioned above, assisted living provides supportive housing for seniors who are largely independent, but might need a little help with day-to-day personal care and tasks. It’s also an option for those who simply want someone to take care of those things while they enjoy their later years. These might include things like:

  • Housekeeping
  • Doing laundry
  • Preparing and cooking meals
  • Taking medications
  • Showering
  • Dressing

Typically, assisted living communities do not offer more advanced care services like regular supervision, medication administration, rehabilitative care, memory care, and other in-depth senior care services. Retirement homes are great for older adults who can, for the most part, take care of themselves but can’t live completely alone, or for those who would like to be part of a community.

Most assisted living facilities offer services and amenities such as:

  • Help with daily tasks such as bathing, grooming, dressing, and housekeeping
  • Exercise programs and classes
  • Meal service
  • Social and recreational activities
  • Transportation services to public events or personal appointments

Senior home communities can vary greatly in appearance and organization. Some retirement homes are sprawling complexes in the middle of the suburbs while others are housed in apartment buildings in the middle of a bustling city center. The residents may live in smaller studio apartments, one- or two-bedroom apartments, or condo-like facilities within the community. It’s also possible for residents to have a private room or a shared room.

How much does assisted living cost?

Now for the big question: What is the exact cost of assisted living?

Generally speaking, the monthly cost ranges from about $1,500 per month on the low end to $6,000 per month and above for the most costly living options. It’s important to understand that these numbers can vary widely depending on many factors, including the level of luxury at a particular facility, where it’s located, what size space a resident selects, and the level of care that the resident receives.

Payment structure

The exact structure of payment varies among different senior living communities. Some facilities charge a flat rate that covers the basic services, and then charge additional fees for special services such as access to certain recreational activities or transportation off-premises. Other facilities will take an “a la carte” approach, allowing residents to select the services and amenities they need or want and pay for only those options. In both cases, deposits and other up-front fees will probably be required.


One of the biggest factors that affects the monthly cost of a retirement community is the location. As the most heavily populated province in Canada, Ontario has the widest range of prices for assisted living, covering the entire spectrum from around $1,500 a month all the way up to $6,000 or more. As you might expect, costs in Toronto are the highest, with an average cost of $3,635 per month in the Greater Toronto Area.

In Eastern Ontario, that median cost drops to just over $2,500. In the province as a whole, the average monthly cost of a retirement community is just over $3,000 a month. The lowest average costs per month can be found in Quebec, where the cost for a studio apartment is around $1,200 a month and the average cost across all sizes of apartments is around $1,475 a month.

Generally speaking, average costs in other provinces aren’t as high as those in Ontario, and things get less expensive outside of major cities. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re cheap. So, how are older adults expected to go about paying for their care in a retirement home?

How is assisted living paid for?

Elderly people in park

Most assisted living facilities are handled via “private pay,” which is another way of saying out-of-pocket. As mentioned above, this can total up to several thousands of dollars a month, depending on the facility’s amenities and location.

The government does not set the cost of an assisted living facility — the fee is set by the facility itself. This isn’t true for nursing homes or skilled nursing facilities — the government closely regulates them, sets the monthly fees, and determines a person’s eligibility and subsidy amount.

Residents of these facilities have options like long-term care insurance or veterans’ benefits that can help with the costs. Residents may also be able to claim a portion of the cost on their income tax through the Medical Expense Tax Credit. Encourage Mom or Dad to explore all options in the area where they live or are planning to live — there may be subsidies, special benefits, move-in incentives, and other perks that they can take advantage of to help with the cost of care. The best course of action is to take a look at the guidelines of the province in which the resident plans to live.

Estate planning and long-term financial planning are also good ways to make sure that financing an assisted living arrangement is viable. Take a look at our tips for starting the financial planning conversation with your parent.

The cost of assisted living: Is it worth it?

Across Canada as a whole, the cost of assisted living ranges from around $1,500 a month to $6,000 or more at the high end of the spectrum. The highest average cost of any province is found in Ontario, while the average costs in other provinces — Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, for example — hover in the $2,000 to $2,500 monthly range. Generally, prices will be higher in cities, and costs will rise as the luxury level, amenities and features, and level of care increases.

So, is assisted living worth it? That depends, of course, on the circumstances at play. It’s important for your parent (and you) to think about their long-term care needs, what help they might need day-to-day, what kind of options they have for payment, and what benefits or subsidies they might be eligible for. Then, they’ll be able to make the best decision for themselves and their family members.

Have you helped your mom or dad move in to an assisted living facility? We would love to hear about your experience.

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