Page Reviewed / Updated - April 14, 2009
Assisted living in Mexico is still in its early stages. That said, care on par with that provided in assisted living in the United States can be found. The cost of assisted living in Mexico is approximately 1/2 to 1/3 of what it costs in the United States. Most assisted living residences are found in the border states, in the larger expatriate communities through central and coastal Mexico and in the urban centers.
This article focuses on the pros and cons of assisted living in Mexico and residential memory care for persons with Alzheimer’s or related dementias. To be clear, it is not focused on relatively healthy, newly retired persons living in Mexico. Nor does it focus on nursing home level care in Mexico. Assisted living provides group meals, medication management, hands on assistance with the activities of daily living such as bathing, grooming and toileting and scheduled recreational activities. Private, age-friendly apartments surround a larger common area with shared dining and recreational spaces.
Assisted living residences targeting American (and less so Canadian) expatriates tend to be located in one of two types of areas.
1) Border States - The border states of Chihuahua and Baja Norte which have the cities of Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana directly adjacent to the American cities of San Diego, CA and El Paso, TX. These locations are targeting Americans living just across the border who are seeking a less expensive alternative to assisted living in their home cities. There are pros and cons to this option which are discussed in greater details throughout the article.
2) Expatriate Communities – Through central and coastal Mexico are communities in which large numbers of American and Canadian retirees reside. Assisted living residences have opened in these locations to serve those retirees with diminished capacities or in many cases the elderly parents of recent retirees. Cities like Puerto Vallarta, San Miguel, Ajijic, Lake Chapala and Cabo San Lucas have large numbers of American expats and offer assisted living residences.
Assisted living in Mexico costs approximately $1,000 - $2,000 per month. Unlike the American model of assisted living where the costs tend to spiral upward as care needs increase, most Mexican assisted living residences charge a flat monthly fee regardless of care requirements. Assisted living in the United States has a national average cost of $3,700 per month. Yet regional variances within the US mean that persons living on the East or West coasts and in densely populated urban centers tend to pay closer to $5,000 - $6,000 per month.
It is worth noting that the $1,000 - $2,000 per month estimate is for assisted living residences that are targeting Americans as their clients. There are less expensive options that cater to Mexican nationals that cost $500 - $1,000 per month. However, it is our experience that most Americans would not feel comfortable residing in these types of residences.
It is difficult to make care quality comparisons between Mexican and American assisted living residences largely because there is so much variation in care quality within the US. If required to generalize, it is safe to say that the care quality of assisted living residences in Mexico that are targeting American residents is on-par with the care quality in the average American, assisted living community.
The size of the residence can impact the quality of care. Most Mexican assisted living communities have fewer residents than their American counterparts. The average size community in the US has approximately 45 residents, while in Mexico 15-20 residents can be expected. The general perception is that residents receive more personal attention in smaller assisted living communities.
Staffing and staff turnover are a challenge for American senior living communities. As salaries are so much lower in Mexico, often times assisted living residences are staffed with trained nurses. Further, many residences maintain a doctor on staff, which is rare in the United States.
Memory care for persons with Alzheimer’s or dementia is different. In American memory care homes, staff frequently has had extensive training on dealing with the symptoms of dementia. Persons with dementia / Alzheimer’s reside in secured wings or floors of the community. Supervision is provided, and the residence is designed to prevent wandering and prevent self-injury. In Mexico, persons with dementia or Alzheimer’s live together with persons who are simply frail or elderly. Depending on the individual with dementia, this might enhance or detract from their quality of life.
As the types of assisted living residences, we are discussing are targeting Americans as clientele, the administrators have put forth an effort to not make the experience culturally jarring for the clients. While traditional Mexican cuisine may be served, the classic spices are toned down and alternatives are available. Furthermore, as most of the residents of assisted living community are likely to be other Americans or Canadians, most residents feel comfortable in their surroundings. That said, should the potential resident not be at all familiar with life in Mexico, there are bound to be some cultural differences. This is especially true for recreational activities outside of the residence. While most of the cultural differences are subtle, persons with Alzheimer’s or dementia may be less likely to adjust to these differences as their short-term memory is impacted by their condition.
The Spanish language is less of an issue then one might expect. Everyone working in the community that interacts with residents will be fluent in English, this includes administrators, nurses and doctors. Custodial and cleaning staff, however, may not speak English well. The other residents are very likely to all speak English as their first language. No assisted living communities that are targeting Americans as residents would expect them to speak Spanish.
Medicare might be one of the biggest obstacles for residents. No doctors, hospitals or pharmacies in Mexico are authorized to accept Medicare insurance for payment. This is less of an issue for assisted living communities in the border cities as returning to the US for medical treatment can be an easy excursion and family members can bring prescription medications to the residence for their loved one. However, for the cities deeper within Mexico, returning to the US is challenging.
There are several ways Mexican assisted living residences address this challenge. As mentioned previously, many residences have a medical doctor on staff and appointments may even be included in the monthly costs. For minor illnesses and prescriptions, this is usually sufficient. Another approach is for the resident to purchase health insurance in Mexico. When compared with the cost of insurance in the US, it is quite affordable. One might expect to pay close to what they be spending in the US for Medicare Supplement Insurance policies (Medigap policies). Furthermore, the medical care available in Mexican cities like Puerto Vallarta and Lake Chapala is on par with the care available in American cities. Finally, travel insurance policies can be employed to cover the cost of any emergency medical travel back to the US.
Assisted living in Mexico has many advantages, but it is most certainly not the best solution for everyone despite the significant cost savings. In our experience, we seen that the following types of familial situations have had the greatest success.
For elderly persons willing to relocate but feel that Mexico might not be the best option, there are affordable care options within the United States. Cost variance by state, city and even within the same city is extreme.